MLA motion would improve accessibility for disabled people in Canada

Americas, March 20 2011

EDMONTON, Canada, Mar 20: When Marlin Styner entertains friends at his Red Deer home, the guests rarely return the favour.

They want to invite him over but their homes weren’t built to accommodate the powered wheelchair he uses since he broke his neck in 1981.

Now one of his friends, Red Deer-South MLA Cal Dallas, wants to raise public awareness of the concept of visitability by introducing a private member’s motion in the legislature this spring.

Motion 505 calls on the provincial government to bring in incentives that would encourage builders and owners constructing new homes to include at least one zero-step entrance, wider interior doorways with a minimum 32-inch clear opening and at least one half-bathroom on the main floor.

“Most people live in single-family homes that are two, three and more steps up and it’s just impossible to get in,” Styner said.

Making a new home visitable for people with limited mobility is a good idea even if the owner doesn’t immediately see a need, he says.

“There are many people who don’t have a person in a wheelchair in their social circle, but I would hazard a guess that most people have an older relative that they want to have come and visit.

“We’re all getting older ourselves. What’s more sustainable than being able to stay in your own home as long as you want?”

Basic access also benefits parents with strollers or family members who lose mobility from accident or illness, he said.

Dallas says his visitability motion, expected in late April, isn’t binding on the government, but the resulting debate may influence policy and draw attention to the issue.

“What we’re calling for here is not mandating or legislating that new single-family homes be built to this standard,” Dallas said.

“The possibility would be there that perhaps the government could use incentives or a variety of tactics to get people thinking about whether or not this might be something they would want to incorporate into new home construction.”

Some municipalities in the United States have passed laws requiring universal access in new private homes, but regulations would likely not be welcomed by Canadian homebuilders who say affordability of homes is already being hampered by government-imposed costs

“Accessibility and visitability is something that is being noted by our industry and being dealt with by our industry,” Vince Laberge, president of the Canadian Homebuilders Association said.

“We believe it’s something that’s become more and more prevalent as we do more renovations. … But let the consumer drive the bus — not the government drive the bus.”

He said visitability and accessibility is being looked into by the national group but there are problems such as existing municipal rules on property grading.

“A lot of the green (energy-efficient) items have been builder-led without regulation so we’re an industry that has proven we can adapt and once the consumer asks for something, we’re on top of it.”

Laberge, who’s also owner of Wendy-Lynn Custom Homes of Edmonton, said he couldn’t provide a cost estimate of making a new home visitable because of the wide variety of layouts and designs.

Styner, who designed and built his own accessible and visitable home in 2002, said studies show the added cost to a new home ranges between $500 to $1,000.


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