By Nici Cornforth
“When I first bought my condo, I was privileged enough not to need to look at it in terms of accessibility.”
I was excited that I had found a place I could afford on my own and that it was so new I got to decide what upgrades went in my suite. Granted I bought before they had even broken ground on the building, but I had not asked, nor had it even crossed my mind to inquire about its accessibility. In the years I’ve been living here I’ve noticed a few things that make this building less than accessible, so when an opportunity came up to consider hidden barriers it did not take me long to decide that my own building should be further scrutinized.
In the Neighbourhood Watch episode of the This American Life podcast, the host says “it’s not a question of should, but how?” (Goldstein et al., 2010). While he was referring to being careful, this same question can be applied to the accessibility of an area. It should be accessible, but how is a person to access it with obvious and not so obvious barriers in place.
Let’s start outside the building and work our way in. There are two disabled parking spots for this building and both are in visitor parking. They are on either side of an approximately twenty metre cement apron that is the front entrance. If you exit your vehicle onto the parking pad and not directly onto the sidewalk you will have to pass over a speed bump regardless of which stall you use. If you have parked in the east stall you will have to traverse the twenty metres on the road as the ramp to get you up onto the sidewalk is on the west side of the cement apron.
At main entrance, there are two sets of oversized glass double doors. Neither set have an automatic door button. Between these doors there is the fob box to allow residents entry and an intercom system so residents can buzz visitors in. The intercom box faceplate and buttons are silver and marked in black and the display is in smaller black print on a gray background, neither of which is a high contrast for the visually impaired. Nothing on the box is labelled in braille nor are the numbers voiced when pushed. While the fob box is low enough to be accessible, you have ten seconds to get from the fob box to the door, before it latches again. The intercom system is too high off the ground for persons in wheelchairs to be able to easily access and, if unable to stand, cannot read the display. Residents must be called through the intercom system as that is the only way residents can engage the door release to allow visitors into the building. To exit the building through these doors a release is located 143 centimetres up the door; a difficult maneuver for wheelchair users. The area between the two sets of doors is done in a darker coloured tile. The tile baseboards are done in the same tile; there is no contrast colour around the perimeter of the space to indicate when a person is getting close to a wall, window or door. The foyer is carpeted in a dark carpet, no doubt to hide high traffic areas and stains. Like the space between the double set of doors, the carpet is brought up the wall to use as a baseboard, again there is no contrast to define the area. The foyer houses a hundred odd mailboxes for the residents. The boxes start 1.6 metres off the ground and are numbered by suite with the ground floor boxes at the top, the boxes are not marked in braille.
This building houses one elevator. While the buttons on the inside of the elevator are marked in braille, there is nothing on the outside to indicate it is an elevator, nor are the buttons on the outside of the elevator to request a floor change labelled. When the elevator reaches a floor a bell dings to indicate arrival, but there is no display in the car, nor is there a voice to tell you which floor you have indeed arrived on. The elevator is extremely slow moving and if the doors are held or propped open an alarm goes off and the elevator ceases to work. At this point the service centre needs to be called to ‘fix’ it. Residents have been threatened with the financial responsibility of these calls; $400 during the week, $800 weekends and statutory holidays. That aside this elevator can be booked, at a cost, for three hour blocks to move in or out. Moving without booking the elevator can result in a $500 fine. One such Monday, the elevator was booked twice, leaving the elevator unavailable for six full hours and anything above the main floor accessible only by stairwell. Neither suite doors nor doors to the stairwells are marked in braille.
The condo board of this building reinforced Tichkosky and Michalko’s (2009) discussion in their book Rethinking Normalcy: A Disability Studies Reader that the pervading idea in western culture that a “disability is a personal problem”. (p. 2). When the board was approached about the lack of an automatic door, the response was that it was not a pressing issue nor was it a board problem (S. Jones, personal communication, June 19, 2016).
Goldstein, J., Burt-Wintonick, M., & Duhaime, C. (Executive Producers). (2010, November 19)[Audio podcast episode]. Neighbourhood watch: Act two, baby steps (No. 420). In This American Life. WBEZ Chicago. https://www.thisamericanlife.org/420/neighborhood-watch/act-two-0
Titchkosky, T., & Michalko, R. (2009). Rethinking normalcy: a disability studies reader. Canadian Scholars’ Press.