VIU receives funding to increase accessibility

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Vancouver Island University’s (VIU) Nanaimo campus and the Cowichan Trades Centre is receiving $240,000 from the Rick Hansen Foundation to fund accessibility projects.

The funding through the BC Accessibility Grants Program will allow for improvements such as power door openers, wayfinding signs, grab bars in washrooms and plus size chairs.

The projects will focus on the 12 least-accessible buildings at VIU. The money will help the institution become more user-friendly for all, explained Dr. Linda Derksen, VIU Universal Access Committee chair.

“We have found that improvements for people with disabilities have the effect of making things easier for everyone,” said Derksen. “Power door openers make it easier for people pushing carts or parents with strollers. High-contrast signage with raised letters is meant for people who have low vision, but it also helps anyone who is trying to find their way around campus.”

Also included in these improvements are handrails on ramps, high-contrast signs pointing to accessible routes, hearing equipment at service desks, change tables in washrooms, adjustable desks and rolling workstations.

“We are making hundreds of little changes that add up to making the whole campus much more accessible for a wide range of people,” added Derksen. “About 20 per cent of the working-age population have disabilities, but most of these are invisible. Think of things like ‘bad’ knees and hips, or illnesses like rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, or conditions like brain injuries and vertigo. Many people who appear to be able bodied have a lot of trouble with our stairs.”

In 2018, the VIU Foundation brought the Rick Hansen Foundation to VIU to have all its buildings rated for a wide range of accessibility needs, including vision and hearing. Of those, 29 buildings met the criteria to achieve Rick Hansen Foundation Accessibility Certification.

The accessibility ratings provided a wealth of information on what changes need to be made to make the buildings accessible to all. This information has been handed over to Facilities Services and Campus Development, which is integrating access improvements into routine maintenance work.

“Vancouver Island University’s commitment to accessibility is evident through having each of the 55 buildings on campus rated for accessibility with RHF Accessibility Certification,” says Brad McCannell, VP, Access & Inclusion with the Rick Hansen Foundation. “Using the information learned through the rating and implementing the recommendations with funds from the RHF BC Accessibility Grants will help ensure a campus accessible for everyone, regardless of physical ability. VIU is a true leader in accessibility.”

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