Sudbury

Sault Ste. Marie releases autism strategy

When you think about accessible design, you might think about ramps and elevators. But it's not just physical disabilities than can create barriers for people. That's part of the reason behind Sault Ste. Marie's new autism strategy.

Strategy includes list of services, as well as guidelines for more accessible building designs

Nancie Scott is the accessibility coordinator for the City of Sault Ste. Marie. (Submitted by Nancie Scott)

When you think about accessible design, you might think about ramps and elevators. But it's not just physical disabilities than can create barriers for people. That's part of the reason behind Sault Ste. Marie's new autism strategy.

The city recently released the strategy, which includes design guidelines for "sensory spaces".  It outlines ways to design spaces that are more welcoming to people on the autism spectrum — from reducing harsh lighting and distracting noises to prevent sensory overload, to creating quiet spaces, to including clear visual signage. 

"It speaks to a lot of different things. So in any developments that we do at the corporation of the City of Sault Ste. Marie, we will use this guideline to make things better for people with autism," said Nancie Scott, the accessibility coordinator for the city. 

While the city already has accessibility criteria that it has to meet, Scott said issues specific to those on the autism spectrum are not reflected in those. 

"There's nothing really in the accessibility standards that speaks specifically to having these criteria met."

Inventory of services 

Coun. Lisa Vezeau-Allen was a driving force behind the autism strategy, which the city had been working on for about a year and a half. 

Vezeau-Allen has been involved in disability advocacy for a number of years, in the Soo and elsewhere, and her 18 year-old son is on the autism spectrum.

"I really saw a need in terms of us doing something formally from the city perspective," Vezeau-Allen said. 

Lisa Vezeau-Allen, a Sault Ste. Marie city councillor, lead the effort to establish an autism strategy for the city. (Lisa Vezeau-Allen/Facebook)

Along with the design guidelines, the autism strategy also includes an inventory of public and private autism services in the community, and roadmaps for diagnosis and supports, both for children and adults. 

"It's not clear for a lot of people as to where they need to go or what they need to do … whether you're a parent wondering, or even if you're an adult," Vezeau-Allen said. 

As well as informing future designs for municipal buildings, Scott hopes businesses in the community will chose to follow the design guidelines as well, to make their spaces more accessible. And more generally, she hopes the strategy can help to raise some awareness about the specific needs for many on the autism spectrum.

"So often it's just a little bit of awareness that makes a difference for people with disabilities in the community," Scott said. 

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