National AccessAbility Week – May 26 – June 1
By Don Epp, SARC Facility Planner
The Government of Canada has declared the last week in May (May 26 – June 1) as National AccessAbility Week.
The goal is to promote accessibility and inclusion across our country through our communities. Accessibility and inclusion are important topics in the Disability Services sector and creating more accessible spaces while changing the perception of people experiencing disability in our communities is integral to the health of our society.
Currently, the National Building Code (NBC) 2015 addresses accessibility with minimum standards, where barrier-free design is required. Often the focus is on how people using wheelchairs can navigate and use new buildings. The intent is to create buildings where barrier-free is defined as “a building and its facilities that can be approached, entered and used by persons with physical or sensory disabilities”. (“Barrier Free Design” Building Standards Guide Government of Saskatchewan, page 7). The NBC covers new buildings and additions only.
The Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission (SHRC) also places a high priority on accessibility. Disabilities covered under the SHRC are much broader than the NBC and include disabilities related from epilepsy to environmental sensitivities. The SHRC is complaint-driven and addresses concerns in all public buildings, not just new buildings. Human Rights and protection from discrimination are the focus of the SHRC (Code). http://saskatchewanhumanrights.ca/learn/policies/building-standards-and-the-code
Inclusion has a great benefit to society. There are still many barriers to inclusion and not all these barriers can be remedied in a book of building codes. Inclusion can be thought of as an outcome of accessibility. When more buildings are designed as “barrier-free”, they become more accessible, which in turn creates a more unified community where people of all abilities can interact, work, and learn from each other. As a society, we must go beyond the minimum standards and remove barriers that prevent inclusion. Societies are healthier when all members can experience the following:
- Experience a sense of belonging
- Are accepted within their communities
- Have valued roles within the community
- Are actively participating in the community
- Are involved in activities based on their personal preferences
- Have social relationships with others whom they chose and share common interests with
- Have friends
While working as a Facility Planner with SARC, I have seen firsthand the importance of creating accessible spaces in buildings. Accessible buildings allow more people to participate and become involved in their community. Additionally, as our buildings and public areas become more accessible, our communities become more inclusive which positively impacts the lives of people experiencing disability as they are able to live the lives they want.