Criticism of the (in)accessibility of the Langeveld building for people with disabilities

“What do you notice when you look around?” Kyra asks in the hall of the Langeveld building. She answers herself: “That’s it.” gray on gray on gray. Gray floors, gray walls, gray stairs. Well, if you’re visually impaired, you’re going to lose here anyway. The contrast is too bad.” Shortly after the opening of the building, a couple of students and a staff member with disabilities took a tour of the building at the request of the department Real estate and facilities. According to Kyra, this resulted in a large number of ‘points for improvement’. “The visually impaired student had a really hard time here. In the lecture rooms on the ground floor, for example, he almost bumped into the gray steps.” According to a university spokesman, the group will meet again in ‘four to six weeks’ to hear what adjustments will and will not be made.

Part of the special

Students with a disability

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Green, bright, sustainable, this is how the university describes the building. The group of people with disabilities experienced it differently. Kyra points to the heavy doors that lead to the elevators and restrooms. “Of the four people in wheelchairs who took part in the round, one person managed to open the door. Not everyone in a wheelchair can do the same. The sockets are too low or too far on the table for too many. I can press the elevator button, but because it’s in a corner and not on the long wall, you can’t reach it if you’re in an electric wheelchair.”

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This is how most people experience the building: with lots of greenery and wood. Those in wheelchairs will experience much less of this.


Picture of:
Ali Alshamayleh

Warned

“Any building can be built accessible at no extra cost. You have to think about that well in advance during the design”, says Willem Jagersma from PBTconsult. The engineering and consulting firm specializes in construction issues related to accessibility. Erasmus University is a customer. PBT was asked to test the Langeveld building. “We told the university: ‘this building may never be fully accessible’.”

Jagersma does not want to say what exactly PBT has raised, because of the trust relationship with the university. He says it was a long list. He still remembers the example of the too heavy toilet doors. “The door closers in the toilets are necessary because it is a fireproof wall. For fire safety reasons, the door must close and therefore be heavy, but this is not practical for people with a disability. So the fire safety should have been thought of differently, or the toilet.”

‘What we see is that accessible construction doesn’t happen if you don’t make it mandatory’

The UN Convention on Disability, which has been in force in the Netherlands since 2016, states that people with disabilities must not be excluded from participation in society. The Dutch Building Decree contains requirements for accessible buildings. “In both, there is a lack of good definitions of accessibility,” says Thijs Hardick, van Elke(in), advocate for people with disabilities or chronic illness. “As a result, it is left to the market. What we see is that accessible building doesn’t happen if you don’t make it mandatory. When tendering, the choice falls on an affordable price. That is why it is important to lay more down in the law.” According to Hardick, these rules are being worked on at different levels. He expects that his organization will still have to do a lot of lobbying in the coming years.

‘Very special start’

Jagersma recognizes what Hardick is saying. The law is not completely enough, and although there are several quality marks, a national one is missing. PBTconsult has developed one itself: Integrated Accessibility Standard. Erasmus University has been working on this for the last eight to ten years. Another quality mark has been chosen for this building: the international NEN-ISO 21542. “This was chosen because it best matches the accessibility standard that the government is currently developing and is expected to introduce in 2023,” says the EUR spokesperson in writing. answers to questions from EM.

Jagersma believes that the construction of Langeveld got off to a ‘very special’ start. The choice for the international quality mark only came when the plans were already ready, while basic choices have already been made in advance, for example about fire safety. “By then it was too late.”

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The coffee machine is too tall for Kyra. From her perspective, she can’t see the screen very well either.


Picture of:
Shrey Khurana

The university says it acted in accordance with the rules. The building has been awarded to BAM through a European tender. “According to the contract, the contractor is responsible for planning and construction in accordance with the accessibility requirements. In this phase, the EUR has no formal influence. EUR was aware of signals that the building was not yet up to standard in terms of accessibility. Subsequently, BAM was advised to proceed with this. From a legal point of view EUR can do no more than give advice at such a time.”

BAM has now been ordered to look at the list of demands. “If the building does not meet the predetermined requirements, the client is obliged to remedy the deficiencies.”

Social inaccessibility

Kyra has several examples of the building’s inaccessibility. “The lecture halls upstairs are an acoustic disaster for the hearing impaired. There is also no special system for sending sound to hearing aids.” The sound absorbing floor was very comfortable.

(main photo) Kyra Mulders1 – Sanne van der Most – unavailable campus

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The layout of the lecture halls on the ground floor stings a little for Kyra. Most of the room is filled with tiered floors that hold fixed tables and chairs. In some rooms, an extra table is placed perpendicular to the other tables. It is intended for students in wheelchairs. You are isolated there, Kyra believes.

“The building is an example of how physical inaccessibility can lead to social inaccessibility. You make friends in the lecture rooms, but when everyone takes a seat at the back, I’m alone.” The layout of the rooms on the other floors is also not ideal. The tables are often too narrow for two people to sit at if one of them is in a wheelchair. “These are the same tables as in the Polak building, so it’s been said before.”

Heap

The hundreds of requirements, standards and wishes can be contradictory, explains a spokesperson for the university about this situation. “They can be contradictory.” The temporary adaptation of a requirements programme, which includes factors such as availability, is difficult with contracts entered into and plans already made, says the spokesman. “In future projects like this, we would like to have a better grasp of this. We want our buildings to be accessible to all our students, staff and visitors, and we are confident that this will work.”

‘As a student with a disability, you feel less worthy at this university’

Kyra hopes that students and staff with disabilities can enjoy the Langeveld building as much as people without disabilities. She understands that the emphasis is on stairs and therefore to take stairs, because it is healthy. “But the wood, the greenery and the beautiful corners are all in the central space. If you take the elevator to college, you will get almost nothing out of it. The rooms I see are made of concrete, cold, chilly and grey. Then, as a student with a disability, you feel less worthy at this university.”

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The chairs in the lecture halls on the ground floor are on gray platforms. In some rooms, there is a separate table for people in wheelchairs.


Picture of:
Shrey Khurana

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