Access Lab becomes more welcoming and accessible

Published on July 10, 2017

Visual of the new access lab after the renovations are completed

New Look for the Access Lab

The Access Lab in The D.B. Weldon Library will receive some much-needed upgrades this summer, thanks to a partnership between Western Libraries, Student Experience, and several donors.

The Access Lab, located on the main floor of Weldon Library, serves students with disabilities by providing a semi-private space to study, meet with tutors, and access assistive technologies. The room is equipped with a number of software programs and devices that assist students with visual, auditory, attention, and other disabilities to access textual materials, study, and complete assignments.

Although the Access Lab has the technology that students with disabilities need, the Lab itself is not very inviting. The room and its furnishings are utilitarian, dated, and lacking in warmth and colour.

Last year, Linda and Walter Zimmerman approached Western Libraries with a desire to make the libraries more accessible to students with disabilities. Both Linda and Walter worked at Western, Linda in ITS, and Walter in Weldon Library. The Access Lab project was identified as a priority, and the Zimmerman’s embraced the project and have offered generous support.

"During our time at Western, we had the opportunity to work with students with disabilities and we have been so impressed by their dedication," said Linda. "We came to understand their willingness to take on the extra work and their determination to succeed.  It has been an inspiration to us."

"Western Libraries have been a central part of my being," added Walter. "I spent 38 years helping students, faculty and other users in The D.B. Weldon Library. Western Libraries’ community – staff, faculty, students -- became like family to me, and I wish to enhance the experience of future library users."

The project, which begin this summer, will make several improvements to the space:

  • Create a barrier-free path to the room. The pathway currently cuts through Argo Tea, which can become blocked with furniture, backpacks, etc. The new path will be fenced to prevent objects being moved into its space.
  • Improve lighting with dimmable fixtures; especially important for students with low vision, Acquired Brain Injury, and learning disabilities.
  • Install new electrically operated height adjustable desks; purchase worktables and bar stools; create a banquette space including tables and chairs. This will create a variety of spaces for students to study, learn, and socialize.
  • Use lighting options to soften the room’s harshness and provide an inviting focal point. To achieve this, one of the room’s concrete walls will feature a soft lighting effect.
  • Replace the stained ceiling tiles and flooring; paint the bare walls.
Access Lab Floorplan

Access Lab's reconfigured floor plan.

"One of the most frequent concerns that is voiced to Services for Students with Disabilities is the need for suitable study and meeting space.  The improvement to the Access Lab will make an enormous difference for students by providing a comfortable, inviting, and accessible space…indeed a space that tells students with disabilities they are valued members of the Western community,” said Wendy Dickinson, Acting Associate Director, Services for Students with Disabilities. “It will provide a much-needed meeting space for students with disabilities – an area where they can connect with their peers for social support, shared experience, and community building."

At Western, over 2,500 students have documented disabilities ranging from physical to cognitive challenges. The number of students with a disability has grown significantly over the past five years; 46% more students now make use of the programs offered by Services for Students with Disabilities.  This upward trend is expected to continue, making the Access Lab space upgrade even more important and necessary. You can learn more about Services for Students with Disabilities by visiting their website.

To recognize the generous support of Linda and Walter Zimmerman, the room will be named the Linda and Walter Zimmerman Access Lab. Additional support has been pledged by the Society for Graduate Students.