Ottawa team redesigning Jamaica’s legislature

By Jasminee Sahoye

Dean Mellway and grad student Quayce Thomas confer on making Jamaica’s legislative building accessible.
Dean Mellway and grad student Quayce Thomas confer on making Jamaica’s legislative building accessible.

A Canadian team of accessibility and design experts have found some solutions to make the more than 50-year-old Jamaican legislative building accessible to people with disabilities.

New accessibility laws are now in place in Jamaica and a new building code is anticipated.

Dean Mellway, acting director of Carleton University’s READ (Research, Education, Accessibility and Design) initiative and third-year architecture student Quayce Thomas together with representatives of Quadrangle, a Toronto architectural firm known for accessible design, travelled to Kingston, Jamaica, last month to help officials make the legislative building accessible to people with disabilities.

Mellway told The Camera that the visit was at the invitation from Justice Minister Mark Golding whom he met while on a trip to Sir John Golding Rehabilitation Centre with former Ontario Lt.-Gov. David Onley.

They recommended work be done in phases to the existing design to avoid the expense of making vast changes.

Mellway said the structure does not allow visitors in wheelchairs easy access to the legislative floor.

He said their recommended changes start with “immediately leveling the entrance and adding a parking spot that is reserved for wheelchair users in the existing parking area.”

Next, they suggest creating a lounge on the lower level with a closed-circuit TV to the legislative chambers and  an accessible washroom which can be done on that level because there’s an existing staff washroom which would cost very little to modify.

Mellway said the next phase would involve a lifting device.

“They have a smaller footprint so they don’t take up much space. They are not designed for everyday use and that’s what we’re really looking for here – something when someone needs it but it’s not overused and therefore subject to a lot of need for repair.

“So we identified with them a space where they could fit this within the current configuration of the building. It’s still enclosed just like an elevator, it’s just a bit smaller and they would be able to do that in a positioning that would give access to the main functions of all three floors without disturbing a lot.”

While he said this would reduce some seats in the gallery, it would also create “a few spaces for people to view the proceedings from the level platform. A second washroom would be accessible on the third level and give access to all three levels.”

Mellway and his team now propose a proper assessment of the available alternatives.

“There’s a couple of places where they could expand the building and if they are able to do that, then there are a number of offices in the existing space that could be moved to allow better circulation and allow more seating for the gallery. It would be a fairly inexpensive addition,” he said.

While there is ongoing debate about moving the legislative building, for now Mellway and his team are providing suggestions which may make that unnecessary. In addition, Mellway and his department hope to collaborate with UWI’s school of architecture to develop further expertise.