I must admit that before studying design, and specifically the building code, I was somewhat uniformed and even oblivious to the various accessibility challenges that many people experience in everyday life.
I think for the most part when you ask people what barrier free or accessible design means to them, they would associate it with someone being in a wheelchair or in crutches, which I’ve learned is only a small piece of the pie.
This perception would perhaps lead people to feel that there isn’t much of a need to consider accessible design on a day to day basis as the frequency of a person requiring accessible design might be ‘highly infrequent’. It is important to remember that the term “accessible design” addresses a broad range of physical limitations, many of which are not always visible and in the following example, not always because of a disability.
I came to this realization when my daughter was about eight weeks old. We were at a restaurant when the inevitable happened, she needed a diaper change.
With a crying baby in one hand and a diaper bag in the other, I made my way to the restroom. A journey that would have been so simple had I been alone, felt like a small obstacle course. There was a long narrow hallway with no turning space, a door handle (as opposed to a push open door for people that have difficulty with grip) and no push-button to open the washroom door.
Getting into the restroom was a challenge, but when I realised there was no change table I had to call my partner to help. My next instinct was to look for the barrier free stall so that we would have more room to maneuver, but of course it didn’t exist.
As a new mother it made me realise the challenges that millions of mothers experience everyday as well as the millions of people that struggle in spaces that do not take their requirements into account.
In the restaurant, where I had my bad experience, a person in a wheelchair or using a walker would have found it extremely difficult, if not impossible to access the washroom stall.
Considering other limitations, this could also pose difficulty for someone dealing with an adult that needs an area to be changed or who needs extra space and support to sit down and stand up.
Accessibility takes in many factors, by way of example, the design and height of sinks. Perhaps you are below the “average” height. Are the knobs easy to turn or could they pose limitations to someone who has arthritis or difficulty with their grip? Does a paper towel dispenser work for everyone?
These challenges go outside and beyond the restroom. For example, reaching for items at the grocery store, walking up to a teller at the bank, opening a heavy door, were the transition between steps visible to everyone? All these mundane actions that most of us take for granted may cause incredible moments of stress and anxiety for others.
This experience highlights the importance of accessible design in everything we do and provides us an opportunity to create spaces that are truly inclusive for all people to enjoy.
Pushing design to the limit, even beyond the minimum requirements, only creates more ideas and possibilities, rather than restrictions. To me this is one step in the right direction to changing the world people live in and experience every day.
Below are some resources to help you with you AODA (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act).