Dean Mellway and Quayce Thomas are helping to make Jamaica’s Parliament building more accessible – and, putting Carleton University on the map as experts in the field.
Mellway, acting director of Carleton’s READ (Research, Education, Accessibility and Design) initiative, and Thomas, a third-year architecture student, recently travelled to Kingston, Jamaica to make recommendations that will accommodate visitors and employees with disabilities when they visit the George William Gordon building.
“I am honoured that Carleton is recognized as a leader in this area,” says Mellway. “We’re becoming known as a place that can consult with others on how they can improve their accessibility.”
Jamaica has recently passed new accessibility laws, he says, and the country’s Justice Minister Mark Golding contacted him to help with the project.
Mellway had met Golding a couple years when he worked on a different accessibility project in Jamaica.
“He knew we could muster the resources,” Mellway says, adding that he and Thomas were joined by a couple of members of the Toronto-based architecture firm Quadrangle.
The group had two days to assess the building and, keeping budget restrictions in mind, made some initial recommendations.
Mellway says the three-storey building was constructed in the 1960s, and includes a couple steps at the entrance. There is also no elevator – which particularly impacts the assembly room on the second floor, and the public viewing area on the third floor.
“There’s no access to the assembly viewing area if you’re mobility-impaired,” Mellway says, adding that high school classes and tourists often visit the site. “They had a high school group visit a week before, and one student in a wheelchair had to stay downstairs and could not participate.”
Their suggestions will be divided into phases that will take some time to implement fully, but as part of the immediate plan, the building will have a levelled access entrance and reserved parking area, as well as a closed-circuit television in the assembly hall.
Additionally, the existing washroom in that area will undergo a few alterations to make it fully accessible.
During the second phase, Mellway says there are plans to include a lift – which is more cost-effective than an elevator – to provide access to all three floors. There will also be an accessible washroom on the third floor.
The next step would see a building expansion – which will create more space and make offices accessible for workers.
“It’s very important for the government to provide access to their Parliament if they’re going to be passing laws,” Mellway says.
Thomas, who has an interest in developing accessible buildings, says it was great to work on a real-world project that will have a positive impact on people.
“It was pretty amazing to actually go into a Parliament building, get experience in a real-world project, and participate in a project of that scale in third year,” he says.
As an architecture student, he has learned that designing a building for the visitors’ experience is important – and that designs must also include accessibility.
“Accessibility is not just about being able to get from floor to floor – it’s also about equal opportunity to experience and participate in that building.”