We are in the midst of an exciting time for accessibility in Ontario. With the Pan Am Games recently completed and the Parapan Am Games about to get underway, Toronto has introduced the added value of universal design and accessibility to thousands of citizens and visitors. Toronto has and will welcome a total of 7,600 athletes from 41 countries to compete in a broad range of sports.
As the accessibility consultant selected to work with the Planning, Design and Compliance team on the Athletes’ Village and four of the new sports venues, our unique role permitted us to engage in fruitful conversations about accessibility and inclusivity with a vast range of stakeholders, consultants and contractors, to showcase how an integrated, inclusive design approach could add both value and delight in many ways. Through our research, we were able to harness the best ideas in the world to create fully accessible sport venues.
"Even before the Games began, we saw the positive impacts of accessible recreation venues in their host communities as inclusive destinations for all."
We are proud to have helped to create the most accessible Games ever, to not merely accommodate, but to truly welcome all spectators, athletes, volunteers and officials. Our communities will benefit from the new facilities for decades to come, as the showcase facilities permit and encourage full participation. Perhaps most importantly, the awareness built through the Games will ensure a lasting legacy of inclusion for all.
The specific accessibility features included in the various venues will introduce a new library of products and approaches to many people. Soon, innovative products and ideas like these will become more commonplace, but for now these facilities may be the first time many people have encountered them. Examples of such innovations include: generously sized universal washrooms and change rooms that can accommodate people in large mobility devices, people with attendants and sporting amenities such as adult-sized change tables. Simple innovations like this can mean the difference between some people being able to participate in athletic and recreational activities.
Other examples include multiple handrails at various heights (one size doesn’t always fit all!), elongated power door operators that permit operation by an elbow or a foot, contrasting and glow-in-the-dark strips for clearer view of stair edges, choices of seating locations for people with mobility devices, where the view is not blocked when an excited crowd jumps to its feet in front. As you can see, from the breadth of features, there is opportunity for application across typologies – not just athletic and recreation venues.
"Shopping malls and entertainment complexes, universities and colleges, residential and commercial developments all have much to gain by understanding the merits and value these approaches provide."
Why is it important to invest in accessibility? It is important because we have proven that facilities that are designed with accessibility in mind right from the start are not only viable, but economical and innovative, helping us to meet public and communities needs while future proofing against expensive retrofits in the future.
It is important because we all matter.