Accessibility upgrades | News and Events | Fall & Winter 2021 | NEXUS Magazine | The Faculty of Law | UNB

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Faculty of Law
UNB Fredericton

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Improving accessibility for a more inclusive legal education

The iconic façade of 41 Dineen Drive has received a critical and long-overdue renovation. A brand-new accessibility ramp and platform lift have been installed, making UNB Law’s front entrance wheelchair accessible for the first time.

"This has been a long time coming," said Dean Marin. "Physical spaces reflect the values of those who occupy them. UNB Law is committed to offering a legal education that is accessible to everyone; I believe this is meaningful progress in demonstrating our commitment to this value."

This major construction project is part of a series of accessibility upgrades to the law building that will help ensure that everyone feels welcome, and help UNB Law meet the demands of 21st-century legal education.

The new concrete ramp outside ensures that everyone enters UNB Law through the front door. And the new platform lift inside the vestibule will bring users to the main level of the building, providing access to all classrooms, the student lounge, lockers, meeting rooms, offices, and study spaces.

Accessibility has also been a major consideration in the recently completed student lounge renovation, which includes an in-island microwave, wheelchair-height tables, modular furniture for more flexibility in seating, and a new automatic door system. In addition to these most recent improvements, a lift was installed in 2019 as part of a library renovation that gives wheelchair users access to all faculty and staff offices on the third floor.

While additional upgrades are currently in the planning stages, one priority is to address the theatre seating in classrooms 14 and 15 that confines wheelchair users to the back of the room near the entrance.

Reflections on accessibility

Jeremy MacDonald (JD '21) recently met with Nexus to share his experience with accessibility while attending UNB Law, and offer feedback on these latest building upgrades. As a wheelchair user, MacDonald faced several challenges while at law school that he attributes primarily to the geography and physical layout of the law building and campus in general.

"I think the biggest challenge was just getting in the front door and not only physically, but also the symbolic aspect of having a door for 300 students and then a separate door for one. The front entrance was my major bone of contention throughout my time at UNB Law."

The absence of a front ramp necessitated that MacDonald use the rear entrance to get into the school. This meant navigating a side entrance and driveway that would become difficult to maneuver during New Brunswick winters. During these winter months, MacDonald came to rely on a drive or a push from classmates. This was especially difficult on days when he would head back to residence after classes for a meal before returning to the law school to study. MacDonald found himself much less likely to make the return trip because the prospect of navigating the back driveway for a second time in one day was a major deterrent. Needless to say, he was ecstatic to see the ramp installed.

"This new front entrance ramp is going to go the longest way in making that building a truly accessible space. It was the biggest impediment during my time at UNB Law. It is very exciting to see this change made."

MacDonald said he never doubted the UNB Law administration’s commitment to making the building a more accessible space. He was unsure of the feasibility of these upgrades and the buy-in from other parts of the University.

"It seems like they've been brought on board as well, and things are moving at a great pace. I'm happy to hear that all of the new improvements to the building are being done with accessibility in mind, things like counter height and access to space in terms of the width of doors."

Another difficulty for MacDonald was the internal access to faculty offices. In first year, he did not yet have access to faculty offices. The library lift had not yet been installed. This meant that when Jeremy needed to meet with his professor, he had to make a special appointment to meet them in a designated office in the library. While a helpful accommodation, he did find this made him more hesitant to meet with faculty members as he worried that he might be pulling them away from other students during their office hours. He fondly remembers the moment when he met with Dean Marin to test out the newly installed lift for the first time.

"[Dean Marin] was so happy that I now had access to those offices and that it was a tangible win for accessibility in the building. To me, that really showed the sincerity of his efforts. He was grinning from ear to ear, and that meant as much to me as the fact that we now had a lift to the faculty offices, that he cared enough and took the time himself to test out the lift with me, that will always stick with me."

In addition to administration, MacDonald also felt supported by the student body. Saying he always felt as though he was fully a part of his class and the UNB Law family. He added that anytime an event was held, he was asked how it could be made more accessible or if there was anything he needed to feel welcomed.

"My classmates and my colleagues would get as frustrated or perhaps even more so than I about the accessibility obstacles that I faced. Oftentimes when you are a person with a disability and a wheelchair user for a long period of time, while it is frustrating and sometimes angering, you're so used to encountering these physical obstacles on almost a daily basis that one can only muster so much righteous anger."

MacDonald added that when his classmates encountered these challenges, their level of frustration and anger rose very quickly.

"Having their support and having even something as simple as a push from the student union building or from my building to the law building in the dead of winter made an enormous difference—and that was always something that was offered if needed."

Looking to the future, MacDonald hopes that these accessibility upgrades will lead to increased enrolment of individuals with disabilities at UNB Law.

"I would like to see more people with disabilities, mobility and otherwise, pursuing a legal education. If I do have any legacy at UNB Law, I hope it will be in the changes to the built environment. That perhaps I made it a more pressing issue, and also that I am highlighting the need to make the legal profession more accessible to those with disabilities. I don't want to be the last person who is making use of that ramp and that elevator and all of those things for decades to come."

Jeremy was born in Charlottetown, PEI. He completed a BA with Honours in History followed by a Master’s in Atlantic Canada Studies at St. Mary’s University. Since graduating from UNB Law, Jeremy has worked for Veteran’s Affairs Canada, Employment and Social Development in the legal services unit.

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