From Accessible to Inclusive: The Story of a University Ice Arena

Nov 02, 2010
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You know how there are some stories that you use over and over, no matter how old they are, because they illustrate a point so well? For me, one of those stories is that of a university student who wanted to attend hockey games with his fellow students. Essentially the story goes like this… The university built a brand-new, beautiful ice arena that followed ADA requirements. A student who uses a wheelchair decided he wanted to go to a hockey game and quickly realized that although there was wheelchair accessible seating, it was located in a different section of the arena, away from the rest of the student body. Through several discussions with the facility staff, accommodations were made to allow this student and future students to be included in the student section at the hockey game. (More on this story can be found here)

The point that I usually try to make with this story is that ADA compliance does not equate to inclusion. The arena was compliant. They had accessible seating. But having the seating in a different section of the arena excluded the student from engaging in the social aspect of attending a hockey game.

As I thought through this story again this morning, through, I realized that there is so much more going on here. Not only does it illustrate the difference between accessibility and inclusion, to me the story also shouts that education is essential in change. I see education playing a role in two big ways. First, the students were provided with education on how to advocate for change through their Disability Studies course. And secondly, the facility staff members were educated on the importance and logistics of facilitating inclusion through their interactions with the students. It was not that they were trying to intentionally exclude students with disabilities, they just didn’t quite get it until it was brought to their attention. We cannot expect people to just get it without giving them the necessary education. Without both of these pieces (educating individuals to advocate for change and educating staff to implement change), successful change would have been difficult, if not impossible.

And the final point that stands out in this story is that the whole situation could have potentially been avoided if people with disabilities were involved throughout the process of designing and building the facility. There are some things that all the education in the world can’t help you understand unless you have experienced it yourself. Involving people with disabilities throughout all stages of development and implementation (whether that be of new facilities, new programs, or new services), can solve problems before they arise and create a more positive experience for everyone involved.

Author: Carolyn