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Making Buildings More Accessible

Author: Janis Ramsay, STAFF
Date: Aug 24, 2009

Catherine Caldwell talks about getting around Barrie on four wheels.

Catherine Caldwell knows what it’s like to see Barrie from a different perspective.
For almost 27 years, she’s done business from a wheelchair and has much to say about how inaccessible it is here.

Simple things like going out to a restaurant or to the movies come with a whole new set of challenges for Caldwell – even though many places are somewhat accessible.

Her comments are even more valid now that the Ministry of Community and Social Services is doing a public review of building code regulations. Under the 2005 Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), the province has listed several priorities to make life a little easier for people living with disabilities.

The latest project is ensuring that parking lots, washrooms, hallways and elevators are more user-friendly. Property owners are being asked to make businesses accessible during renovations and aren’t be forced to retrofit existing properties.
The document is available online and public comments are welcome until Oct. 16.

“The difference I find now compared to when I was first diagnosed with MS, is back then a disability was considered something physical,” said Caldwell.
Now, the hearing and visually impaired are included, she said.

Caldwell has noticed downtown Barrie is making progress. “When Michael and Marion’s did renovations, they asked me for advice and putting in a side door helped. I used to have to go through the back door and then the kitchen.”

Taking a peek at the kitchen on the way to a table wasn’t always a bad thing though, as Caldwell could see just how clean it was behind the scenes.
“Manhattan’s has put in a graded cement piece at the front, and Shirley’s Grill has a ramp to help me in.”

But many other downtown stores and restaurants still only have steps. Caldwell is willing to give them some leeway.
“If I want to do business, I just knock on the window or ask another customer to go in to let staff know I’m there. Most places are pretty good and Barrie is still small enough that people go out of their way to help.”

What Caldwell does have a problem with are the strip malls.
“If I wanted to go to Sears, then across Bayfield Street to the Shoppers Drug Mart or LCBO, I’d be easily killed six times over,” she said.
And going to a strip mall in the winter is out of the question, so she hibernates. “It’s not safe – I can’t get proper traction, I just slide.”

It’s little things that matter to Caldwell, like at her own home when she finally renovated the bathroom.
“I had to brush my teeth sideways at first. I can now get my knees under the sink and I can’t tell you the joy I had when I was able to brush and spit in the sink.”

Speaking of washrooms, Caldwell also pointed out her challenge with going to the movie theatre. “They have an accessible washroom, but the sinks are so far back on the counter, I can’t reach. If I want to go, I bring wipes or do what my mother told me – go before I leave. “But things are an awful lot better than in 1985.”

Not only does she see more people zooming around in scooters or wheelchairs, but there is more recognition for other impairments.
The province’s 272-page building report, however, should be more specific for contractors, so there’s no room for interpretation.

Also reviewing the report is the Barrie Fire Department. “It’s long overdue, and our only concern as far as buildings go is fire escape,” said Deputy Dave Forfar. “It’s great to get people into these buildings, but how are we going to get them out in an emergency? If you’re in a wheelchair, the elevators shut off. How do we get them down the stairs?”

He said some schools have specific waiting rooms for the physically challenged. “But depending on the building – like City Hall for example – if you’re in the building department and the fire alarm goes off, how are we going to know somebody’s there?”

After the public review period, the province will again have a look at the report. If approved, it doesn’t mean building or homeowners will be forced to retrofit to the new standards – yet.

For more details about the plan, go to

Reproduced from