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Margaret Lumchick explains why Bill C-81 is inadequate to address the barriers to accessibility experienced by many people today, and thousands more in the near future. 

Bill C-81, An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada, has now been sent to the Senate for consideration.  I am in support of that legislation. However, if it is passed as is it has “no teeth” and many exemptions, and will be merely window-dressing, doing little to address the life-long barriers many of us have faced on a daily basis and the thousands more who are joining our ranks daily as a result of an accident, disease, stroke or just aging.

A particular problem is appropriate housing. This is acute in the aging sector.

In order to put a face to the problem I hope you will take the time to read a short history of my struggles with accessibility.

In 1949 at the age of 10 years I contracted the polio virus. After a two-year hospital stay, I was in and out of hospitals for multiple surgeries for weeks, sometimes months, until the age of 17 when I was permanently discharged. I ambulated with braces and crutches and later used a wheelchair part time. This ended with a surgical injury resulting from being catapulted out of the wheelchair, leaving me permanently wheelchair bound.

Within seconds I went from being able to navigate narrow hallways and doors to being physically banned from these areas. Hundreds of people daily, through no fault of their own after suffering a stroke or accident, or simply needing stability to prevent a fall, are being banned from their homes simply because doorways and hallways are not navigable with a walker or wheelchair.

I struggled with access issues in education, work, shopping, entertainment, transportation and housing.    Over the years, many of these areas have been at least partially addressed.

However, the housing issue which is at the very core of daily existence remains a seriously under-addressed issue especially for those of us who us are financially independent and live on our own without supports. Finding a wheelchair accessible rental unit in an “ordinary” apartment building is akin to winning the lottery.

Yes, there are some units, but most of these are in subsidized buildings and often in a “ghettoized” setting accommodating only the most severely compromised. There will always be a need for these specialized units.

What I’m referring to here is basic accessibility that need not look “different”. It means access for everyone regardless of their age or physical condition. An architect just needs to be creative in planning the space, keeping in mind the changing needs of the inhabitants over time, so one does not have to find a new place to live simply because one needs to now use a walker.

I am in the fortunate position of being able to own my own living space so have been at liberty to widen doorways and make other adjustments. Now having reached the age of 80, I have been contemplating selling my unit and moving into a rental, mainly to make it simpler for those in charge to wind down my estate.

I’m not interested in the lifestyle, nor can I afford the $5,000 to $10,000 monthly fees for a “luxury retirement apartment.”. I wish to maintain my total independence and I am still able to do so. Any place that I have inquired about has not come close to being able to accommodate even my basic access needs.

I am fortunate in being able to “stay in place”. I am not homeless, nor do I have to resort to living in a long-term care residence yet.  I have a choice, but many with new disabilities find themselves in a situation where they are forced to move into long-term care facilities simply because of access problems.

Elected representatives are often reluctant to impose strict regulations on those upon whom they depend for substantial political contributions. The Senate, not being an elected body, is free from that restraint. It is my hope that each and every Senator will consider this carefully and make the appropriate amendments so Bill C-81 will make a real change in the lives of all Canadians, maybe even your own or someone you care for.

Margaret Lumchick
March 3, 2019