The UVic Students’ Society (UVSS) board of directors will fund $10 000 in renovations to a new space for the Society for Students with a Disability (SSD). The total cost of the planned renovations to two rooms in the Student Union Building (SUB) office B109 and one at B106 is over $30 000, of which the SSD’s council has voted in favour of funding $21 000. The SSD expects the rooms to be ready for use this fall.
The SSD has been operating out of SUB B106, a single room off a hallway between the Upper Lounge and UVSS offices. The group will retain that space and gain two rooms of B109 (which is down a neighbouring hallway), while one of the three rooms in B109 will remain for UVSS purposes. The proposed renovations would close off the two new SSD rooms from the other room and add an accessible, sliding-glass door to the new SSD space. The UVSS’s $10 000 portion will come from the Dr. Ewing Memorial Fund.
“The board is really glad to see this change happening,” wrote UVSS Chairperson Kelsey Mech, who started her term this month, in an email to the Martlet. “SSD is currently in a space that isn’t sufficient for them to properly be able to do their work, and it is very important work. We’re really happy to see a larger and better space being provided for advocacy on behalf of people with disabilities. When advocacy groups have moved in the past, the UVSS has historically done some form of cost sharing with them for renovations.”
The UVSS board and the SSD compromised on the $10 000 amount. The UVSS board was originally willing to fund $5 000 and the SSD asked for $15 000 to cover about half the projected cost of the renovations.
SSD Councillor of Finance Michael Allen-Newman says, “The reality is we do rent the space, we pay a charge for it, and since really [the UVSS is] like the landlords, the tenant doesn’t normally pay to get upgrades.”
The SSD says all of the renovations are fixtures — built-in changes that will not go with the SSD if it were to leave the space in the future. The UVSS board approved the $10 000 after the SSD’s UVSS board representative, Pamela Savage, submitted a report on accessibility requirements in the B.C. building code and Saanich building bylaws.
Using the new space, the SSD plans to make some existing adaptive technology more accessible, ensure privacy protection in advocacy matters and provide a respite room. The SSD has been liaising with the UVSS finance committee to get to this point and wants to continue working with finance and policy development. The SSD says that organizations often don’t realize that they are in fact ignoring provincial laws and human rights tribunal precedents when they do not consult or heed the advice offered by advocacy groups and experts.
B.C. currently has little in the way of compliance monitoring for accessibility. That is part of why the SSD has sought a UVSS board-approved legal fund. But that process has taken several months, so the group says it now won’t be able to take part in development of a B.C. Accessibility Act. The SSD is also disappointed that its $21 000 portion of the renovation fund will come out of advocacy for students.
SSD Office Co-ordinator Liana Robinson says, “If we don’t get our students accommodated, they drop out of school. That affects the rest of their lives.”