Universal Design: Access for everyone

It’s a common story. People get injured and their house becomes home to 20 grab bars strategically located so that getting up and down is never a problem. What about navigating kitchen cupboards? Bathroom sink? Alternatively, parents express to their children that they do not want to move to a retirement home or a senior’s facility. But what are the options? There are too many stairs in those old houses.

Universal design has become a bit of a trendy buzz word in recent years, but some may not know what this means exactly. Simply put, universal design is the answer to a growing need in the home: accessibility.

Essentially, universal design is about creating a beautiful space that everyone can live in/visit both now and in the future. Age, size, ability… none of that matters. With universal design, there is safe access for everyone. Needs and abilities can evolve over time so universal design allows residents to live in and enjoy their home during all stages of their lives.

The trend was given a big boost by the recent dip in the economy. Homeowners would rather remodel than buy a new house. But ultimately, the reason to embrace universal design is the desire to age in place. An AARP National Survey found that 67% of people age 45 and over want to remain in their homes as long as possible. That number increased, up to a whopping 90%, as people age. Someone had to respond. Architects and builders embraced that desire and began to create homes with unique features that provide safe access for people of all ages. So, it started as a solution to the “age in place” dilemma but has expanded to providing livable homes for anyone and everyone.

It’s also important to note the word “design.” This is not just about adding grab bars around a home. Universal design means creating a beautiful home that happens to have features hidden in the design that will help homeowners and visitors alike.

Some essential universal design features include:

  • No-step entry
  • Wide doorways and hallways
  • Reachable controls and switches
  • Easy-to-use handles

If you own a multilevel house, you can incorporate universal design by adding a home elevator or wheelchair lift, making the home you love more accessible in the future.

If you are looking for smaller ways to update your current home and incorporate the new concept, some great solutions include:

  • Raised front-loading washer and dryer
  • Easy access storage and counter tops
  • Low or no-threshold stall showers with built-in benches or seats
  • Non-slip floors, bathtubs, and showers
  • Stairlift for stair travel

So get creative. How can you update you home now so that you can enjoy it well into the future?

read more

Technology Developments Improve Life for People with Disabilities

Michal Prywata and Thiago Caires, AMO Arm Creators. Photo by James Kachan

It’s quite common to hear people say that they couldn’t function without their phone, or that their life is on their laptop. But for some, life really does rely on technology. For people with disabilities, technology provides the ability to move and communicate. And for them, the constant evolution and development of technology is invaluable. Recent breakthroughs are creating new opportunities and provisions, moving us forward on the path to accessibility.

In 2011, two Ryerson University undergraduate students created a new prosthetic arm that is controlled by the user’s brain signals. The Artificial Muscle-Operated Arm sends a signal from a headset to a miniature computer in the arm to activate the required movement (more information here). The developments of young people give promise to an accessible future.

Another great example is Nike’s new product: The Nike Sole. This adapted running shoe works with the Flex-Run Foot, a prosthetic foot designed for runners by the orthopedic company Ossur. The sole slips over the flex foot to work like a traditional running shoe, providing support, traction, and absorb shock. Nike has been working with Ossur and marathoner Sarah Reinersten since 2006 on this new development that promises to change the running experience for people with prosthetic legs/feet.

In similar news, NASA technology has been adapted and applied by a company called Alter G. The company created a treadmill for persons with disabilities: the M320 and P200. The machine allows users to adjust the body-weight reduction up to 80% so that they are able to support themselves while walking or running, some for the first time ever.

And lastly, new web and smartphone applications are being developed every day to serve people with disabilities. One of the more recent apps is the Rick Hansen Global Accessibility Map. It is an online rating tool where consumers can submit and obtain reviews on community accessibility. The app is designed to raise awareness about the importance of improved physical access to public spaces.

Accessibility is ever-changing. And with new technology and developments, we can achieve accessibility in new and exciting ways!

read more

Is web content just one click away?

If you were asked to picture your idea of accessibility, what would you see? An entrance way with a ramp? A building with an elevator? What if you were asked to picture a person with a disability? Is he or she in a wheelchair? We often think of accessibility as physical access for people in wheelchairs. But it has a much broader scope.

Web accessibility extends beyond physical space. The power of the web lies in its universality; access for everyone is an essential element. The ability to “be online” is an integral part of our lives: we pay our bills, we shop, we read the news, we interact with friends, etc. In fact, there are businesses that exist almost entirely on the web (Amazon, Google, eBay). Yet many services and websites are not accessible to groups of people with certain disabilities.

Potential users may include persons who are color blind, partially or completely blind, hard of hearing, or deaf. Users may also have limited mobility in their upper body or a learning disability.

These individuals most likely encounter barriers to their online navigation on a daily basis. Things like small text and poor color contrast could impact those with color or partial blindness. For deaf people, multimedia components may be difficult to access without captions. Sites that require a mouse to navigate present a barrier for persons with limited mobility. And complicated writing may provide difficulty for anyone with a learning disability.

So what can you do? Simple changes can include altering your page and text colors so everything is clear and easy to read. Make sure to underline your links or add a symbol or picture so that people who are color blind can easily identify them. Another easy one is adding captions to your images, audio clips, and videos. And lastly, write simple sentences that are easy to read and to understand (in a decent-sized font!)

If you are more advanced in the IT department, check out ways to alter your code to allow for keyboard navigation and screen-reader compatibility.

The web is such a big part of our daily lives that it has become a necessity. It provides access to almost anything you can think of. The phrase “Google it” is probably expressed once every few seconds around the globe. So now it’s our turn to provide access to the web!

For a quick review of accessibility on our site, check out the video below






read more

How Accessible is the College Campus?

Savaria wheelchair lift at McMaster University

Imagine going to school only to be limited by building access. How might a lecture be different for you as a person with a disability?

Statistics show that about 4.4 million Canadians and 49.7 million Americans identified themselves as a person with a disability. For the potential students in that group, accessibility could be a major factor in choosing a post-secondary school.

A good but fairly basic menu of services and accommodations offered by today’s colleges and universities might include accessible classrooms and furniture, adaptive equipment, disability resource office, testing and curriculum modifications, mobility assistance, notetakers, paratransit service, parking accommodations, priority or online registration, and referrals for personal assistance services. A great example of an accessible school is University of Toronto, offering all of the above as well as a Wheelchair Access Fund Committee that researches, proposes, and oversees wheelchair accessibility projects across the three campuses.

After researching accessibility provisions in Canadian and American post-secondary institutions, here are some unique programs being offered:

University of Illinois is a school of firsts. They were the first school to offer post-secondary education for persons with disabilities. They were the first to create an independent living centre for those dependent on personal care, as well as a formal overseas program for students with disabilities. They were also the first school with accessible buses and wheelchair basketball teams for both men and women. This school is paving the way for persons with disabilities and can act as a model for other institutions looking to expand their services.

Another interesting school is University of California, Berkeley. The university’s Disabled Students’ Residence Program is nationally recognized due to its overwhelming focus on student empowerment, with a two-semester training period designed for freshman and transfer students that teaches and facilitates independent living.

Lastly, University of British Columbia is a school that offers a strong combination of basics, as well as unique programs and events on the ground. Their Access and Diversity blog features articles as well as programs such as the “Making Invisible Visible” poster campaign to raise awareness about disability; The Positive Graffiti Project to enforce positive thinking; and Think Equity, a publication on social issues featuring art, poetry, stories, etc.

Accessibility is about inclusion. It is about planning and being prepared. Campus policy should go beyond accommodating students when they arrive. Every student wants to have an amazing experience – they just need the opportunity to do so.

read more