Friday, November 27, 2015

Commentary as I approach the end of my term with VisitAble Housing Canada

Disclaimer: The comments in this blog are my own and don’t reflect in any way on VisitAble Housing Canada, or my current employment in the disabilities sector.

As I approach the end of my term in the national VisitAbility Project, a three year project funded by the federal government's Social Development Partnerships Program, Disability Component, I would like to share a few comments with all of you. I have been advocating for barrier-free design in dwellings for quite a few years now and I was very pleased to be invited by the Canadian Centre on Disability Studies to join this national project in the Fall of 2013.  The Ottawa VisitAbility Task Force started in December 2013, one of six task forces in this project, and will conclude in December 2015.

Throughout my years of advocacy and task force work, I've noticed some common themes in housing.  I have done quite a few presentations to different stakeholder groups and one fact that is still a bit difficult for me to accept is that very few people are interested in removing architectural barriers in homes, whether it be consumers or the housing industry.  To be fair, there are some best practices by municipalities that are commendable (especially in social and affordable housing) and some entrepreneurial/innovative companies have already been offering barrier-free design, typically in custom homes.  Most impressive has been co-operative housing because they've had barrier-free housing stock for decades, so they definitely deserve some praise, as do the many individuals who were involved in these projects.

Another theme that's come up during presentations is pride and denial regarding barrier-free design: "I don't want it" or "I don't need it" type statements are unfortunate because barrier-free design benefits far more than just seniors and persons with disabilities.  Many people don't think of the benefit to parents with young children: a no-step entrance means that you can just roll into your home with your stroller and diaper bag, which is very convenient if your child has fallen asleep while you were out with him/her for an errand, or simply for a bit of fresh air at your local park.  Others don't think of the safety and convenience for moving and delivery companies: a no-step entrance and wider doors and hallways makes their job a whole lot easier, and less likely to damage your property or injure the employee.  And even more important, barrier-free design in dwellings reduces response times by emergency responders because they can get in and out of your home faster during those critical calls. Another advantage is the ability to welcome all guests into your home, even if they require the use of a mobility device.  So barrier-free design does benefit most occupants and guests, even if our society doesn't recognize its value.

As task force coordinator in Ottawa, I would like to give some praise to our nation's capital on some of their efforts.  The City of Ottawa Affordable Housing Unit has been very proactive in increasing their percentage of units with barrier-free design, from the low-cost features of VisitAbility, up to and including full accessibility for some units. Some of you might not know that Ottawa was certified as an Age-Friendly City by the World Health Organization in 2013, and Mayor Jim Watson moved forward with his re-election promise to create an Older Adult Plan in 2012, in recognition of the aging population.  Ottawa City Council voted in favour of the next phase of the Older Adult Plan on October 28th (2015-2018), and I'm pleased to see that promoting adaptable, age-friendly homes has been included in the Housing section of this plan, with the Planning and Growth Management department receiving this mandate for 2016.  One other best practice in Ottawa has been Phoebe Services and the VisitAble investment property in our city's west end that is lead by Dr Bruce Firestone; I'm one of the investors in this property so I'm biased but still consider it a great benefit because it excludes no-one from renting that bungalow.

One other achievement in Ottawa that I would like to express thanks for is Carleton University, and their culture of accessibility and inclusion.  I've had the good fortune of collaborating with Dean Mellway of the READ Initiative (Research, Education, Accessibility and Design) as well as the Azrieli School of Architecture and Urbanism during my term as task force coordinator.  Most exciting has been the curriculum change to the Architecture department's Studio 6, which now includes accessibility and VisitAbility in their course outline.  I was also very grateful for Professor Benjamin Gianni and Professor Honorata Pienkowska-Roseman's support and participation in our joint effort for a VisitAble Townhouse design competition.  Thirteen designs were submitted by 4th year architecture students and I'm pleased to say that the two winning designs will soon appear on and on Facebook at Support VisitAble Housing in Canada.  Given that townhomes are also exempt from barrier-free design standards in building code, the architecture department's willingness to participate in this competition was not only appreciated but indicative of Carleton University's support of accessibility and inclusion.

I would also like to give praise to the Bridgwater project in Winnipeg, Manitoba, a wonderful Canadian example of an inclusive community where 50% of homes must be VisitAble (hundreds already, with 1,100 once fully developed in 2021).  I had the pleasure of visiting Winnipeg in June and touring this wonderful community (I wrote a blog post about it as well).  The government of Manitoba deserves some praise for being the developer of the Bridgwater project because this innovative project is stunning, a wonderful example of beautiful barrier-free design.  Other communities in Canada have also shown their support for inclusive design and can be found in one of the research documents produced and found at (Literature Review and Environmental Scan).

The beautiful VisitAble homes that I've seen and toured in Winnipeg, Manitoba (June, 2015) and Bolingbrook, Illinois (Fall, 2012) dispel the myths that VisitAbility is ugly or institutional; I have many photos on my laptop to prove otherwise. And speaking of my laptop, I have a wealth of research documents (domestic and international), photos of beautiful design, and items from our national VisitAbility Project that I would be happy to share if anyone is interested, or I would also be willing to customize a presentation if requested.

To conclude, I would like to discuss next steps in my advocacy for barrier-free design in dwellings.  I have submitted a Code Change Request to the Canadian Codes Centre (CCR #964) which will begin its public meetings on December 15-16, 2015 in Ottawa. I have proposed VisitAbility for new dwellings that are at grade, and for those that can be accessed by an elevator.  Some of you may not know that the Ontario Building Code now contains VisitAbility for one type of dwelling (all others are still exempt from barrier-free design requirements): 15% of suites in residential buildings taller than three storeys or with a building area greater than 600 square meters must be VisitAble.  My hope is that Code Change Request #964 will achieve a similar result with the National Building Code, as a minimum (but all dwellings at grade or served by an elevator would be better).  Beyond the Code Change Request, my passion for barrier-free design in dwellings will never cease, simply because it's the right thing to do.  I've worked in the disabilities sector since September 1994 and have seen the benefits to an individual's quality of life when barrier-free features are designed into a dwelling, and I've also seen the devastation when they're not (relatives, clients and acquaintances). My father said something really kind a couple of months ago: "Son, you will succeed with this in your lifetime". It's those types of moments that re-invigorate me when the indifference and resistance themes keep popping up.

God willing, some day my prayers for safer, more welcoming and more sustainable homes will be answered.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Eliminating disability discrimination in most dwellings

Disclaimer: this blog post will contain my personal opinions on disability discrimination in most housing that are not related to my current employment in the disabilities sector, nor is it related to my involvement in the national VisitAbility Project since December 2013.  My comments are not intended to be offensive but rather factual.

What would you do if you were suddenly injured and your mobility was affected, even if only temporarily?  Would your current home/apartment/condominium be set up to accommodate you during this temporary injury?  What if this injury was permanent, what would you do then?  I ask these questions because most individuals won't ever consider these possibilities even though a growing number of Canadians are facing these challenges right now.  I state with confidence that most individuals would be dealing with a housing crisis if they were suddenly faced with some sort of mobility challenge, even if only temporary, because most dwellings are poorly designed and contain architectural barriers.  This poor design is preventable though, with three basic accessibility features known as VisitAbility (one entrance with sloped landscaping instead of stairs, wider doors and hallways, and at least a powder room that can be accessed by someone who requires a mobility device), which has been shown in domestic and international research documents to benefit most individuals.

Many developers and home builders have never given consideration to VisitAbility, Universal Design or any other best practice that would eliminate disability discrimination in dwellings.  It's a fact that most dwellings do not welcome an individual with a mobility challenge, and because most dwellings are poorly designed, individuals with mobility challenges are often forced to either move to whatever limited number of barrier-free accommodations are available (even if in another community), or are forced to spend a significant amount of money to modify their homes to make them safer and more practical. And because the National Building Code and Ontario Building Code exempt barrier-free design standards in homes in section, what are consumers supposed to do if their housing needs change? Currently, you would need to research custom home builders who have experience in any form of barrier-free design and start the lengthy process of designing and building your home to suit your needs seeing as so few dwellings are available for rent of purchase.

Now, back to VisitAbility.  There is one area of hope in the Ontario Building Code, section that now requires VisitAbility in one type of dwelling: Group C Major Occupancy (which are buildings taller than three storeys or with a building area greater than 600 square meters).  On January 1, 2015, section of the OBC improved and now requires 15% of units in Group C Major Occupancy to be VisitAble (barrier-free access into and throughout the unit, including the washroom where a 5 foot turning radius is also required).  For me personally, this improvement to section was significant because it's the first type of dwelling in Ontario that requires barrier-free design, which will inevitably increase the quality of life for anyone purchasing one of these units.  It will welcome everyone, will make it a safer environment to live in, and it won't force you to move when your physical needs change (there is a direct correlation between aging and a decrease in mobility so your physical needs will change).

I would also like to point out that although you've probably never heard of VisitAbility, it's international.  Some countries have barrier-free design in their national building codes, such as Australia where VisitAbility is required (I have three great documents from Australia regarding VisitAbility that would silence any cynic). Another great thing about VisitAbility is that it's very simple to accomplish, and costs very little once techniques are understood and experience is gained.

So why would I make a statement that there is disability discrimination in most dwellings?  The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms forbids discrimination based on an individual's disability so how does the housing industry fail in this area?  The majority of developers and home builders don't offer barrier-free house plans as part of their inventory of plans, and most wouldn't even know where to begin if someone approached them with such a request.  Even more disappointing, some developers and home builders have gone to court to resist VisitAbility initiatives in certain US States with fear-mongering that it would destroy the housing industry or drive up costs dramatically.  I can understand that the housing industry is tired of a constant increase in regulation and taxation in housing but why resist an improvement to design that would have such a positive impact on the quality of life of their customer?  And why resist an improvement to design that would most certainly decrease injuries and deaths in homes as a result of this poor design?  I guess ignorance is the answer, and myths that barrier-free design is ugly and that no one wants it.

I have written a previous blog post about the Bridgwater development in Winnipeg, Manitoba because it's Canada's first neighbourhood with a 50% requirement for VisitAble homes (1,100 VisitAble homes once fully developed in 2021, with hundreds already built).  It's this type of innovative approach to new housing that needs to be replicated nation wide because of its inclusive urban design.  The Bridgwater development is exactly what's needed to begin the process of eliminating disability discrimination in housing.  I toured this development in June and I can say that it was stunning.  I fully acknowledge that many of these homes are expensive and larger, and out of reach for many individuals but I do have photos of homes that are approximately 1,000 square feet so VisitAbility is also feasible in smaller, more affordable homes.  And the photos that I have of the many model homes that I toured showcase the beautiful interior design of these VisitAble homes. Here's a brief video from VisitAble Housing Canada that showcases Bridgwater, and some of their beautiful VisitAble homes:

This blog post may have jumped around in thought but the point I was trying to make is that we already have an example of inclusive urban design and VisitAble homes here in Canada.  Eliminating disability discrimination in housing is already happening in Bridgwater.  If you want a US example of innovative community planning containing Universal Design and VisitAbility, please refer to LEED v4 for Neighbourhood Development from the US Green Building Council at:

Whether you focus on Bridgwater or LEED v4 ND, it's important to understand that they're not concepts to aspire to, they're already happening in certain communities and it's time for the rest of the housing industry to catch up.  Consumers deserve better designed homes seeing as it's our largest investment in our lives, and where we spend the greatest portion of any day.  So why not make it safer, more welcoming, and more's simply the right thing to do?

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Winnipeg's Bridgwater neighbourhood (with VisitAble new dwellings); and Universal Design

I'm currently visiting Winnipeg, my first time West of Ontario, in order to see for myself all of the wonderful things that have been accomplished in the Bridgwater neighbourhood (  The Manitoba government imposed a 50% requirement for VisitAbility as the developer of this neighbourhood, which will produce 1,100 VisitAble homes once fully developed in 2021.  As with other international efforts for VisitAble homes, there was initial resistance by the housing industry and low interest or indifference from consumers but a few years of experience have fixed these issues.  What we now see in Bridgwater Lakes, one of the four sections of Bridgwater, is inclusive urban design and beautiful VisitAble homes.  I've had the pleasure of touring quite a few of the show homes on Lake Bend Road and they're stunning, the most impressive ones offering walk-out basements overlooking trails and greenspace.

I have also seen some creativity with the VisitAbility requirement, such as this home at 100 Lake Bend Road by Maric Homes.  Granted, this home is listed at over one million dollars but it is quite the home. The exterior not only looks great but they combined traditional stairs as part of the facade, with the no-step entrance achieved by sloping the driveway up to the front door's entranceway.
This creativity also extends into the home to achieve the requirement for wider doors and hallways, and a powder room that can be accessed by anyone.  But it goes beyond this, into beautiful interior design that incorporates Universal Design features, such as in the kitchen.
Maric Homes has achieved the VisitAbility requirements of the Bridgwater neighbourhood and has exceeded it by building this stunning show home that should finally put an end to the myth that barrier-free design is ugly or institutional-looking.  Please allow me to showcase more Universal Design, this time in this master bathroom in New York.  As this photo shows, the design allows anyone into this space but the result is very impressive.
The facade of a home, its kitchen and its master bathroom are three areas of a home where home buyers choose to sometimes spend extra money for the wow factor, so why not get great value for your money and make these features welcoming for everyone. Not only will it ensure a safer, more welcoming and more practical home, but it will allow you to remain there for as long as you wish. And on the topic of value, you'll be able to sell your home to 100% of potential buyers, regardless of age or level of ability, and that simply makes sense for those of us whose home is our largest investment.

I started off talking about VisitAbility in Winnipeg, which then spilled over into Universal's all with the goal of encouraging all of you to consider these features for any type of new dwelling to make them more sustainable, by giving you one home for a lifetime of enjoyment.

Now, if I could only convince the developers and home builders in Ottawa to catch up to this innovative home design.  Trust me, it hasn't been easy, I've been trying for years. Please reach out to me by email at if you have any questions. As a Certified Aging in Place Specialist, and as someone who has worked with adults with various disabilities since September 1994, I'm very passionate about barrier-free design for new dwellings because it's simply the right thing to do.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

VisitAbility: Why not?

I've been having trouble figuring out why the housing industry and landlords aren't embracing VisitAbility for their new dwellings.  Some of the current myths are that it's expensive, ugly/institutional, too difficult to accomplish, that there will be snow or rain penetration, or that there isn't any demand for it.  All of these myths have been proven to be false by the many research documents (both domestic and international) that have studied these concerns.  I think that indifference toward designing dwellings for everyone is the main reason...why change what's been working incredibly well for builders and landlords for decades?

Here are some reasons to consider VisitAbility:

1) The most obvious for me is the ability to sell or rent your dwellings to 100% of the population.  That's just good business sense, especially when the economy slows down and there's surplus inventory.  Landlords are often concerned about vacancy rates yet VisitAbility would decrease the number of vacant units seeing as anyone could live there.

2) VisitAbility excludes no one from visiting or living in these dwellings; everyone is welcome.  With 9.6 million baby boomers in Canada, the need for VisitAbility will only increase as they become seniors (On average, there are no less than 1,100 baby boomers that become seniors every day in Canada...that's enough to fill two NHL rinks every month.  Please don't tell me that there isn't a need for homes that are designed for all stages of our lives).

3) Young families also benefit from these features because of strollers, wagons and other "baby gear".

4) Canada is spending billions of dollars per year on medical care because seniors have fallen in their homes, and stairs are a significant contributing factor to these falls and injuries.  Some seniors cannot return to their homes after these falls (due to architectural barriers in the homes, or due to the severity of their injuries) and must be prematurely admitted into chronic care and nursing homes. This has a significant financial impact on our social safety net, in addition to the psychological/emotional impact to the individual involved, and their families.

5) Human rights legislation has primacy over all others in Canada so a lack of barrier-free design will inevitably become grounds for discrimination complaints to commissions/tribunals.  Whether it be the Canadian human rights, or those found in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (United Nations), the requirement to stop creating new barriers, and to remove existing ones, will inevitably strain our already over-burdened legal system with these complaints.  Putting an end to discrimination on the grounds of disability isn't only a human right but it's simply the right thing to do.

6) The ability to remain in our current homes and neighbourhoods for our entire lives has a sustainability benefit when we speak of our environmental concerns, let alone an emotional benefit that is rather significant.

7) And finally, it decreases the number of work related injuries for moving and delivery company employees, decreases response times for emergency services during critical calls, and makes a home much more practical to live in.

VisitAbility simply requires:

A) One no-step entrance (preferably with landscape sloping, not ramping, to guarantee a stronger resale value).

B) Wider doors and hallways.

C) At least a powder room on that level that can be accessed by someone needing a mobility device.

It's very simple to implement during the design stage of a home, it's cost-effective, and has very clear benefits for all, so why is it such a burden for builders and landlords to even consider it?  We have many lessons to learn from nations that have already removed these barriers in new homes, such as the United Kingdom.

By the way, the Province of Ontario now requires VisitAbility in 15% of units for buildings taller than three storeys or with a building area greater than it's already started.   It would be wise to consider becoming a leader in this next trend in new housing by acting on it now.


Please watch this brief video entitled "What Are VisitAble Homes?" at:

You may also wish to visit for further information.

Saturday, February 14, 2015's happening!

Please allow me to share a few points that highlight the fact that VisitAbility is not simply a concept, it is in fact already happening in some key areas:

A - Winnipeg already has Canada's first VisitAble neighbourhood (the Bridgwater project in Waverley West), which will have 1,100 VisitAble homes once the project is fully developed in 2021 (hundreds of VisitAble homes already).

B - The City of Ottawa has already approved four affordable housing projects with 100% VisitAbility (here's an article about the most recently approved Longfields project  I also attended the Open House of the OCISO affordable housing project that contains VisitAble units on February 6th, which is in addition to the four projects that I mentioned

C - The first private investment property in Ottawa to include VisitAbility is already completed.

D - The Ontario Building Code now requires 15% of suites to be VisitAble in buildings taller than three storeys or 600m2, as of January 1, 2015. 

E - My comments about VisitAbility and Aging in Place to the AODA Review (last year) made it into page 49 of the Final Report, which was publicly released on February 13th. 

F - The City Of Ottawa Accessibility Design Standards will be adding VisitAbility standards (going beyond simply being in their RFPs); I was one of the guests at the consultative review that was held on January 27th, for the update later this year.

G - Our national VisitAbility Project received federal funding through the Social Development Partnerships Program, Disability Component.  Other federal interest in VisitAbility is also found with the National Building Code's Use and Egress Committee, and the CSA Group standard reference where legislative framework for VisitAbility is being reviewed (with reference to VisitAbility standards from CSA B651 that have been in place for years).

Yes, it's happening, and the majority of the housing industry needs to catch up.  Selling or renting your inventory to 100% of the population, regardless of age or level of ability, should make sense for your business.  

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

No Step Entrance - Homes that are welcoming to All

VisitAbility is three basic features of barrier-free design that creates a home that is welcoming to all. Within these three features (one no step entrance, wider doors and hallways, and a washroom or powder room that can be accessed by someone requiring a mobility device), the one feature that seems to create some confusion and concern is the no step entrance.  Please allow me to show some photos that will hopefully clarify how to best accomplish this.  

Let me begin with site preparation, using Winnipeg, Manitoba (Canada's first VisitAble neighbourhood, Bridgwater) as my example.
As you can see on this first illustration, the importance of proper site preparation is crucial during the planning stage of a new build.  The consultants involved in the Bridgwater project clearly had a good understanding of what was required.

Let's move on to the next feature that is important in a no step entrance, the inset foundation.
Many home builders and developers choose an 8 foot foundation depth so there might be a concern for the basement height if an inset foundation is selected.  One solution to this concern would be to consider open web joists, which allow you to conceal plumbing, electrical and mechanical ducts within the open spaces of these types of joists.  One example of an open-web joist can be found at: Their site also includes a downloadable Spec Guide that contains the 1 hour fire detail.  The advantage of the inset foundation is that it lowers the height of your entrance, which allows landscape sloping (rather than ramping) up to your main entrance. Having a covered entrance, as my next photo illustrates, does remove the concern of rain or snow near your main entrance.

And finally, the landscape sloping (typically 1:20, so 20 feet/units horizontal for every foot/unit vertical) is the final aspect of a successful no step entrance.  The advantage of a gradual slope is that it allows for a gentle approach to your main entrance, and has the added benefit of drawing water away from your foundation.  If you wish to see other photos of landscape sloping, please go to:
The end result is that your home is welcoming to all, safer for the occupants, and has a strong resale value because it can be sold to 100% of the population, regardless of age or level of ability. If you would like to learn more about VisitAbility, please go to  You may also wish to send me an email at

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Dispelling the myth of water penetration concerns for a no-step entrance

I've heard time and again the water penetration concerns when a no-step entrance is designed for a home.  Here's a picture of my front door in Ottawa, Canada.  As you can see, a covered entrance and gentle sloping away from the landing is all that's needed to avoid concerns about rain and snow.  Our 36" door has the lowest wheelchair sill on the market and after over five years, we have never had such an issue.  It's about proper planning during the design stage of a new build to prevent these types of issues, which the housing industry can easily address given their experience with other snow and water concerns.  It's time to stop the excuses and move forward with homes that are  more practical and welcoming for all, regardless of age or ability.  It benefits young families, seniors, individuals with mobility challenges, moving and delivery companies, paramedics, and it allows you to sell or rent your homes to 100% of the population.  VisitAbility is not some fad, it's the next trend in new housing that should be on the radar of developers and home builders in Canada.  It's already happening in Winnipeg so it's time to catch up (