Written by Atara Beck
Tuesday, 24 November 2009
TORONTO – According to Edward Rice, chairman of Ontarians with Disabilities Sub-Committee, League for Human Rights, B’nai Brith Canada, “UJA Federation [of Greater Toronto] has gone beyond the building code” to accommodate disabled people at the renovated Lipa Green building – the first building to be completed at the new Sherman Jewish community campus on Bathurst north of Sheppard.
Most people who do not have close family members or friends with physical disabilities have no understanding of the day-to-day challenges disabled people face while going about town. They assume that if there are a few disabled parking spaces and a ramp, then everything has been taken care of. Nothing could be further from reality, Rice explained.
For instance, he drives a mini-van with an electric wheelchair that gets loaded on and off the vehicle. Regular parking spaces reserved for disabled people are useless in this regard. What is required is the equivalent of three regular spaces, where the middle one could be used for loading and unloading the chairs on either side; otherwise, the disabled driver has no room to get in and out of the car. The parking lot at Lipa Green includes this feature, with a metal post in the middle spot, which is necessary to prevent other cars from using it.
Rice has seen this type of accommodation in the US, but this is the “first real success” in Canada.
“The building codes are obsolete,” he said. “Most places are wheelchair accessible but not scooter accessible. Scooters are becoming more popular.”
The washrooms at Lipa Green are also state of the art. At public facilities for disabled people, most stalls are quite tight for people with scooters or wheelchairs. At Lipa Green they are more spacious and include an unusual but important feature: push-button doors not only for entering, but also at the exit.
Another substantial addition is the ‘PT grab bar,’ which Rice has seen “only once or twice” in hospitals or homes for senior citizens. The bar could be compared to an elbow joint; one could grab it from either side of the toilet, which is far superior to the standard unbendable bar that could very well be situated on the user’s weak side.
Rice is also on the committee for Itanu, the federation’s ‘Inclusion Initiative.’ Two years ago, Robin Gofine of the federation’s planning committee contacted him for advice to be certain that the new campus would include every necessary feature to accommodate disabilities. Indeed, every effort had been made at the downtown and Vaughan locations as well, Rice said.
“I’m thrilled because they used all my suggestions. They’ve been doing everything I recommended,” he beamed, pointing to a sign that wheelchair access is available at the rear entrance.
According to Rice, very often what is lacking at establishments with accommodations is merely signage.
He also demonstrated the easy access to the button on the building’s exterior to open the main doors, explaining that very often these features are located beyond the reach of a person in a chair.
It would make sense for a disabled person to approve the design of a building and test it, although that is not a standard design building code requirement yet, he said.
The cost in dollars and cents to fulfill special needs requirements is not significant, he added.
“It doesn’t take much, but it makes a huge difference. All the technology has been available for a long time, but there is no [legal] requirement.”
Stephanie Olin-Chapman, project director at the Sherman campus, told the Jewish Tribune that people with audio and visual challenges were also taken into consideration.
“Rice described mobility issues,” she said, adding that the Lipa Green building includes talking elevators and Braille signage – “subtle things we picked up with research from CNIB [Canadian National Institute for the Blind]. And we incorporated suggestions.”
For example, at the campus’s main intersections, changes in flooring material – and colour, for the partially blind – indicate a new corridor, and the conference centre is equipped with an infrared system.
American legislation for improved accessibility for disabled persons began in 1990 under the George Bush Sr. administration, Rice mentioned. Ontario now has a 20-year plan and is the first Canadian province to pass similar legislation, for which Rice had submitted recommendations.
His next project is full service for the disabled at self-serve gas stations, which already exists in the US.
“My theory is: You design things for the worst-case scenario. For everyone else, it becomes a piece of cake,” he stated.