Accessible washroom mapping project started by St. FX students

Students at St. Francis Xavier University are making washrooms more accessible by mapping them online.

Student-directed online map will track washroom accessibility on campus

Hannah Stordy and Hayley Mcostrich, members of St. FX's student union, co-ordinated the project. (Facebook)

Between the ice-caked sidewalks and steep curbs, Mary Mae Isaac faces her share of challenges just getting to school.

The St. Francis Xavier University student with cerebral palsy has even missed entire classes because her power chair was stuck in the snow.

But getting through the doorway is only half the battle. Inside, the history student comes up against yet another barrier — accessing a washroom.

Mary Mae Isaac, a St. Francis Xavier student with cerebral palsy, was consulted for the Washroom Inclusivity Project. (Courtesy of Mary Mae Isaac)

"Oftentimes the elevators don't work," said Isaac. "You can really get stuck on the third floor, or maybe even on the bottom floor where there isn't an accessible washroom."

In recent months, Isaac has been sharing her experiences as an advisor for St. FX's Washroom Inclusivity Project. Spearheaded by the university's student union, the research project, taking up the hashtag #PeeInPeace, tackles the lack of washroom accessibility at school.

By pinpointing every on-campus washroom, it aims to keep track of washrooms accessible to all genders, parents with children and religious groups.

The end goal: A clickable map that will allow people to easily locate the closest and most accessible washroom, wherever they are at the university. It won't be a solution, says Isaac, but a first step.

"I would be checking it," she said.

Unsafe spaces

Since January, more than 30 students have been trained to check washrooms for accessibility and collect information from users to compile data for the online map.

They found many students are not aware of the accessibility issues faced by groups and individuals on campus.

Concerns range from wheelchair users who worry they physically won't be able to get into a stall, to trans-gendered people who aren't comfortable in a single-gender washroom.

"Things like not feeling comfortable using the washroom in the building that they're studying in," said Hannah Stordy, vice-president of St. FX's student union.

"Or other people saying they only go to the washroom during class because they know there will be less people there then."  

Other students drink less water to avoid having to go at all, said project co-ordinator Hayley Mcostrich: "This can result in dehydration and health issues."

Since January, more than 30 students have been trained to check washrooms for accessibility and collect information from users to compile data for the online map. (Facebook)

Online accessibility

The Washroom Inclusivity Project takes inspiration from a similar mapping initiative at the University of Toronto.

Rachel Hurst, professor of gender and women's studies at St. FX, was also consulted in the project. She says making a map available online increases student safety and comfort.

"Particularly for trans and gender-nonconforming people, what they often report is that they have to really plan their day around accessing bathrooms. And the same is true for people with physical disabilities," Hurst said.

Only a step

St. FX has more work to do before every student and community member feels included, says Mcostrich.

She hopes the online medium of the map will allow the project to grow over time: "It's washrooms this year, but maybe next year we have the capacity to add multi-faith prayer spaces to the map."

While Isaac is one of the only wheelchair user on campus, she hopes washrooms will soon be accessible and safe for every student and community member.

"It's not only for me. Washrooms should be accessible for everybody," she said. "I feel like it should be more universalized."


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