Students in the Spotlight: Rhonda Solomon

May 5, 2021 by School of Cities Staff

"Students in the Spotlight" is a conversation series with members of the SofC Urban Leadership Fellowship and Academy program

Rhonda Solomon headshot

  • What are your research and engagement interests?

    My PhD research will explore how (lack of) provision of public washrooms designed to accommodate the specific toileting needs of people with severe and/or prolonged disabilities (“Changing Places” toilets) intersects with planning practice.  I will specifically consider the intersection of universal design in the built environment (vis-à-vis public toilets) and governmental legislation.  The purpose of my research is to counter the critical absence of planning and policymaking with regards to public toilet provision in North American cities.  Specifically, I intend to show how this absence of public toilet planning and policymaking has detrimental effects for people with severe and/or prolonged disabilities, including motor neuron disease, cerebral palsy, and multiple sclerosis.

  • What has motivated your interests and journey? How do you hope to make a difference?

    I have a t-shirt that reads “It’s time to celebrate our differences.”  This message holds special meaning for me.  Because of my disability, I require accommodations to help me achieve my academic potential.  I am lucky to receive this support through Accessibility Services.  But so many people with disabilities are not privileged when it comes to securing accommodations—not only towards attaining higher education, but also to navigate and explore the city safely, confidently, and with dignity.  So, I want to make one small, but incredibly important, difference in how our cities are built.  By working towards increasing the availability and accessibility of public toilets in cities, I want to help turn the celebrating our differences slogan into reality. 

  • What’s the latest project you have been working on that you would like to share with the SofC audiences?

    My panel discussion on public toilet provision for people with disabilities!  I’m so excited to see this through.  I can’t believe I’m actually going to have the opportunity as a student to produce something so amazing and important.  I started to work on assembling panellists and putting accommodations in place for the webinar as soon as I found out moderating a panel discussion was a possibility.  I’ve set a date of June 17 for the discussion and, wow, are things moving quickly!  Won’t it be awesome if I’m able to reach a large audience and get organizations and businesses on board to install Changing Places toilets in their facilities?  I can’t wait!   

  • As a student, researcher and or activist, what have you learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and its global impact? How do you envision post-pandemic recovery? What do you hope for?

    As a student, I’ve learned that what once was analysed or seen only at the micro scale can quickly become a macro scale issue given the right environmental conditions.  This speaks to the interconnectedness of all of us - of all of nature. We require a new lens, a new mindset to understand our condition of interconnectedness, of dependence on one another for our wellbeing.  There are too many silos in academic thinking, too many missed opportunities for crossing traditional faculty boundaries.  But this is not an issue only in academia; there is a lack of awareness generally of how everything/everyone is connected universally. I envision and hope for a post-pandemic recovery that accounts for our global interconnectedness, that understands we do not walk alone, but that our footsteps touch the path of so many others. 

  • Please share with us your experiences at the SofC. How do you think being a member of the SofC Urban Leadership Fellowship and Academy Program has contributed to your scholarship and added to your experience as a student?

    Had I not been honoured with a School of Cities Urban Leadership Fellowship and Academy award I would have missed out on an awesome opportunity to put my scholarship into practice.  I feel so focussed, optimistic, and excited knowing I have my panel discussion to organize.  I have a project to pour my energy into, which is a blessing for a results-oriented person like me.  I’m a devoted student and I love being a student. I want to make a concrete difference in this world. And now I can. And I don’t even have to wait until I finish my PhD! Whoo-hoo!  

  • Any final word or message?

    I’m a dreamer. Sometimes unrealistic about possibilities. But I go for them anyways. And wow did it work out this time! What an honour to have received this SofC Urban Leadership Fellowship and Academy award. I don’t know what to say but thank you, thank you, thank you School of Cities. You’ve given me a wonderful gift.

Student Bio:

Rhonda is a first-year PhD Urban Planning student. Her research considers accessibility of public toilet spaces in North America through a critical disability studies lens. She will explore how (lack of) provision of public washrooms designed to accommodate the specific toileting needs of people with severe and/or prolonged disabilities intersects with planning practice re inclusive/universal design in the built environment and governmental legislation. The purpose of her research is to counter the critical lack of planning and policy-making with regards to public toilet provision in North American cities, particularly for people with disabilities. Rhonda published “A Comparative Policy Analysis of Public Toilet Provision Initiatives in North American Cities: Recommendations for the Creation of a Public Toilet Strategy in Toronto.”