Accessibility in Residential Buildings
11 May 2016
POSTED BY: Admin | Comments: 0


By: Don Epp


Over the past year I have supported 42 organizations with their facility planning.  Through this marvelous opportunity I have seen firsthand how agencies provide support in accessible and caring environments.  These agencies are pioneers and champions of providing accessible services to the individuals they support.

The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code also provides protection for the rights of people from discrimination and promotes accessibility rights for persons with disabilities.  The National Building Code (NBC), which prescribes construction and accessibility details of all buildings, is passed into law in Saskatchewan as the Uniform Building and Accessibility Standards Act (UBAS) . This act is legally binding and requires certain accessibility features to be included in new buildings.  Both have a role in furthering our society in becoming more accessible for people with disabilities.

I see the building code as a starting point and a guide for providing opportunities for accessibility.  When planning for changes to a residential building there are many new and exciting options available to create homes for people of all abilities. Concepts and practices of providing accessible housing have evolved over time.  Below are 3 common design concepts that have helped to promote accessibility in all buildings for all people.


1. Accessibility

Accessibility started with the desire to make buildings easier to access and maneuver around for people using wheel chairs.  Designated parking spots, cut curbs, ramps, lowered light switches were all incorporated into wheel chair accessibility.   Accessibility of residential buildings is improving and is important.  Walk-in bath tubs, grab bars, non-slip flooring, increased lighting, and wider doorways are examples of modifications that can make a home more accessible.


2. Barrier-free design

Barrier-free design is a concept that takes wheel chair accessibility to another level.  It focusses on removing barriers to promote accessibility.  This encompasses a wide range of possible changes to residential buildings.  Kitchens are now built with countertops with knee space below, and wall mounted ovens with side hinged doors and pull out racks.  Bathrooms have roll in showers, transfer devices, and other adaptive technology. Barrier-free design uses the building code as a base for their designs.


3. Universal Design

Universal Design goes beyond being barrier-free.  Universal Design acknowledges and recognizes that disabilities are all part of the human condition. Thus the design of products and environments are to be usable by all people regardless of their abilities. “The intent of the universal design concept is to simplify life for everyone by making products, communications, and the built environment more usable by more people, while emphasizing dignity and independence by providing those features that will allow people to function in their day to day setting without assistance, at little or no extra cost. The Universal Design concept targets all people of all ages, sizes, and abilities.” (Center for Universal Design, North Carolina State University)


The organizations I have visited have adapted their homes to meet the needs of the individuals they support.  New homes have been designed and built with accessibility as the main priority.  The most notable improvements I have seen are the changes to bathrooms.  Track lift systems, hands free faucets, specialized hydro therapy tubs, and wider doors all add to the accessibility of the home. 

I also see that there is room for improvement.  Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) provide details and essential elements for accessibility that go beyond just the minimum requirements.  The goal is to plan and prepare for future needs for people of all abilities living in the home and help create a society where accessibility is commonplace.

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