Overlooked by many, subtle nuances make a world of inconvenience for people who are bound to a wheelchair.
A way to notice the inaccessibility of so-called “accessible” buildings is by living it, Stephanie Cadieux told Peace Arch News last week.
The Surrey South MLA met at PAN’s invitation to discuss her private member’s bill – introduced the previous Monday, asking that new multi-unit housing be built with accessibility considerations in mind – and she said that although developers have good intentions, oversights are easy to spot.
“Accessible” washroom doors that are incorrectly hinged and swing inwards; “accessible” hotel suites that are cluttered with furniture, making it a struggle to get to the bed or window; ‘handicap’ parking stalls that inconveniently block a wheelchair ramp to the sidewalk.
Despite these oversights, Cadieux says the province – and society – has done an “arguably, fairly good job,” at opening the world to those with disabilities.
However, “we have a long way to go with private dwellings.”
Of the 14 or so major developments taking place in her riding, all of which are multiple-house or townhome projects, only two are being built with a disabled body in mind, she said.
Her private member’s bill calls for a percentage of all new housing to meet disability certification or at least be “visitable.”
Cadieux, who has spent more than half her life in a wheelchair after a spinal cord injury at age 18, told PAN she’s not requesting that all new private dwellings be accessible, but rather that a percentage of all new large-scale private developments be designed with the ability to easily modify it into a wheelchair-friendly environment.
“There are ways to design that include the ability to modify. Visitability… means having a level entry way, widening the front door and a washroom on the first floor people could use,” she said.
Modifying a home to suit a wheelchair can be expensive. Cadieux would know; she’s had to modify a condominium and build a home custom to her needs.
However, if a home is built with the foresight in mind – such as stacking large closets to leave the possibility for an elevator – then the financial burden would be significantly decreased.
Another example of an easy-to-do design, she noted, would be reinforcing in the washroom walls to sustain a grab bar, if there ever was a need to install one.
“We have a riding that’s growing very quickly,” she said. “We have a lot of construction happening, a lot of new homes being built. Lovely, but, very few of them could ever accommodate a wheelchair user or someone that uses a scooter or walker for mobility.
“None are being built with that in mind, what if, down the line, somebody might need this?”
Cadieux said approximately 15 per cent of B.C. residents have a disability, in some form or another, and aging demographics may result in more people needing accessible-friendly environments.
Prior to the BC Liberals servicing in Opposition, Cadieux spent years on the social-services beat in the legislature.
She worked five years as minister of children and family development (2012-2017), one year as the minister of social development (2011-2012), seven months as the minister of labour, citizens’ services and open government, and one year as the minister of community, sport and culture development (2010-2011).
“I’ve always wanted to do this. One of the things I wanted to do right from the beginning, working on issues of accessibility and inclusion were my passion from the beginning. It’s one of the reasons why I went into government,” she said.
“That said, you can’t do everything all at once.”
As an elected official, Cadieux said she’s regularly invited to attend events, which are sometimes located in private homes. The first question that always comes to mind, she said, “is it accessible and does it have a washroom?”
While the BC Liberals were in power, her plate was full with cabinet responsibilities and she “didn’t have the time to be pushing my nose in other ministers’ business, putting new priorities on their table.”
It didn’t stop her, however, from getting in a developer’s ear if an opportunity presented itself.
“Frankly, I believe the best way to do things is to encourage it rather than legislate it. In a perfect world, it comes about through knowledge and education. And there’s a point in time where we’re not just making progress fast enough, so we need to do something different. For me, that’s now.”
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