By Trevor Greenway
Steve Gerecke says it’s like a “punch in the face” when he can’t access a public building because it doesn’t have a wheelchair ramp. It happens all the time.
The Ottawa photographer, who has a disability, says changes to the province’s building code that will force contractors to design condos, apartments and public spaces that are more accessible to people with disabilities are a good start, but there is a lot more to be done to make Ottawa an accessible place to live.
“It’s gotten better, but there are a lot of limitations still,” said Gerecke, explaining how he can’t frequent scores of restaurants, cafes, banks and bars in the city that don’t have ramps. “When you really need to get in somewhere, it’s really frustrating.”
The province is modifying the Ontario building code Jan. 1, 2015 to require new condo and apartment buildings, community centres, churches and commercial buildings to include things like wider doorways, elevators, visual smoke alarms and power doors.
The new rules will only apply to new construction or “extensive renovations,” and won’t apply to houses. This is where Gerecke says the province stopped short.
“What about all the other ones, the older buildings?” he asked. “This happens all the time. It’s almost like a punch in the face.”
Stand-up comic and motivational speaker Michael Lifshitz says he doesn’t feel sorry for contractors who bemoan the increased cost of building for accessibility and says the new legislation will benefit not only seniors and those with disabilities, but eventually everyone.
“As you age, you are going to have more mobility challenges,” said Lifshitz, who suffers from multiple congenital musculoskeletal abnormalities and uses a wheelchair most of the time.
“If you live to a nice, ripe old age, this is going to be an issue for you. We are in an aging population. We should be making our society more accessible, be it commerce places, places of business, because people do need to get around.”
Some Ontario builders told Metro last week that the new changes would result in higher prices and bigger footprints for condos in Ontario, but Lifshitz doesn’t buy the argument.
“I find it somewhat laughable that, in 2015, we actually have a resistance to the concept of making buildings accessible to people with disabilities,” said Lifshitz.
Ontario’s Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing says a recent cost study suggests that the increased cost to developers and builders would be “limited.” Ministry Spokesperson Charlene Millett said the new measures are part of the province’s push to implement broad accessibility changes in Ontario by 2025 under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
“The more accessible buildings are for people with disabilities, the greater their ability to live, work and participate fully in the life of their communities,” said Millett.”Accessibility features also benefit the broader population including families with young children, businesses, recreational and cultural facilities.”