Universal locker rooms come to new Calgary YMCA

In most recreation facilities Reanne Hempsall would not be able to accompany her visually-impaired boyfriend into a locker room.

LGBT community, persons with disabilities to benefit

Reanne Hempsall can now help her visually-impaired boyfriend get ready for a workout thanks to a universal locker room at the new Quarry Park YMCA which opened Friday. (CBC)

In most recreation facilities Reanne Hempsall would not be able to accompany her visually impaired boyfriend into a locker room.

"For everyone who would be affected by it, I think it's great," Hempsall said.

Normally I'd have to separate and I'd have to wait for him to fumble around or … it just makes things a lot easier for us."

She's talking about the new universal locker room at the Calgary YMCA at Quarry Park in the city's southeast.

Surveillance cameras are in the clothing-mandatory area. (CBC)

It's similar to a large family locker room, but is intended to be more inclusive for both the LGBT community and those with disabilities who may have an attendant of the opposite sex.

The large, open concept facility also allows Audrey Gutsche to stay with her two sons, both under the age of 10 and therefore too old to go into a women-only change room.

Audrey Gutsche isn't comfortable with sending her two young sons into the men's change room and now she doesn't have to. (CBC)

"It's nice because I don't feel like I can put them in the men's change room, I don't necessarily feel safe because you just don't know people in there."

Shirley Sokolosky is a new member and supports the universal concept but she says the name may be misleading.

"It's really universal lockers with extremely secure change cubicles, shower facilities, and separate washrooms," Sokolosky said.

Shirley Sokolosky would have named it a little differently because there are separate areas for men and women to change. (CBC)

"So calling it a universal locker room sounds like it's got a closed area where everybody's just changing outright by their lockers. So I actually would have named it a little bit differently."

Sokolosky says once she saw the design she felt completely comfortable with it.

Kelly Smith, of the Calgary YMCA, says security was a major factor in choosing the universal concept which is popular in Europe but rare in Canada.

Kelly Smith, with Calgary YMCA, says security is actually better with the new locker rooms. (CBC)

"Security is enhanced. In a typical locker room the doors closed, but with something like this it's open to the public."

Along with people keeping an eye out for each other, surveillance cameras are also in the clothing-mandatory area but not in the 28 private changing rooms in the locker room where male and female washrooms are still separate.