Monday, January 16, 2012

Barrier Free Living…Is Living with Ability

By, Ronny Wiskin

Barrier Free is Living with Ability

Why are so many advertisements featuring solutions that help overcome “disability” in front of us these days? This is because business is responding to meeting current demands and the future needs of a growing aging population. More consumers are looking to solve challenges related to aging and disability is a new issue for most baby boomers today. 

Advertising is creating awareness about barrier free living to a demographic that for the most part, has not yet encountered “the need for accessibility”.

By the year 2030, it’s estimated that “half of all people will be affected by a disability within their lifetime”. Because of this statistic, advertisements like walk-in baths, stair-lifts and mobility scooters are being recognized as common safety and accessibility solutions in and around the home. Creating this type of awareness to a growing aging population addresses the reality of a need for improving our environment to remain independent and active in society. Additional benefits from the awareness geared to this growing demographic include increased education about health and wellness, finance and personal care options to help plan for the future. Choices made proactively can help achieve a healthier lifestyle and a more comfortable environment for people of all abilities to age in. By removing the risks, you can reduce your chances of having a long term disability related to slip and falls or a preventable illness.

There are simple ways to remove barriers that won’t involve large scale renovations. The broadest concept of accessibility is having the ability to remain independent. Accessibility is commonly recognized as wheelchair ramps in front of buildings, grab bars in bathrooms and devices that swing doors open for wheel friendly access. Accessibility includes all those things and so much more. For those of us with fragile bones or problems with balance, a cane or a walker makes maneuvering through physical barriers safer. Indicator signals that notify someone’s at the door or that the telephone is ringing are examples of adapting the environment to overcome sensory barriers. Reducing clutter is another way to make life more manageable around the home. Perhaps re-organizing household belongings and creating usable storage solutions are all that’s needed to remove your barriers.

What can be done if more elaborate changes are needed to make an environment accessible to people of all abilities? The first step towards achieving barrier free living should be to have an assessment by an occupational therapist or other professional with experience in adaption to perform functional activities of daily living. The environmental barriers & physical needs for all occupants should be determined and a report with recommendations be created, this should include all possible future needs as well. Designing the environment to meet all users’ needs is the next step prior to planning the renovation and this should be done by a qualified “universal design” or “barrier free design” specialist.

Before tackling any type of barrier free renovation, it’s important to fully understand the scope of work in relation to access, safety, independence and comfort. Recommendations can be simple, such as installing grab bars, raising a toilet seat or converting a fixed shower head into a hand held shower wand. More elaborate improvements can be made by creating a new two or three story elevator, a barrier free washroom, accessible kitchen or modifying existing structures to accomplish a barrier free living space.

Whether the modifications are large or small, they can truly make accessible living a more enjoyable experience. This has a very large positive impact on those who choose to remain in their community while aging.

When venturing away from home a large number of barriers still remain. While accessibility improvements to some public environments are being made, there continues to be inconsistency. Some environments are barrier-free, some are partly accessible and some are not accessible at all.  An example of this can be found in several routes on public transportation systems. Having to rely on a separate system within public transportation, forces many people to hire private services when they can’t access the available public routes to get to where they need to be. 

There is a growing awareness about the need for accessibility within the larger community to help make life more manageable for those of us living with disabilities.  For example, there are many more ramps, automatic doors, traffic lights that make sounds so that people with visual impairments can cross the streets with greater independence and safety.  Many movie theatres are more accessible and we can negotiate for accessible seating when we go to the concert hall, ballet or opera.

New strategies are beginning to surface, creating an inclusive and accessible path for people of all abilities. Contributing towards developing long term success for our future begins by creating sustainability for ourselves now. By enhancing the possibilities for achieving independent living, we can greatly reduce the long term costs and effects associated with assisting a large number of people not able to navigate through barriers created from our past. Making our own environments welcoming and accessible will certainly enrich the lives of everyone, enhancing the abilities of all.

Ronny Wiskin, Accessibility Specialist (
Founder of Reliable Independent Living Services®
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© 2011 the above can not be copied without written permission of the author.

Ronny Wiskin is the Founder & President of ReliAble Independent Living Services®, a company established in 2003, which provides complete access solutions for residential and commercial environments. ReliAble’s core values are listening to the customer and enhancing quality of life with integrity and honesty. The company’s vision is ‘to continually strengthen the social fabric by keeping families together’. ReliAble’s mission is to help people live comfortably and independently in fully accessible homes and workplaces. The spark that led Ronny into the home modification niche came from his own grandmother. She was afraid of injuring herself while trying to climb into her bathtub. Ronny’s decision to focus his direction came after the bathroom modifications were made and he saw how quickly his grandmother regained her confidence, independence and happiness. ReliAble’s new focus would be to improve people’s lives in the same way his grandmother’s life changed for the better. After conducting market research, Ronny developed a niche around this market, which was being under serviced. The company has since retrofitted more than 500 homes & assessed more than 1200 properties in Ontario. Ronny has formed several strategic alliances with third party government funded and non-profit organizations. The company acts as an ongoing resource for Community Care Access Centers across Ontario and is approved as a vendor for Veterans Affairs Canada.

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