Elaine Lee has problems with how accessible Calgary’s New Central Library is, but she also thinks there’s an easy solution to the problem.
Although confined to a wheelchair, Lee is an established artist who also speaks out on behalf of Calgarians with mobility issues.
While the Calgary Public Library told LiveWire they’ve already made multiple changes to address accessibility issues since the Nov. 1 opening, Lee still has concerns.
Her biggest problem is just getting into the building. The main entrance is accessed by a long ramp from 3 Street SE, on the side of the library that faces city hall.
“The ramp is the entire length of the street,” said Lee. “So that’s not doable for people with mobility issues, seniors, and it’s very exhausting for parents who are pushing strollers.”
Lee said people arriving by Calgary Transit Access are brought to the east side of the building, where a ground-level door opens to a room with an elevator.
“We’re talking about the vulnerable and those who can’t really walk as easily, and that’s very unsafe to drop them off there,” she said. “Even that entrance is not an easy way for them to get in.”
Any wheelchair user arriving by the CTrain has to make their way across 3 Street SE and over the LRT tracks, or else all the way around the library to access that ground-level door. Lee noted the one-way gates that act as a safety barrier for pedestrians make the shorter of those routes impossible for her.
While she has concerns, she also has a suggestion for a fix. She discovered what she feels is the easiest solution on a trip to the library, when a security guard helped her exit the building.
“He took me down in the basement where people aren’t supposed to go – the public – and he took me out a set of doors that go right onto the street – with no ramp,” said Lee.
“That’s an emergency set of door for the staff, but they’re also automatic and not accessible to the public from the outside – which is really stupid, because that’s the easiest place to have an accessible entrance.”
Those doors are just to the south of Luke’s Restaurant, on 3 Street SE.
Sarah Meilleur, director of service delivery for Calgary Public Library, said in the weeks since the grand opening, they’ve already made multiple changes to increase accessibility based on feedback from library users.
Among those changes were lowering elevator buttons, intercoms and other buttons meant for accessibility, and lengthening the time elevator doors remain open.
She said certain hand-wave sensors for doors that didn’t seem to be working properly have been replaced with push-buttons.
Meilleur said patrons may have seen security guards or volunteers at entrances, assisting anyone who needed help, but they’re confident the new measures are working.
“We will no longer continue to have security guards for all those hours,” she said. “It was really an interim gap to make sure people could enter the library while we were making those changes that we heard were required from the community.”
She noted that during the first few weeks, the library had higher-than-normal foot traffic that made it difficult for everyone to get around. Now that they are down to what they think is the new normal, Meilleur said it is easier to get around the building.
As for the outside entrance, she noted that the east side accessible entrance is very close to transit if one goes across the tracks.
She said the gates that caused problems for Lee and others are property of Calgary Transit, and said the library has no control over those.
When asked about making the doors on 3 Street SW available to those with accessibility Issues, Meilleur said they’re always listening to and evaluating suggestions from the public.
“We’re continuing to work with our project partners to really see what we can do in other ways,” she said. “We’re happy to receive suggestions.”
Lee said she has heard from seniors through her Facebook page who share her concerns. She said anyone can find themselves with a disability without notice, and she hopes to see more at the New Central Library and elsewhere in Calgary to address accessibility.
“It’s ridiculous when you put this elevator entrance at the back,” she said. “It’s like an insult to all these people who have worked so hard for the community.”