Mobility presented a major challenge 

By Barbara Black

Remi Stebenne needed patience and a sense of humour to withstand the sometimes lengthy wait to use the Hall Building elevator. Magnifying glass

Remi Stebenne needed patience and a sense of humour to withstand the sometimes lengthy wait to use the Hall Building elevator.

Journalism graduate Remi Stebenne can’t walk, which really affected his life as a student.

“I often arrived late for class or very early; there was no way to know in advance. The adapted transportation system is horrible.” Stebenne had to commute from St. Hubert, and when the bus didn’t come, about once a month, his father had to leave work to drive him to Montreal.

“Of course, the classrooms that my classes were in were accessible, but when it came to extra-curricular activities, I was out of luck. Most clubs are in old buildings that have stairs, so my university career was devoid of any activities other than classes. I'm not saying I never had fun, it's just that a big part of university life was inaccessible to me.”

The elevators in the Hall Building, always inadequate, are now reduced to one small one while renovations are in progress, creating long waits, especially for someone in a bulky wheelchair.

“I waited over 45 minutes for an elevator once, and only got on because a security guard kicked people out of it. I would ask them to get out so I could get in, as wheelchairs are supposed to have priority, but they would just stare until the doors closed.”

He’s amazed at the laziness he saw. “I've seen people take the elevator from the ground floor to the second floor! If the alternative was stairs I'd understand a bit more their reluctance to walk, but it’s an escalator — they don't even need to move once they are on it!”

Stebenne uses a mouth-stick to type and is as fast on a keyboard as anyone, about 45 words a minute.

“I was one of the first handicapped students in journalism, and to be honest, in some ways they were not ready for me. I had problems in some classes early on with some assignments because the teachers wanted us to go places that were inaccessible and could not think of other places to go.

“I just did my best in those classes and tried to find different ways to do those assignments. Most of my teachers were very accommodating and we usually worked together to find something I could do.”

Stebenne got involved with The Concordian student newspaper, and became the editor of the online version. “I finally felt what joining a group and working together on something we all enjoy was like, and it felt good. To be honest, I wish this happened in my first year, but I am very happy it worked out.”

Stebenne doesn’t think he could be a conventional newspaper reporter, but he hopes to do layout for a publication.

“I love writing and reading, and I will not let access issues stop me. I am in the planning phase of a novel, and now that university is over, I can work on it with the attention it deserves, so no matter what happens, I will end up writing something.”

His parents deserve a lot of credit for this graduation success story. Stebenne and his brother, who is more severely handicapped, were adopted. Stebenne’s first year in a community school was “the worst year of my life, because of the mentality.”

Stebenne’s mother complained frequently about the punitive, insensitive attitude at the school. She finally wrote to then education minister Claude Ryan, who enabled Stebenne to go to Keith School in LaSalle, which is how a boy in a unilingual French family became a bilingual university graduate.


Concordia University