By: Nicole Magas, Opinions Editor
The Study opened at the end of last semester, after months of anticipation from a student body eager for the return of their campus pub. Ever since The Highland Pub closed, students have had to trek all the way to Club Ilia to indulge in casual dining with a bit of alcohol. Given The Study’s prime location on campus in Maggie Benston Centre, its chill modern interior, and its combo of arcade games and a dance floor, the new pub is poised to be a new central hangout spot for the SFU Burnaby community. However, as was the case with The Highland Pub, accessibility is something of an issue at The Study.
Last month, my friend (who uses a motorized chair) and I went to enjoy some drinks as part of a larger group. It was pretty late at night, and there was no hostess at the front, so the rest of our group went to find a table while we figured out how my friend could get up to the dining level. Due to difficulties with the wheelchair lift, we eventually took the service elevator around the side, into the kitchen area. This took us into a narrow service hallway that was being used to store kitchen waste.
This experience was instructive. It brought to my attention the different ways that spaces can be disabling for people with different mobility needs. The Study, at present, is unfortunately one such space.
To be fair, all levels of The Study are technically accessible via the wheelchair lift. However, if there are difficulties with the lift, only the upper dining level is accessible via the elevator. The stairs-dominated setting makes this untenable when seating is not available at the top floor. This is only exacerbated by the general hustle and bustle of a venue as popular as The Study.
The initial seating aside, The Study is the sort of pub where patrons are going to be moving around — sidelining their meals or drinks to play the arcade games, for example. For guests with accessibility needs, mobility throughout such a multi-tiered space is far too limited.
The experience also spoke to what makes hostesses and hosts so necessary. It’s critical to have someone present at the entrance, not simply to greet guests, but to take account of every party member and their needs — including various accessibility needs. A hostless seating setup like The Study’s drastically cuts away at the time of those with accessibility needs, who will be delayed in the confusion of coordinating accessible seating.
In an email statement made to The Peak, Jenna Testani, bar leader at The Study, verified that both the wheelchair lift and the service elevator are available for differently abled guests. A phone number at the bottom of the stairs can be used to alert staff to guests who need assistance. “Only managers are trained to operate the wheelchair lift, but all staff are trained to best direct the conversation to find the best solution for the guest,” she added.
It’s worth noting that The Study does not have complete control over the space it currently occupies. Testani makes clear that The Study is limited in what structural changes they can make “SFU stills owns the building,” she said. “Though the pub looks quite different aesthetically, the bones of the building have not been altered since The Highland Pub was opened.”
Testani agrees that accessibility poses a challenge for the public house. “We know that the situation could still use some improvements and SFU has been made aware that better access into the pub that is more independent would be beneficial to those with specific mobility needs. The Joseph Richard Group is happy to partner with the University and is in full support of any changes, additions or solutions that SFU would be willing to implement to better serve the community.”
The Peak reached out to Mark McLaughlin, chief commercial services officer of ancillary services for comment. “Unfortunately when the Pub was designed and built many years ago [ . . . ] it was built on four levels with many sets of stairs making accessibility challenging to some,” he said. He did however suggest the possibility of an additional access point in the future through the Student Union Building. “There is a new connection to the pub via the new SUB building that may be useable to reach the patio. We will need to wait till the SUB is open to see how accessible this connection will be.”
It’s natural for a new establishment to experience some growing pains in its opening weeks as it adjusts and adapts to a diverse student body. One hopes that in the near future, the hurdles in accessibility at The Study are smoothed out so all students who wish to enjoy the space can.