Brad McCannell remembers using a beautifully designed wheelchair-accessible washroom in a Vancouver public building. Everything seemed to be in place. But when he went to flush the toilet, McCannell, a quadriplegic who is Vice-President of Access and Inclusion at the Rick Hansen Foundation, discovered the flushing mechanism was a pedal on the floor.
"What was I supposed to do?" he says with a laugh. "I tried rolling over it with my wheelchair, but that didn't work. I thought, 'Wow, they came so close to universal accessibility and they dropped the ball right at the goal line.' "
It's those small but crucial details that make a big difference when it comes to designing truly accessible spaces. They are what individuals learn to look for in a new course created by the Rick Hansen Foundation. Launched this past fall at Vancouver Community College, the Rick Hansen Foundation Accessibility Certification (RHFAC) program teaches participants the skills needed to gauge a building?s accessibility and rate it according to a universal scale – akin to LEED certification. Following the course participants are able to take an exam, and conduct field experience to become designated RHFAC Professionals. The college will offer the next course in April.
Rating a building's accessibility doesn't just mean checking to see whether it has a wheelchair ramp and an oversized washroom cubicle. "Most access consideration today is for people using wheelchairs," explains McCannell, a course instructor and a design consultant for more than 25 years. "But we're less than 20 per cent of the population of people with disabilities."
The program is built around the idea of "meaningful access," a holistic approach that looks at all aspects of a site and takes into account a range of disabilities, including visual, and hearing impairment, as well as various mobility issues.
The two-week, 60-hour course begins by exposing participants to challenges posed by different disabilities. Students are sent out onto the VCC campus in small groups. Some are given wheelchairs; others are equipped with goggles and white canes to experience various levels of blindness. Some will better understand hearing loss through simulation. And the able-bodied get an idea of what it's like to have reduced mobility. "We take a tensor bandage and tape up your right knee so you can't flex it," he says. "And we do the same with your left elbow. Then we put you in oven mitts, give you a set of crutches and tell you to go open a door."
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