Being Smart About Accessibility

Author of the article:Paul Barker
Special to Postmedia Network
Publishing date:Jul 22, 2022

In revitalized Regent Park, advocates for the disabled are a powerful force

It was a question many residential developers might be reluctant to ask so credit goes to Jake Cohen, chief operating officer of The Daniels Corporation for posing the following during a recent community event about accessible city building: How is the development sector as a whole doing when it comes to designing units for people living with disabilities?

The query was directed at Luke Anderson, executive director of the StopGap Foundation, an organization that manufactures and provides ramps that “support ‘mom and pop’ businesses and private building owners who are interested in removing barriers to access.”

By doing so, they “increase their customer base, increase quality of life, and help people reach their full potential.”

The results, he said, are mixed: Larger buildings are moving “forward for the better,” but the same cannot be said for single dwelling homes and Townhomes, particularly in the 905-region of the GTA.

“It’s a huge, huge problem,” added Anderson who described the inability of a developer to build accessible residences as “just a “poor use of human resources and it is a big concern for me because all of those buildings are not useful for many people to use.”

Anderson, who is in a wheelchair as a result of a mountain bike accident in B.C. 20 years ago, made the comments last month at the World Urban Pavilion in Regent Park during a fireside chat with Cohen that also involved Maayan Ziv, founder and CEO of AccessNow, a mobile app that “provides a pan-disability lens on the accessibility of physical spaces around the world.”

Ziv, who first launched the application in 2015 in time for the ParaPan Am Games, has teamed up with Daniels to “map, review and rank the accessibility of businesses and public spaces” in Toronto’s Regent Park, Canada’s largest social housing community and the site of a massive revitalization project.

What began as a Web site that contained content based on crowdsourced reviews and people sharing information has morphed into something far greater.

Results from the reviewing and mapping, according to a release, will highlight both “the successes and barriers that currently exist for people living with disabilities in how they live, work and play within the community.”

An example of how the collaboration will and can work took place in May when an AccessNow team, Daniels, and local residents of Regent Park came together for something called a MapMission to determine the accessibility of places in the neighbourhood.

Results revealed that two-thirds of places were rated accessible by residents. According to a release, a total of 500 accessibility features were observed throughout the community including automatic doors, accessible parking spots and elevators, digital menus, braille, lowered counters and gender-neutral washrooms.

Ziv, meanwhile, who was born with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, a form of Muscular Dystrophy, says the “accessibility insights we map and highlight on the AccessNow app are the collective voices of the disability community that will inspire the future of inclusive smart city building.”

People sharing information “remains the heart and soul of what we do, but we can also now leverage that information – that data – to actually train our Artificial Intelligence (AI) models to start to understand the world from the perspective of people with disabilities. We have image models; we have sensor data models; and we are training them to be able to start to look at spaces without the need of people to be there every single time.”

Cohen added that “smart is more than just a buzzword. It’s more than referring to technological advancements when it comes home building or home automation.

“Our accessibility designed program or ADP is one of those examples. This program focuses on improving design standards to make life easier for those with disabilities. We recognize that physical challenges exist for many people in their surroundings.”

The initiative, which was introduced in 2017, resulted in ADP units being built at the company’s DuEast Condominiums, which is part of the 69-acre Regent Park revitalization as well as in its 23-acre master planned community in Mississauga’s City Centre.

“In 2020, we welcomed our first residents to suites in this building, right upstairs from where we are today,” said Cohen. “Now, our ADP suites are included in all of our Daniels’ vertical and low-rise communities where possible. part of our mission to build a continuum of housing opportunities for everyone.

“It takes years of experience to deliver complete and inclusive communities.”

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