Here are some simple ideas to help B.C.'s seniors and people with disabilities with housing

Housing and mobility are big challenges for both seniors and people with disabilities. An advocate and a builder have some ideas for what can be done to make things easier.

'People with disabilities ... deserve the same rights and access as all other citizens'

The inaccessibility of some buildings mean people with disabilities face challenges living in them. (Shutterstock)

An advocate for people with disabilities says a report from the B.C.'s seniors' advocate has those in her community nodding in agreement.

The report found rising rents and few affordable housing options mean many seniors are on the brink of homelessness.

Liz Barnett, executive director of the North Shore Disability Resource Centre says like seniors, people with disabilities people face extra challenges finding appropriate, accessible, affordable housing as well as mobility.

"Poverty underwrote much of the story with seniors' care, seniors' safety and vulnerability," she told The Early Edition host Rick Cluff, adding those are issues many people with disabilities struggle with as well.

"People with disabilities are citizens of British Columbia and deserve the same rights and access as all other citizens."

Barnett says many provincial programs are disjointed and don't interact well with each other, creating gaps in services. She adds B.C. lacks a disability act which could guarantee levels of services.

New homes improving

When it comes to housing, Barnett says in general, things are improving when it comes to new units.

More developers, she says, realize that seniors are downsizing to smaller units as they age and those seniors may develop mobility issues. That means things like flat-level entrances to units and bathrooms and enough room to turn a wheelchair around are important.

"A single stair can make a difference. A small lip can make a difference," she said.

Installing light switches lower down on walls and using lever-style door knobs instead of round knobs are other simple choices that can be made when constructing new housing, she said.

But, she says, older units present more issues.

Housing and mobility are big challenges for both seniors and people with disabilities. An advocate has some ideas for what can be done to make things easier. 5:28

Volunteer sees it firsthand

Derek Wilson volunteers for the Tri-Cities Better at Home Program to make simple modifications to existing homes for better accessibility for seniors and people with disabilities — everything from changing light bulbs and smoke detector batteries to installing grab bars in bathrooms.

His own mother lived with polio since she was eight years old and he says he watched her mobility progressively decline.

Finding housing in Vancouver is a challenge for many people, but people with disabilities face extra challenges. (David Horemans/CBC)

Eventually, living in her two-and-a-half storey house became impossible due to the stairs. Even when she moved to a single-level apartment, she had problems using her power chair in the narrow, galley-style kitchen and in the bathroom.

"She went into the kitchen to make lunch and I heard a little yelp," he recounted. "She had spilled boiling water from the saucepan onto her lap when she was sitting in her chair.

"That drew my attention to the serious hazard that she confronted because she didn't have convenient appliances."

Code changes possible

Wilson says he'd like to see new buildings be mandated to include a full plywood backing behind toilets and bathtubs to make grab bar installation easier.

He has written to both the federal government and the City of Port Moody to request changes to their building codes to make this change.

Andre Laroche, manager of regulatory solutions for Codes Canada, which manages national building codes, says Wilson is not the only one to request that change and says the idea is being considered for adoption across the country.

He says the next revision to Canada's national building codes will be published in 2020.

With files from Jake Costello and CBC Radio One's The Early Edition