This week (May 27 to June 2, 2018) is Canada’s second annual National AccessAbility Week. Its aim is to promote inclusion and accessibility and to recognize the efforts of those working to remove barriers and give Canadians of all abilities a better chance to succeed. It’s intended to change the way we think, talk and act as Canadians when it comes to disability and how our city “works” for everyone.

As city builders, part of our vision and mission is to create inclusive communities. This isn’t something that’s worthy of seven days of attention, but every day.  And it’s something that’s been extremely “top of mind” for us since we met Luke Anderson at an Urban Land Institute event over five years ago.

At our very first encounter with Luke, he generously shared his story with the audience – a young man whose lens on life shifted dramatically after a bicycle accident resulted in him living without the use of his legs – he opened our eyes to the fact that accessibility isn’t a “nice to have,” it’s a “need to have.” And it’s a human right. Shortly after we made his acquaintance,  Luke participated in our inaugural “Condo Challenge” to see how “accessible” our communities really were. To take our relationship even further, and as part of our commitment to sustainable and accessible design, we commissioned Luke to become our accessibility consultant.

To see the discoveries from that first visit, click here.

Since that first Condo Challenge, many years ago, Luke has been on a whirlwind tour of implementing change for the better.  One by one, he is educating all of us on what it means to provide environments that can be enjoyed by everyone.

We recently engaged Luke in another Condo Challenge, where he visited one of our Waterfront communities to test how we measured against ease of community use and livability for all. After all, we know that what gets measured, gets managed. And while our goal is to implement forward thinking change through proactive design, sometimes rear view metrics can show how well (or not-so-well) you’ve accomplished what you set out to do. This time we were clever enough to document it with a short video so that we can share it.

Our “a-ha” moment was that while in some respect we’ve made progress against a lot of areas defined in the Design Guidelines Luke helped us to create, we still have work to do.

Some of our easiest learning was that despite having “design intention” in our Guidelines, we need to be almost more prescriptive (i.e. auto doors at all key public and amenity access points) and leave nothing subject to interpretation.


There were definitely some big “wins” though – one that is mentionable is how our teams accomplished the in-suite balcony design to accommodate a wheelchair. It was the was FIRST time Luke was ever able to go onto a residential balcony . It was incredible to capture that moment on film and is a compliment to the team on our continued progress.

We are committed to doing better each and every time, and we are on a path of continuous learning. Our team responsible for maintaining, evolving and communicating our Design Guide standards is taking even further action to share the discoveries report with key members and and to commit to a more detailed livability/accessibility standard.

In many respects and for years we’ve been ahead of legislation and the minimum building requirements, but there are always ways to make enhancements. You simply have to be humble enough to look for them. We’ve found that one of the best ways to discover them, is to ask others how you’re doing. To have an honest conversation and allow them to share their experience with you.  It’s also the strongest evidence to support the belief that a little thoughtful design can go a long way.  But despite our BIG intentions, we realize that we play a small part in the bigger picture. Fortunately, others are like-minded and making their own efforts with amazing initiatives.

Our own Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau is advocating for a more inclusive Canada. I was delighted to hear about his efforts to lift the “medical inadmissibility” law to our own Country (albeit surprised that we had one).  The way the law is currently written, allows the government to deny people residency in Canada because they, or an immediate family member have a disability or medical condition that could place “excessive demand” on publicly funded health and social service programs. This often means denying residency to parents whose children have disabilities.

As eloquently said by the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Persons with Disabilities, “Canada is at its best and all of society benefits when everyone is included.”

minister 2

If one part of us leaves a place, we are fragmented, and not the “whole” that we once were.  People leave places for many and for different reasons.

San Francisco  is an unfortunate example of a city that is no longer “what they once were.” They are losing families due to affordability.

san fran where have all the children gone

What is a school, a neighbourhood, a city, or a country if it doesn’t reflect all of us? It leaves us in a “bubble.” In a world that is incomplete and in one that reduces our collective intelligence, empathy and strength.

Personally, I’ve always had high standards when it comes to diversity and inclusiveness, and have a history of leaving three high schools in search of one that would offer more diversity than the last .  I never did find one that satisfied that quest. Perhaps a little more so in University, but not to the extent that I would have liked. I’m determined however, to make it a personal mission, to work toward a city that delivers on  this type of critera.  I’m not alone.

This weekend, I’m joining a design challenge that’s hosting a discussion on making accessible, resilient, and connected spaces for everyone.

The event, hosted by OCAD and the school of Inclusive Design, is sponsored by Human Space, Quadrangle’s new social impact brand, offering consulting  that’s focused on accessibility, inclusive design, and well being.

human space

I’m looking forward to meeting and working with “creative minds from a variety of specialties and backgrounds to share their passion and expertise, and work together to explore placemaking and community building” as explained by Lorene Casiez, of Quadrangle.

Although we’ve made progress, it’s still early days. We need to continue to shift our thinking and to acknowledge our  opportunities and potential impact. And as our friend Luke Anderson expresses best,  we need to remember that “it’s not people who are disabled, it’s that environments can be disabling.” I’m sure that together, we can fix that.

Check out Luke’s Ted Talk here.


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