Stairways. Door handles. Slippery floors. Most disabled British Columbians have a list of things that make buildings inaccessible to them. Now, the province wants to hear about them as it works to update the B.C. Building Code.
The building code lays out the minimum safety requirements for new building construction. It’s updated every five years or so, and the province is putting a focus on accessibility for the next update in 2023.
Dan Coulter, the MLA for Chilliwack, is the parliamentary secretary for accessibility. He says his government’s goal is to make B.C. the most accessible province, and for that they need public help. He’s launched an online survey which British Columbians can use to lay out their priorities for building access.
“I think we can use the survey, and the input from British Columbians, to help us shape the building code, maybe in areas we never thought about.”
Accessibility is something Coulter thinks about every day — not just because it’s his job, but because he uses a wheelchair. He says he avoids all buildings that don’t have an elevator, and finds doors challenging, too. If they don’t open automatically, the building can be inaccessible to him.
Dominique Jacobs knows this well. She lives in a condo building in Colwood, just outside of Victoria. She uses a mobility scooter, and because her main entrance doesn’t have an automatic door, she can’t get into the building without help. If her five-year-old daughter is with her, her daughter helps. If she’s alone, she has to scoot into the underground parkade and then walk to the elevator.
“When you’re disabled and not feeling well, and in pain, it’s just an added stress,” says Jacobs, “and stress can cause more pain to the body.”
Jacobs would like all new buildings to have automatic doors that are activated by the simple swipe of a key fob. They should also slide open so there is lots of room for people to get through using scooters and wheelchairs. She’d like the province to offer grants to builders to help cover the costs, make it easier to include during construction.
Coulter, the parliamentary secretary for accessibility, says he doesn’t know yet if grants will be available for builders, but says there will be resources available to support adoption of B.C.’s accessibility act more broadly.
Buildings for everyone
Natalie Barnes, who lives in Victoria, uses a cane to support herself while walking. She says stairs are her biggest barrier, but there are others too. Smooth floors, like ones made of marble, can be too slippery to navigate. And because she has her cane in one hand, she needs to be able to use things like doors, and even paper towel dispensers, with just one hand.
“Ideally [a door] would have automatic openers so I could just bump it with my elbow, and the door would open. Some buildings have really heavy doors, that I need both hands to pull open, and that’s difficult for me with my cane.”
Barnes says she’d love to see the code adopt principles of universal design, where all buildings are built for all levels of ability.
The province’s survey about building accessibility is open until Jan.13. A draft of the new building code is expected in the spring of 2023, and then will be open for public comment.