Making a building more accessible

Six tips to ensure an apartment's interior space does not discriminate
Monday, September 9, 2013
By Paula Gasparro

The accessibility of an apartment building is an important consideration, now more than ever as new legislation and a better understanding of tenant needs emerge on the scene.

Landlords should follow these six tips to ensure their building’s interior space is accessible to everyone.

1. If in the market for a new building or planning significant renovations, keep in mind that open concept floor plans are generally more accessible than floor plans with smaller enclosed rooms. Consider the location of each room in a unit. For example, keep the kitchen close to the dining area but noisy spaces (such as a TV or recreation room) away from quiet spaces (such as bedrooms).

2. If someone in a wheelchair, walker or scooter lives in or regularly visits the building, hallways should be at least 48-inches wide, with a turnaround space at entrance areas, foyers and at the ends of hallways. Ideally, a path at least 36-inches wide should be provided into and through all living spaces.

3. Lighting can contribute to both the ambiance and safety of a building. To enhance safety, lighting should be bright and consistent, especially along hallways and in stairwells.

4. Materials and finishes in a building depend on individual taste, budget and preferences. However, remember these choices may affect the usability of units and common areas. For example, contrasting colours and textures on walls can help people with low vision identify primary routes and functional spaces.

5. When buying furniture for common areas, choose pieces that are sturdy and stable. For visitors and residents that may have difficulty getting up from a seated position, consider providing at least one chair with a firm cushion, stable arm rests and a seat height of at least 18-inches.

6. To improve the acoustic quality of a room and reduce background noise for anyone that is hearing impaired, add “soft” elements such as carpets, drapes, upholstered furniture and acoustic ceiling tiles. For people that are visually impaired, “hard” surfaces such as ceramic flooring or metal panelling can help enhance reflected sounds and assist with orientation needs, make a living area more “acoustically alive.”

Paula Gasparro is manager, business development, multi-unit mortgage insurance for Canada Mortgage & Housing Corp. (CMHC). The CMHC is a source of objective, reliable housing information, including facts on accessible housing and universal design.

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