Since Vancouver City Council voted to change their housing bylaws to require new and renovated housing to meet new accessibility standards, the issue of accessible housing has gotten more media attention. I even noticed an old journalism school friend doing several stories on this recently for a magazine aimed at contractors. Consequently, people not directly associated with disability are becoming aware of the issue, which is a great start and a real benefit of the discussion that has been happening with the City of Vancouver. I expect the bylaw changes will make a big difference to the lives of people with disabilities over time and I’m looking forward to seeing the results as they unfold.
However, I have had a number of community members who have no direct connection with disability and do not themselves need accessible housing (yet) approach me in my time off to ask about the need for accessible housing. It’s not that they are against these changes, they just don’t understand their necessity. I am always happy to discuss my favourite subjects with people and anything related to disability qualifies.
Here are some of the questions I ask these people, just to get them thinking:
- Have you ever had an accident or injury where you temporarily used crutches, a cane or a wheelchair, or where you were in so much pain that climbing a few steps seemed like a daunting task?
- Do you have older friends or relatives who started using a mobility device as they aged?
- Have you ever had a friend, coworker or neighbour who used a mobility device?
- Have you ever tried to move large items of furniture into or out of a house with narrow doorways or staircases?
- Would you like to be faced with the choice of doing expensive renovations to your home or having to move suddenly as your physical needs change during the aging process?
Anyone who answers “yes” to any of these questions would benefit from the changes detailed in Vancouver’s new bylaws.
Obviously, the need for these changes is more acute for our members who use wheelchairs all the time. The changes in Vancouver will have a more direct effect on their housing options and like many people associated with the disability community, I’m really excited to see what comes next in Vancouver. However, in order to convince the public and governments in other parts of the province to support similar changes elsewhere, we need to ensure that people understand the universality of the need for accessible housing.
I am a big believer in the idea that we will all need or benefit from some form of accessibility features during the lifespan. That doesn’t make any one of us “special” or “different”; it just means that as we move through life, our needs shift. A young child who needs a stool to reach the sink is not considered abnormal, so why do we label the need for wider doorways or no-step entrances as being unusual? It’s time to change that mindset so that appropriate housing for all people can be developed. That will obviously benefit a lot of people immediately, but it will also create longer-term change that will have an impact on the next generations of people who will experience changes in physical ability throughout the lifespan.
So what can you do?
- Talk to everyone you know to ensure that this message is getting through. Without a wider understanding of the need for changes in our building standards, we won’t see change. One of the best ways to show people that this matters is to ensure that they understand the universal nature of the issue.
- Talk to your local council or your community’s accessibility committee, if there is one. You can use the City of Vancouver report on the bylaw changes for information purposes.
- Talk to your MLA about the BC Building Code.
- Write a letter to your local newspaper.
- Whenever you run into an architect, contractor, real estate agent, or anyone else remotely associated with housing, talk to them about this issue.
Let’s get everyone we know talking and continue the great work that has already been started.
For information on housing options in your community or ideas on how to get the conversation started where you live, contact InfoLine at 1 800 689 2477 or firstname.lastname@example.org