UBC pays for replacement of student’s stolen wheelchair

When Cameron England, a third-year political science major, returned to where he’d left his wheelchair outside the Nest while he was volunteering at the AUS conference all day, he discovered that his wheelchair was gone.

“I [called the RCMP] the night of, and I sat outside the Nest and just waited for them to arrive,” said England. “The police officer that arrived asked me some general questions … and he did the best preliminary work that he could. I did send the serial number over to the RCMP … but since then, I haven’t heard anything from their end.”

England, who has cerebral palsy, says he usually uses his chair to travel around campus, but often parks his chair outside of buildings since he can walk short distances and does not want to remain dependent on the device.

After seeing a post on England’s Facebook page asking for information, second-year arts student Austin Ferguson decided to start a GoFundMe campaign online to help England with the costs of replacing the chair.

“In the next 24 hours [after starting the page], we raised over $1,500,” said Ferguson. “I couldn’t believe it. I remember I woke up one morning and there was an anonymous donation of $500. It was unbelievable.”

“I had no idea he was going to do it beforehand,” said England of the GoFundMe page. “I was incredibly floored by both his creation and how quickly funds came in afterwards. That was really amazing to see.”

A few days later, England heard that UBC was willing to assist him in getting a new chair.

“I didn’t know exactly what this entailed initially, so I made an appointment with my disability advisor, and then basically what she had told me was UBC was willing to fund everything — even notwithstanding the GoFundMe,” said England.

While saying that she could not comment on the specifics of the case due to confidentiality, Janet Mee, director of Access and Diversity, said that “the university has a number of sources that it uses to cover the costs of accommodating people with disabilities on the UBC Vancouver campus.”

There are several mechanisms through which students might get costs such as these covered — for example, AMS extended healthcare benefits allow for up to $7,000 for the replacement of an electric wheelchair every 36 months.

“We have only just learned that that’s a possibility, so we were pretty excited about that,” said Mee. As for England, he says that he hasn’t been able to get a new chair yet due to both administrative details and being busy with school and his role as the AUS representative on the AMS Council.

“The original chair wasn’t actually mine. It was a loaner from the provincial government, so I had to phone them and figure out next steps although I haven’t heard back,” said England. “I’ll have to go back to within UBC admin and [ask] what are the next steps.”

England mentioned that if he does have leftover donation money from students, he would consider donating it to charity.

While not having his chair has had an impact on him, England also emphasized that it may impact others facing the same situation more and hopes that accessibility issues will keep being addressed.

“Even though I use my wheelchair [and services] mainly for convenience ... there are some people that events like the loss of a chair or a de-funding of a service or something could be detrimental to both their academic success and just their regular life. I just want to make sure that those voices of students that require those services are heard when they do come forward,” said England.