Calgary council makes move to improve building accessibility
Druh Farrell calls for audit of city-owned structures
City council approved a motion Monday to make it easier for people with disabilities to access public buildings.
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"We have problem with accessibility in a whole bunch of areas," said Ward 7 councillor Druh Farrell, who introduced the motion. "Think of the isolation that often occurs with individuals who aren't able to move around their own city very well."
Farrell points to several recreation and leisure facilities, including Mt. Pleasant outdoor pool.
"It's the only outdoor pool in the city that's wheelchair accessible. They have a lovely ramp that goes right into the pool," she said.
"[But] the washrooms aren't accessible. And it's a city-owned pool."
Farrell is calling for city administration to do an audit of all city-owned buildings to assess which ones need retrofitting. She acknowledges that some upgrades — such as downtown Calgary's municipal complex — will be costly, but says it's a "highly symbolic gesture."
"It should be one of the most public buildings in Calgary and if it's excluding certain citizens, then we're not doing a good job," said Farrell, who adds that by 2019 — nearly 200,000 Calgarians over the age of 15 will be living with a disability.
"There is a bit of an accessible housing crisis in the city," said Jeff Dyer, executive director of Accessible Housing.
Dyer says the Calgary not-for-profit has received 250 calls in the last three months from Calgarians who are experiencing "housing insecurity."
"Not homelessness, but they simply are calling us saying 'we can't live in the building we're currently living in . . . in the home we're currently living in,' and they can't afford to do anything about it."
He says the charity is also hearing from many Calgarians in hospital who've had a spinal cord accident or debilitating disease, who are "trapped" in hospital because they don't have an accessible home to return to.
The Alberta Building Code does not require developers to design residential homes or condos with accessibility in mind, unless it's provincially or federally funded.
The City of Calgary does have an Advisory Committee on Accessibility, but Farrell doesn't think they have been "all that successful in changing behaviours."
"At the very least, what we could do is certainly ask a developer to consider it, to look at ways to ensure that units are easily convertible," said Farrell.
Farrell would also like to see Calgary planners use urban braille — a system of environmental design that serves the visually impaired.
"Our streets, our public realm, the sidewalks we often have obstructions in them that prevent people who have sight impairment from maneuvering the streets safely."
Sidewalk in dire need of urban braille. Hard to navigate for wheelchairs & near impossible if sight impaired. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/yyccc?src=hash">#yyccc</a> <a href="http://t.co/rWVvx63JUt">pic.twitter.com/rWVvx63JUt</a>—@DruhFarrell
Urban braille also includes adding colour and texture to sidewalks to provide warning signals and clues related to orientation.