people with disabilities

Homes not so sweet for people with disabilities

Private realm typically gets lower marks for accessibility than public spaces
Friday, February 1, 2019
By Barbara Carss

Accessibility is already a major determinant of where approximately nine million Canadians choose to spend their money, and it is projected to continue gaining market influence. Just 14 per cent of respondents to a recent survey — conducted by the Angus Reid Institute on behalf of the Rick Hansen Foundation — express no concerns about mobility, hearing or vision impairments either now or within the next 10 years, while 64 per cent recognize the possibility they’ll face a new or worsening ailment in the coming decade.

A representative randomized sample of 1,800 Canadians were asked about their experiences and perceptions relating to barriers in the built environment, and policies and programs to support accessibility. The findings (considered an accurate societal snapshot with a 2.3 per cent margin of error, 19 times out of 20) depict generally greater confidence in public spaces than the private realm, with shopping malls receiving the best rating for ease of access.

“This research demonstrates the increasing prevalence of disability across our nation and the growing importance of ensuring the places we live, work and play are accessible for people of all abilities,” says Rick Hansen, founder of the Rick Hansen Foundation. “It also outlines a significant consideration for businesses and service providers in planning accessibility infrastructure. Having universal standards that measure where we’re at and provide a road map on how to move forward is critical.”

Underscoring issues and opportunities for residential developers, rental housing landlords and condominium boards, one third of survey participants acknowledge that their homes could be problematic for residents or visitors with a disability. More than one quarter of those who currently report a disability are planning to move — double the number who will renovate or make alterations to their existing dwellings.

“While one in three Canadians currently say they have issues getting around their own home, a full majority say they are anticipating challenges moving around at home in the future,” reports Shachi Kurl, executive director of the Angus Reid Institute.

Half of the survey respondents who report neither challenges of their own, nor connections to people with disabilities, nevertheless indicate that it would be appealing to move into a new home that has attained certification for accessibility. That percentage jumps to 78 per cent among those who currently experience a mobility, hearing or vision limitation.

Fully 90 per cent of survey respondents place a priority on accessibility, although 37 per cent maintain that cost feasibility should be considered. New construction is tagged as the most obvious place for that to happen. More than two-thirds of respondents endorse universal accessibility in new buildings, while that expectation drops to 31 per cent for existing buildings.

Influencing spending decisions

Upwards of 81 per cent of respondents who have an impairment or are likely to be accompanying someone with a disability report that malls, large chain stores, large chain restaurants, public buildings and medical offices are not difficult to enter or navigate. Fewer than 50 per cent offer the same assessment of other people’s homes.

Smaller independently owned stores and restaurants are also deemed less welcoming. Respondents who identify as “affiliated” with people with disabilities actually have a somewhat more negative view of these venues than respondents who have disabilities themselves.

Forty-five per cent say small restaurants are “difficult” spaces and 48 per cent say the same of small stores, whereas 40 per cent of respondents with disabilities say small restaurants are “difficult” and 43 per cent give that rating to small stores. An equal and sizeable percentage of both groups — 23 per cent — apply the label, “difficult”, to movie theatres.

An observer with lived experience theorizes that friends and family may simply be more shocked at circumstances they encounter less frequently. Regardless, it’s a group with economic clout.

“People with disabilities are often used to facing barriers in their lives as it’s something we encounter daily,” reflects Brad McCannell, vice president, access and inclusion, with the Rick Hansen Foundation. “There are many more caregivers than there are people with disabilities, and they are also making many of the decisions about which places to frequent or avoid. So this has significant implications.”

Notably, 531 respondents, representing nearly 30 per cent of the total database, report they try to avoid properties they know or suspect to be inaccessible. Absence of elevators or too many stairs is the most common deterrent, which 56 per cent of this group cites as a reason for staying away. Other noted barriers include: doors that are difficult to open; absence of ramps; narrow doorways and/or corridors; inaccessible washrooms; and lack of accessible parking.

Schools and workplaces get a generally positive review, with 83 per cent of respondents with a disability reporting that these venues are easy to enter and navigate. However, the survey designers caution those results may be somewhat skewed.

“It’s worth noting that the question was only asked of those who are currently working or going to school,” the accompanying report states. “Anyone with challenges significant enough to prevent working or seeking education outside the home may have a different perspective on the accessibility of a typical school or workplace.”

Barbara Carss is editor-in-chief of Canadian Property Management.

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