Accessibility means being able to park on campus

Op-eds Opinions

For disabled and mentally ill students, insufficient parking is a barrier to education

File photo by Cormac O’Brien

Access to education for disabled and mentally ill students should mean access to parking on campus. Despite having over 20 parking lots on and around the University of Victoria campus, after 9:30 in the morning, it becomes almost impossible to find a parking spot.

Every year, Earth becomes more damaged, and driving vehicles with combustion engines is a large portion of this problem. These days, many people are looking for ways to minimize their share of our country’s carbon emissions. One answer to this issue is to reduce the number of cars on the road. Unfortunately, for a lot of people, driving a vehicle is not optional. Those with physical disabilities or mental health barriers are often prevented from taking buses or riding bikes. They need their cars — and therefore a parking space — every day.

But it isn’t only those whose physical or mental health requires personal transportation who drive cars. Many people opt to drive to class despite their ability to take public transit or ride a bike. This excess of people on the road means that parking at UVic is overcrowded. By 10 a.m, the general lots are full. Although many students pay over $500 for a yearly parking permit, quite a few are unable to put that money to use because lots fill up so fast.

Repeatedly circling parking lots to find a space wastes fuel — causing more emissions — and it wastes student money. Despite having paid more than it costs for some classes for the right to park freely on campus, many students may still have to find a meter. There, they are usually forced to hand over five or six dollars with the hope they get back from their class fast enough to avoid a ticket. Some may suggest that the solution is to leave for class sooner. But if a student has a disability or their mental health prevents them from leaving early, this can be extremely difficult and sometimes impossible.

Others may say there is no fair way to make sure that disabled students are guaranteed a parking spot on campus every day. How can we give some students guaranteed parking spaces and not provide the same to others? However, there are measures available if the university is willing to implement them.

First, the university could reduce the price of parking passes for members of the Center for Accessible Learning. Additionally, they could provide parking spots that are designated for those who receive parking passes as a part of their CAL concessions. There should never be a situation where a disabled or mentally ill student is unable to attend class because they cannot find a place to park. It should be a priority, especially at UVic — a university that claims to have its disabled and mentally ill students’ best interests in mind — to make sure CAL students can get to class on time every day, even if they have to drive.

If the university wants to make education accessible to students at all levels of ability, they must think holistically. Mental health support is important, but so is transportation. It is not enough to offer an expensive parking pass for general areas and call it a day. It is not enough to create less expensive parking off campus that disabled students must travel farther to use. While off-campus parking may be excellent for some students, there are many for whom 15 or 20 minutes of extra walking could be the difference between getting to class on time or missing out altogether. 

Some lots on campus are reserved for members of staff or people working for specific programs, which of course makes sense. However, many of these lots go entire days only partially filled. The rest of the spots sit empty while students are forced to patrol general parking in hopes of finding someone in the midst of pulling out of a space so they can swoop in and take it.

If space for parking lots is this tight, the university could consider offering CAL students parking in reserved areas. Or space in designated zones where the students will have the parking they need next to the buildings to which they require access. Accessibility is an important issue, and the university appears to agree. Now it is time for them to do better for their disabled and mentally ill students. Increase access to parking, UVic. Or at least stop charging students to drive around your general lots like vultures waiting for a meal.