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TEST: Can you get around Frederiksberg Campus in a wheelchair?

Accessibility — Frederiksberg campus reminds you of one of those impossible M. C. Escher illusions: Many stairways, and many reasons to just give up.

Therese Fitzwilliams became a wheelchair user when a horse fell down upon her in the summer of 2018 while she was on an unpaid internship at an equine clinic.

The accident left her with a spinal cord injury that left her paralyzed in both legs at the age of 23.

After a year of hospitalisation and subsequent rehabilitation, she continued her studies in 2019 on the veterinary degree programme at the University of Copenhagen’s (UCPH) campus in Frederiksberg.

She quickly found out, however, that many of the places she needed to go did not have wheelchair access. She now gives the University Post a tour of campus in the hope that at some point there will be more accessibility for all students.

»It’s a shame that society is missing out on the perspectives and talent that wheelchair users can contribute, if they end up giving up. It is a problem, for example, if students cannot get in through the front door. Who knows? Maybe the inventor of the cure for cancer is left out there in the cold,« says Therese Fitzwilliams.

She had just completed her bachelor’s degree when she became a wheelchair user. And it helped that she had already started her studies, and therefore knew her way around Frederiksberg Campus.

She graduated with a master’s degree in 2022, but has continued to reflect on how accessibility should apply to all minorities, not just wheelchair users. She wrote an opinion piece about this in January for the University Post.

READ ALSO: Wheelchair user: »When are we going to start talking about ableism on Frederiksberg Campus?«

Friday bar and canteen with poor access

When we meet up it is February 2024. Therese Fitzwilliams and her service dog Ginny are with us at Frederiksberg Campus on Dyrlægevej. The first stop is the students’ canteen. It’s on the first floor, and the stairs up there consist of an open, narrow ladder that she couldn’t get up with her wheelchair when she was studying. Her lunch menu consisted for her, therefore, of a packed lunch down on the ground floor. Her classmates showed loyalty and came down to keep her company, she says.

Just around the corner from the canteen is A-vej, the students’ Friday bar at the end of a long, indoor staircase. Therese Fitzwilliams did go there a few times during her studies. But it was not easy.

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»I could, actually, slide up and down the stairs on my behind. But there was always beer on the floor, so it was a bit nasty,« says Therese Fitzwilliams.

Inside the building, a second staircase leads up to a cloakroom with another bar for the students. She did not show up at events here after her accident.

Auditorium: No access

Therese Fitzwilliams calls the next stop the ‘anatomy building’, an older multi-storey building.

»There’s a histology room on the top floor. It’s full of microscopes, but after the accident I haven’t been there because there are too many steps up there. Instead, my teachers let me borrow a microscope in a more accessible place,« says Therese Fitzwilliams.


There is also a lecture hall and an anatomy hall.

»The way I remember it, I simply dropped the lectures that were there, because they were in places I couldn’t access. At other times I got some nice teachers to move the lectures to a place where I could get in,« she says.

UN disability convention

Denmark acceded to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on 13 July 2009. In Article 9 on accessibility it states: »To enable persons with disabilities to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life, [participating states] shall take appropriate measures to ensure to persons with disabilities access, on an equal basis with others, to the physical environment, to transportation [that is, ed.] open or provided to the public.«

According to Therese Fitzwilliams, it is not officially registered where on Frederiksberg Campus there are disabled-friendly premises, and this makes it difficult for wheelchair users.

»There were many times I had no idea myself when I studied here. For example, there might be a lift in this building somewhere. But I just don’t know where, and no one else could tell me,« Therese Fitzwilliams recalls.

Lift required

Somewhere else on campus, she rolls up a nice ramp that makes it easy to get up and into a building with a wheelchair.

There are a lot of auditoriums in the building, so Therese Fitzwilliams calls it the auditorium building, and she has had various types of teaching here.


The front door is difficult to get through with a wheelchair, because the door is big and heavy to open. And at the same time Therese Fitzwilliams has to manoeuvre the wheelchair over a high step.

As she enters, she sees a map on the wall, which she thinks shows a lift in the building.

A staff member turns up and we ask about the lift. We get a confirmation that it does exist. But it is built in a way that you first have to climb some stairs to get to it. So in practice, it is almost impossible for wheelchair users to use the lift.

On the floor further up, there are also complications in getting around. It is not possible for wheelchair users to access all the rooms.

An assistant to open doors

We give up looking for the lift and move down the building’s hallways instead. They have many heavy doors, all of which are difficult for Therese Fitzwilliams to open while she at the same time pushes her wheelchair through them.

During her studies, she once asked the unit that helps students with special needs, if it was possible to put door openers on the heavy doors.

»They replied that they didn’t have the option of changing the buildings. This was not their department. The unit did however offer me an assistant who could help me open and close the doors. But I chose to take care of myself most of the time,« says Therese Fitzwilliams.

It must be pretty expensive if UCPH has to hire assistants to open doors for wheelchair users instead of finding an automated solution, she says.

Before the accident, she was a frequent user of a quiet room on campus. We walk towards it, but end up looking up a stairway that you have to overcome if you want to access it.

»On the master’s degree programme, I just had to accept that I couldn’t use the quiet room,« says Therese Fitzwilliams. She has not been to the quiet room since the accident.

A hidden ramp and an impossible toilet

Over on the Thorvaldsensvej street is the Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences. It is a more modern building than many of the others on Frederiksberg campus. And as a wheelchair user you coast smoothly along the building’s white marble floor. But then there is suddenly a staircase with four steps.

It is not immediately possible to get further into the building as a wheelchair user. But Therese Fitzwilliams knows a way.

Behind a massive wall on one side of the room, it is possible to roll past the stairs on a nice ramp. All you have to do is know it’s there, because it’s hidden from view. If access had been made more visible, for example by means of glass, people with reduced mobility would see it immediately.

There is one last example of something that Therese Fitzwilliams wishes the university did something about. Access to a toilet.

»The problem here is that the area in front of the toilet door slopes upwards,« says Therese Fitzwilliams before she tries to squeeze into her wheelchair – without success:

»The door is too heavy for me to push open, as there is no flat plateau in front of it where I can hold on before pushing myself over the high base of the doorway. I’m constantly rolling backwards, away from it, so I have to give up.«