Forget Aspirations. Let’s Add Some Teeth to Accessibility

By Keith Edwards

Millions of Canadians worry about decreased mobility, vision and hearing and the impact they might have on their own lives or friends and family. So concluded a recent Angus Reid Institute study in partnership with the Rick Hansen Foundation.

Indeed, two out of three surveyed expressed concern that someone in their life will face an accessibility issue in the future.

Not fussed enough

Still, seven in 10 said universal accessibility should be a goal only for newly constructed buildings. Slightly concerning, I’d say. Looking deeper, researchers found that 15 per cent of respondents were living with a disability; another nine per cent suggested that they faced physical, vision or hearing challenges, but not disabilities. More than half acknowledged having relatives and close friends who were becoming more frail, or living with disabilities. Which likely brings us closer to the Statistics Canada numbers that tell us that 5.3 million Canadians (16 per cent) are living with some form of disability.

On the face of it, the survey findings should bode well for an increased level of disability awareness but, regrettably, concerns about accessibility and inclusion aren’t yet as mainstream or universal as they might appear on the surface.

Reality check

It seems there might be a disconnect between Canadians making realistic future plans for their later lives and their understanding of what’s needed to make those plans happen. When asked, only eight per cent of all respondents, with a disability or not, were seriously concerned about new or worsening disability/mobility issues in the next five to 10 years and only 18 per cent were somewhat concerned. (Women, who do most of the caregiving, were more worried than men.) Despite all the talk of “aging in place,” remaining in our own homes and staying active in our communities, without “accessibility and inclusion” happily ever after might be a pipedream for most of us. Everywhere needs to and must be accessible: Our homes, public buildings, pathways, schools, retail stores, restaurants, bathrooms and so on.

In addition, the survey identified a gap between wanting change and being willing to do something concrete about it. With only half of respondents believing that accessibility in existing buildings should be a priority whenever possible and a further third agreeing with an additional caveat of cost feasibility, we literally won’t be going far. (For accessible new constructions, the percentages were shockingly similar.)

Footing the bill

And, last but not least, 24 per cent of those surveyed thought that all or part of the costs should be borne by the government, with an additional 45 per cent thinking the costs of making a building accessible should be equally shared between the government and the building owner. Clearly, no one really wants to foot the bill, despite the fact that accessibility and inclusion are good for individuals, families, caregivers and health care providers and according to the latest research, a bonus for business bottom lines.

Hurry up and wait

Aspirational goals come cheap. We need action now, not fictitious deadlines and lip-service laws. If Canada is going to meet the needs of its diverse population in the coming years then attitudes, levels of responsibility and acknowledgement of direct costs and profit potential must change. Accessibility is, after all, for and about all of us. 

Keith Edwards, Board of Directors Canadian Abilities Foundation

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