Linda Derksen, Universal Access Committee chair, next to one of the signs made possible by a grant from the Rick Hansen Foundation. (Vancouver Island University photo)

Linda Derksen, Universal Access Committee chair, next to one of the signs made possible by a grant from the Rick Hansen Foundation. (Vancouver Island University photo)

VIU making buildings more accessible

Power door openers, wayfinding signage, grab bars in washrooms and plus-size chairs are some of the improvements students and employees at Vancouver Island University’s Nanaimo campus and the Cowichan Trades Centre are beginning to see thanks to funding from the BC Accessibility Grants Program through the Rick Hansen Foundation.

The Rick Hansen Foundation recently granted the VIU Foundation $240,000 for accessibility projects in 12 of the least-accessible buildings at VIU. The money, which comes from the BC Accessibility Grants Program through the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, will help the institution become more user-friendly for all, explains Dr. Linda Derksen, Universal Access Committee chair.

“We have found that improvements for people with disabilities have the effect of making things easier for everyone,” says 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,” says 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.

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