In November, there was criticism about the inaccessibility of the newly opened Langeveld building. This resulted in a list with 46 points for improvement. Almost three months later, it is time for feedback in a small room in the Sanders building. Opposite four Real Estate & Facilities employees, there are three students and one employee with disabilities, who in recent weeks have posed as a sounding board group. The location of the discussion had to be changed at the last minute because the elevator to the first floor was not working. Once everyone is sitting down, the various points are discussed one by one.
Criticism of the (lack of) accessibility to the Langeveld building for people with functional impairments
Long before the Langeveld building was completed, Erasmus University had been warned that…
Too heavy, too small
The doors between the central part of the building and the surrounding spaces currently have to be kept open during the day, because they are too heavy to open. The door-closers on the doors to the wheelchair-accessible toilets are also too heavy and will be replaced. This has not yet been done, explains project manager Desirée Denie, because ‘the contractors and subcontractors are very busy’. It is on the agenda for this Thursday, though. Contractor BAM is working on a proposal to provide space for a wheelchair next to the toilet in the too-small restrooms.
“Why did you follow the minimum values so closely? Surely that must be the basis, rather than the highest achievable level?”, asks student Letthe Riemen during the conversation. Marijke Weustink, director of Real Estate & Facilities, completely agrees with her. “This building was designed years ago, and for years, accessibility has not been given the attention it required.”
The Langeveld building meets the statutory requirements of the Building Decree, says Weustink. This is confirmed by external architectural adviser Ben Kaelen. “The section on accessibility in the Dutch Building Decree is very small. If little is specified, small mistakes can sneak into a design. Therefore, we are also looking at additional accessibility standards.” The building does not yet meet those standards, but the university is working on that. All the same, Weustink is keen to learn from this process. “We are working on our own policy. We didn’t actually design the Langeveld building. However, we are drawing up the plan for the renovation of the Tinbergen building ourselves. Here, we want to apply what we have learned. This tender will start this year.”
The people from building services feel that making choices is sometimes a challenge. The current towel dispensers in the toilets are too heavy for people with limited hand function. In order to prevent waste, the university wants to get rid of paper towels. Putting dots on all the stairs to improve visibility would be a major investment. “At some point, we will have to say: this is the most we can do”, says Denie. “We have to maintain the entire campus with a single pot of money. Equipping all doors with automatic door openers, that could easily cost us 500.000 euros.”
Afterwards, all the members of the sounding board group express their gratitude. It is nice to be heard, they all state. “But you do need to give us and everyone else the time to trust in all the choices and changes”, says Riemen afterwards. “After years of frustration, we’ll believe it when we see it.”