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Canadians anxious about accessibility issues as they age


The Rick Hansen Foundation is releasing a national survey on accessibility issues today.


HO / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Two-thirds of Canadians are anxious about developing disabilities and challenges in the next decade that will impact where they live, shop and go for any reason, and about a quarter of Canadians say they already have mobility, vision or hearing challenges, according to a survey to be released today by the Rick Hansen Foundation.

The survey of 1,800 Canadians was conducted and sponsored by the Angus Reid Institute and focused on the perspectives and concerns of individuals regarding disabilities, mobilization and accessibility.

Hansen said it is striking that about a quarter of Canadians said they had mobility, vision or hearing issues and nearly half of survey respondents said they spend time with individuals dealing with such concerns. It is clear millions of Canadians are worrying about such challenges and how they will impact their own lives or those of their family members, he said.

Already, nearly a third of people say accessibility is a consideration when they think about where they go out. And a third of people said their own homes are not accessible to those with mobility, hearing or vision challenges.

About 70 per cent of survey respondents said Canada should have universal accessibility standards for newly constructed buildings and homes.

Hansen said long overdue is a “new, standard playbook” for consistent accessibility building codes across Canada.

“People in the design communities are rarely focused on accessibility, or if they are, they’re driven to embracing minimum codes. The other problem is that building codes and standards — and the interpretation of them — vary across municipal, provincial and national jurisdictions.”

In late 2017, the provincial government awarded the Rick Hansen Foundation a multi-year $9-million grant to help remove physical barriers and realize the goal of universal access for those with disabilities. The grant enabled the foundation to develop an accessibility certification service, which is a LEED-style system to rate accessibility in multi-family residential homes, retail stores, businesses and institutional buildings where people work, study, and pursue a variety of activities.

The foundation also used some of the grant to establish a partnership with Vancouver Community College to train individuals how to analyze and rate buildings for overall accessibility. After the course, the graduates (over 70 so far) must write a formal exam administered through the Canadian Standards Association. Besides developing the curriculum, the grant enabled free accessibility ratings for 1,100 buildings across B.C. and, in a further incentive, also allowed organizations seeking such ratings to apply for grants of up to $20,000 to use toward improvements such as automatic doors, ramps, and other necessary features.

While other provinces have yet to copy B.C.’s generous grant program, Nova Scotia, Alberta and Ontario have also created some college-level educational programs to train accessibility assessors, Hansen said.

“It’s wonderful to see that momentum is building across the country. This is going to be a made-in-B.C. social innovation, a national and global standard, and hopefully similar to the LEED certification program for energy efficient buildings. Our intention is to learn from that model.”

The B.C. Institute of Technology was an early subscriber to the program and the Vancouver Airport earned an “Accessibility Certified Gold” rating, for features such as counters with heights that are appropriate for those using wheelchairs, curbside ramps and numerous other features.

Hansen said the fact that the program can no longer accept new registrants for free ratings since it quickly reached capacity shows the huge demand for such a service. Businesses that still want to be rated and certified can be waitlisted and book the service through the foundation.

Referring to the fact that the Angus Reid survey showed that 21 percent of Canadians say they are more likely to support a business that is certified accessible, Hansen said scorecards can be displayed in windows; they’re a good form of advertising for commercial enterprises and a fine way to reveal which ones are socially conscious.

“This is not just a human rights issue, it’s becoming an important economic issue. Inclusive design is good for business, not just for society,” he said, noting that the survey shows 30 per cent of Canadians consider accessibility when deciding where to do business. Moreover, home builders would be wise to construct fully accessible single and multi-family residences since aging in place has emerged as a priority, he said.

“I thought I was trying to create a global movement when I was 27 and starting out on my Man in Motion tour but little did I know just how inaccessible and disconnected the world was,” Hansen said, adding that accessibility has finally become top of mind for many so “maybe the fantasy is becoming more real than ever.”

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Twitter: @MedicineMatters


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