York University’s failed attempt at accessible design

Yesterday, my partner and I found ourselves at York University, waiting for a connecting bus during our return trip to Guelph . Since neither one of us attend York, we decided to explore the campus. I have to say that I was thoroughly impressed twice on this journey. The first time, by York Lanes – what Ontario university has an entire mall on campus? The second thing that captured our interest was William McElcheran’s sculpture, Encounter, located in the courtyard next to the Student Centre. Encounter shows a very uncomfortable, and quite satirical interaction between two businessmen. The men seem to be narrowly avoiding collision as they approach each other. Additionally, they awkwardly acknowledge each others’ presence with a half-hearted wave. The animated sculpture is placed in a tree-covered enclave and distanced from the surrounding walkways, exaggerating the closeness and thus uncomfortableness of the men’s interaction. I’ll leave further observations to my fellow blogger at Performing Things.

Anyway, this post isn’t about pleasantries. This post is about York’s failed attempt at accessible design. York already has a rotten reputation among the city’s academic community, but what I saw yesterday was simply appalling. Here is the proof.


This accessible table was found in the common area, next to the theatre and serviced by a single Starbucks outlet. This was not the only accessible table of its kind- there were many more around campus too. You’ll notice that this table can only be used by those who wheel their own chairs around. The other chairs in this space are fixed to other tables, meaning if the non-wheelchaired want to sit with their wheelchaired friends, the non-wheelchaired couldn’t simply drag over a chair. No wonder these tables aren’t being used. The choice and application of accessible furniture at the university is a quintessentially York-style mistake to make.The wheelchaired have been battling social stigma all along, and by lack of thought, York is perpetuating the problem. Instead, York has two options. They could remove one or two of the chairs from a couple of the fully-chaired tables. Or, they could remove all the fixed-seating and allow all the students to remove the chairs between tables as they please. Either option would encourage social interaction and integration- providing for truly accessible design.

I’m sorry to say that I’m not entirely surprised by York’s accessible design standards. It is a university plagued by thoughtless architecture and defined by a bamboozled administration. York has failed its students, faculty and staff living with physical disabilities. Further, this mistake illustrates York University’s disconnectedness from the needs of its diverse student body. I plead to the students of York to demand more from your institution, otherwise, York will stomp on… business as usual…


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