How does your local playground stack up when it comes to access for all? Is it accessible? Older playgrounds were not built with accessibility in mind; however, newer builds are breaking barriers for users with not only physical disabilities but invisible disabilities such as autism and sensory processing disorders. In the following article learn more about how the universal design of playgrounds is becoming standard, creating more welcoming spaces for children and youth of all abilities.
There is a greater awareness in society that our buildings and spaces must be more accessible to the greatest majority of people. But what exactly makes a building accessible? Take a look at this fantastic blog care of the Rick Hansen Foundation that discusses how there is more to accessibility than just the physical space.
Rick Hansen Foundation: From Where I Sit: Five Traits of a Meaningfully Accessible Building
Julie Entwistle, MBA, BHSc (OT), BSc (Health / Gerontology)
Co-Written with Jacquelyn Bonneville, Occupational Therapist
As occupational therapists, we often see clients experience issues with dressing after an injury or as a result of a disability. How do you dress when you have one arm? Or, how can you don pants, socks and shoes when you have not feeling or movement in your lower body? What about managing zippers and buttons with reduced fine motor control? Spasms, reduced range of motion, the inability to stand for dressing, or body changes that make clothing options limited? There are many reasons why dressing can become a problem.
As a society, we use fashion for several reasons – to manage the weather, for privacy from sensitive parts, and as an expression of ourselves. Clothing and clothing choices are important.
Business-wear and athletic wear are two areas of fashion that are generally limiting for persons with dressing challenges. For this blog, we wanted to introduce some simple, but still fashionable and functional, adaptations that can help manage the task of dressing if this has become difficult!
Lock Laces or Elastic Shoe Laces
Elastic and lock shoelaces are permanently tied, and allow for stretch of the shoe when putting it on or taking it off. This makes it a functional, inexpensive solution for anyone who doesn’t want to worry about their laces coming undone (especially athletes!), or for people who struggle with tying their shoelaces tight enough, or with the intricacies of actually tying the laces. Note that often these are great in combination with a long-handled shoehorn.
Nike Flyease Sneakers
Nike has a line of slip-on ‘wrap-around-fasten’ shoes that are fashionable, including running shoes, kids shoes, and basketball style high-top sneakers (designed with basketball superstar LeBron James). Though designed for young adults with Cerebral Palsy initially, these shoes are suitable for anyone who wants some stylish sneakers, without the hassle of laces.
Under Armour Magzip
Zippers are often an integral part of our Canadian Fall and Winter attire to help secure our clothing to keep us warm. Zippers can actually be very challenging to co-ordinate for many reasons, and Under Armour tackled “fixing the zipper” in 2014 with their Magzip technology in a variety of unisex athletic-wear styles. The bottom part of the zipper is magnetic, meaning that it is far easier to ‘thread’ and pull up than a standard zipper, without sacrificing athletic hoodie style. See the press release for more information and a video explaining the technology.
IZ Adaptive Jeans
Jeans are a staple of many wardrobes, but they certainly shift and move when people are sitting or standing. For people who spend a lot of time sitting, including office workers and people who use wheelchairs, jeans can be extremely uncomfortable; jeans regularly have rivets on the back pocket which can cause discomfort while seated, they have the same rise around the waist so when you sit they are either too low or bunch up, and the front button can dig into your waist when you sit down.
IZ Adaptive has designed a line of jeans designed for wheelchair users that offer an easier ring to work the zipper, a clasp instead of a front button, and are overall designed with the different body position of a person while sitting instead of standing. Be sure to look online for other companies offering similar adaptive jean designs!
Part of the role of Occupational Therapy is to have insight and knowledge about products that will help an individual function independently, without sacrificing style, priorities, or efficiency. For more information about customized products that may work for your individual needs, speak with an Occupational Therapist!
As a last inspiring thought, check out this link to the story of a beautiful model with Down Syndrome, Madeline Stuart, who is changing perceptions of disability, while being stylish at the same time.
Previously posted January 2016
Summer vacation is here! For those looking to get away or those looking for fun day trips as part of a staycation, the possibilities may seem endless, however, for someone with a disability they may be limited. The good news is that there are many fully accessible destinations, activities, and adventures across Canada! Take a look at the following care of the Rick Hansen Foundation to explore ideas for fun in the sun experiences that are available to all.
Learn more about accessible travel in our previous post, Vacation Plans? Consult our Accessible Travel Guide.
Julie Entwistle, MBA, BHSc (OT), BSc (Health / Gerontology)
Have you ever wondered why the design of the objects we use and spaces around us are getting better and seem to relate to our bodies or the way we do things in a much more obvious way than ever before?
Barrier-Free Design allows the greatest majority of people equal access to the private and public spaces of our built environment. The aim is to minimize or eliminate physical, cognitive, and sensory barriers in our homes, businesses, and public spaces and even our streets.
Consider the front entrance of a building. Sidewalk curbs, uneven walkways, multiple stairs, heavy doors, and lack of handrails. All these can prevent access because they can create barriers for individuals.
Universal design methods such as curb cuts, level and slip-resistant walkway surfaces, properly designed ramps, accessible washrooms, automatic doors, lifts, and colour-contrasted handrails are all examples of ways to support increased and barrier-free access not just for folks with a physical disability but for all of us, including children, the elderly, parents with strollers and many others.
Occupational Therapy promotes a wide range of barrier-free design and universal design principles that have helped to make better buildings and spaces in our communities.
There is a greater awareness in society that our buildings and spaces must be more accessible to the greatest majority of people. There are far more products and methods for creating barrier-free environments today than ever before which can be great for finding the right product or design solution for an individual. On the other hand, the vast and ever-growing range of products and design solutions can also be confusing, making choosing the right product a difficult one. Occupational Therapists have the knowledge and experience to help facilitate the right approach by drawing on current research and best practices for creating barrier-free spaces.
Occupational Therapists provide helpful information and design advice to architects, designers, and contractors when it comes to creating barrier-free spaces inside homes, businesses, gardens, and even public spaces. And since there is a wide range of barriers that can contribute to preventing an individual from completing an activity such as reaching or bending, OTs help by determining what the barriers are for an individual and facilitating products and design strategies that can help surmount these barriers.
As OTs, we have the privilege to serve the needs of many people in the community and using our skills and practices to help people meet their individual needs of daily living and have productive and rewarding life experiences. For many, this may only be accomplished by implementing a barrier-free experience in their homes, businesses, and places they like to visit.
- For individuals with visual impairments, spaces should have adequate lighting, colour contrasting surfaces where appropriate, tactile cueing and signage as well as audible alarm systems. For individuals with auditory impairments, visual signage and alarm systems (for example, flashing lights) are necessary.
- For someone in a wheelchair, a barrier-free experience may include modifications to their workplace kitchens and washrooms. Fixtures such as light switches, sinks, paper towel dispensers, toilet paper dispensers and grab bars must be installed at a height that can be reached from a seated position.
Ultimately, the goal of barrier-free design is to promote equal access and participation for everyone. There have been many steps taken toward ensuring this type of design prevails in our communities. There are new laws supporting improved accessibility within Ontario as of January of 2015. Is your building up to code? Consulting an occupational therapist can help to ensure your space meets the new criteria.
Cheers to Apple 👍 for working with multiple organizations to create new emojis that “better represent individuals with disabilities.” Though it will take some time for these emojis to be available on your device, it is a great step forward for inclusivity in our daily lives.
photo care of Emojipedia Photo
Learn more about the new emojis in the following care of Time Magazine.
Universal design is defined as, “the design of buildings, products or environments to make them accessible to all people, regardless of age, disability or other factors.” One major factor in achieving universal design is to create buildings and environments that are “barrier-free” and physically accessible for all. Occupational Therapists work with businesses and individuals to help design spaces, both public and private, that allow access for the greatest majority of people. Learn more in our post, A Practical Guide to Barrier Free Design.
October is Occupational Therapy Month and to celebrate we will be sharing a new series called the A to Z of OT. In our attempts to further educate the public about what Occupational Therapists do we will be highlighting twenty-six of the awesome ways OTs provide Solutions for Living.
We encourage you to follow along and to add to the discussion by highlighting other awesome things OTs help with for each corresponding letter!
Julie Entwistle, MBA, BHSc (OT), BSc (Health / Gerontology)
As Occupational Therapists, we spend a significant amount of time with people in their homes and in the community. In this role, we witness daily injustices, challenges or problems that our clients unnecessarily or unfortunately experience due to vendors, landlords, or business owners / operators failing to understand, care, or address the needs of people with disabilities.
Recently, a student I was supervising on placement experienced an accessibility challenge with a client as they attended a local coffee shop. We blogged about this in our post, Accessibility Issues in Our Daily Lives. As her mentor, I discussed with her the need to advocate for change and to send the owner a letter about the problems that client experienced.
That situation made me reflect on my history of advocacy as a person and an OT. I remember as a teen writing a letter to a restaurant who would not book us a reservation on the “main floor” such that my two disabled grandparents could attend my birthday dinner. As a young adult, I wrote a letter to an Alaskan cruise line about the challenges my grandfather experienced using his scooter around the boat and on the gangways. Then I became an OT and the advocacy continued. I have written, and continue to write, letters to equipment vendors, drug and department stores, public and private places, major banks, landlords, the CCAC, and fast food restaurants. Sometimes my letters are specific and highlight an “incident”, while others speak more to general accessibility or service problems. My advocacy initiatives even resulted in me building a training program aimed at helping the “average Joe” best service people with disabilities. I personally feel that advocacy is how I will make my mark on the world, regardless of how small, with the hope of leaving this world in better shape than how I found it.
For this blog, I wanted to take the spirit of advocacy further, and to embrace our human responsibility to try and be catalysts of social, environmental and institutional change, by sharing a guide of sorts that could be used by other therapists, clients, caregivers or really anyone who wants or needs to bring an issue to someone’s attention. Give this a try and keep us posted on your outcomes:
Name of Person / Establishment
I am X. On DATE (I, my family member, client etc) experienced the following problems (when accessing your establishment, using your services, interacting with your staff, etc):
In bullet or paragraph format, list the problems you had. Be factual, truthful and professional. Avoid judgement, anger or threats as these will not result in change.
Provide some input on how you feel the problems you had might be impacting their service, business, etc. Try to hit home with how the issues you experienced will turn people away, or jeopardize their reputation.
Next, explain what you feel the solutions are or how it can be better for you next time. Help them to know what to do. You don’t have to be prescriptive or specific, but maybe they need to consider some building modifications, better trained staff, to understand disability codes or acts, an easier to navigate website, consultation with someone who can develop solutions with them etc. This is where you can really try to be helpful.
End the letter by thanking them for considering your feedback and provide your contact information. Be prepared to have a discussion with them about it. Some might ignore your letter, but I hope most will not. Either way, if your letter stays friendly and is perceived as helpful, they may want to thank you for your time or seek more input.
Of course, add a final sign off like “sincerely” and your name.
I hope this format / suggestion will be helpful as you venture forward and try to educate, share and advocate for the change you hope to see in the world.
Guest Blogger: Carolyn Rocca, Occupational Therapist
As I stroll into my favourite coffee shop to start my morning, I am reminded that this is a part of my day that I take for granted. Particularly, I am reminded of an observed experience that I encountered with a client who had a personal goal around using his walker to go into his favourite local coffee shop, something he had not been able to do since his brain injury.
After weeks of working up to this goal, it was finally time to assess his mobility in the community. As soon as we arrived at the coffee shop’s parking lot I could tell that this was going to be much more challenging than I had anticipated, as it quickly became apparent that there were several accessibility issues we would need to navigate.
Although the accessible parking spots provided us enough room to safely transfer out of the vehicle, and the ramp onto the side walk was graded appropriately, once up on the sidewalk, the client could sense a shallow slant in the pavement causing him to panic as he felt he was going to fall over. What became even more challenging was that there were no automatic doors at either entrance, and that the front entrance had a tightly-spaced vestibule with two sequential, single-passageway doors. On top of all of these challenges, there was about a 2-inch difference in the threshold of the door meaning the client had to lift his walker while already feeling nervous about the slanted pavement. Ultimately, the inaccessible nature of this establishment meant that it took over four people to safely get the client into the coffee shop, which not only increased his nervousness but also completely decreased his level of independence.
Although this experience was largely a success and the client was incredibly proud of what he had accomplished, it also brought to light some issues in our society. It was shocking that a well-established company (who shall remain nameless) had not yet invested in making all of their franchises accessible.
According to the updated accessibility requirements of the Ontario Building Code, buildings are required to have a barrier-free path of travel by having powered door operators at their entrances, meeting minimum requirements for doorway widths and ramp dimensions, and having adequate turning space (Ministry of Municipal Affairs, 2015). The unfortunate part is that these requirements do not affect existing buildings, and are only applied to newly constructed buildings or those undergoing extensive renovations.
What this means is that the current level of accessibility of this coffee shop will not be improved until this franchise decides to undergo major renovations. As a result, this franchise is not only impacting those who use gait aids or wheelchairs, it is also impacting individuals who have mobility challenges, low vision, and parents with strollers, to simply name a few. Additionally, according to the Royal Bank of Canada, people with disabilities have an estimated spending power of about $25 billion annually across Canada (Accessibility Ontario, 2017), meaning this franchise is also losing valuable business from a population who happens to love their coffee.
In being reminded of this experience, it also brings to light the impact that the profession of occupational therapy can have in terms of advocating for their clients needs and promoting equal access for all. Occupational Therapists (OTs) have a unique skill set in terms of assessing the needs of individuals, and identifying barriers in their environments that prevent their access or ability to engage in occupations that are important to them, such as grabbing a coffee. OTs teach people how to be proactive in their own lives, but bigger than this, also have the ability to communicate their clients’ / societies needs to others, and to offer solutions to barriers by involving appropriate stakeholders.
As such, I have written a letter to the coffee shop to bring awareness and attention to the challenges my client experienced while at their establishment. Moreover, in the future, I plan to examine buildings and public spaces beforehand to make sure I am helping my clients to be familiar with, and access, places that have the appropriate supports in place to maximize their level of safety and independence. In doing so, I will increase my clients’ future independence as they venture out without me, while also supporting businesses that have dedicated their time, effort, and resources to creating welcoming and barrier-free environments.
Accessibility Ontario (2017). About the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). Retrieved from https://accessontario.com/aoda/
Ministry of Municipal Affairs (2015). Overview of updated accessibility requirements. Retrieved from http://www.mah.gov.on.ca/Page10547.aspx
Are you travelling this summer? Be prepared with our guide to travelling with a disability.
Travelling with a disability can be difficult, but with thorough planning it can be a wonderful experience. Our free E-Book on Accessible Travel is full of helpful information, tips and checklists to help you plan, pack and prepare for a fantastic getaway.
Also check out our OT-V episode: Travelling with a Disability for more tips for planning a memorable vacation.