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HOMECOMING 2013: Accessibility a priority over both weekends

2013-09-16

By Michael Onesi, Alumni Communications Officer

two student walking arm in arm wearing Queen's tri-colours and tamsHomecoming officials have launched several initiatives this year to reduce barriers and make it as simple as possible for persons with visible and non-visible accessibility requirements to enjoy the activities on the October 5th and 19th weekends.

“It is important that we demonstrate our commitment to accessibility and ensure everyone is able to participate and enjoy the weekends,” says Sarah Indewey, Manager, Volunteer Relations & Reunions at Queen’s.

Homecoming strives for the inclusion of all participants, including older alumni, some of whom have mobility issues. As well as addressing physical accessibility, the initiative also strives to help persons living with non-visible disabilities, such as chronic illness or mental health disabilities. For example, making Homecoming more accessible could include ensuring a person with a social anxiety can watch the Gaels football game from an area that offers extra space, rather than sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with people in the stands.

Heidi Penning, the Queen’s University Equity Advisor, reached out to Homecoming planners several months ago to ask them to consider including an accessibility statement on all their documents. She is thrilled that organizers have decided to do much more.

“This has been an amazing experience of collaboration between students, the Equity Office and the Homecoming planners in Alumni Relations. It’s great to see the synergy. It’s a real community effort,” says Heidi.

All Homecoming volunteers will receive training on how to best interact and communicate with persons with disabilities. There will also be an additional 16 ‘accessibility champion’ volunteers recruited from the Occupational Therapy Program. Their role is to address accessibility issues as they arise towards ensuring that everyone has the best possible Homecoming.

“We want everyone to have a great experience at Homecoming, but you can’t plan for everything. Issues can arise. The accessibility champions are there to smooth things out. They have been trained to be the go-to person or know who is the go-to person,” says Heidi. “We want everyone to know that accessibility is at the forefront of our minds. It is not an afterthought – we have planned for this.”

Penning is especially pleased that motivational speaker Melissa Vassallo, Artsci’02, is meeting with the accessibility champions during both Homecoming weekends. Melissa was a Queen’s University student when she was involved in a catastrophic car accident in 2002 and hospitalized for more than two years. Today she is an accessibility and healthcare advocate.

Ellen Flanagan, OT’14, is an Occupational Therapy student doing her Master’s degree. She has a special interest in accessible event planning. She, too, has been integral in assisting the Equity Office and Alumni Relations staff with Homecoming plans.

She feels that accessibility is important for everyone.

“Sometimes it is helpful just to have someone recognize this sort of event may be tough for them. By having a welcoming and inclusive campus, it translates into a more positive experience for everyone,” says Ellen.

The Homecoming website has a full list of activities available during the two weekends. Accessibility Champion volunteers will be present at the Welcome Home! Alumni Meet and Greet events at Grant Hall (Friday, 1 to 4 pm and Saturday 8 to 11 am on both Homecoming weekends).

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