Big world, small wheels by Julie Sawchuk
In small town Ontario, most of the built environment was constructed circa 1900 (give or take a couple of decades). In that era, the average life expectancy, according to Statistics Canada, was approximately age 50. People with catastrophic injuries would not have survived (antibiotics had not yet appeared on the scene) and people with other types of disabling conditions were considered “infirm” and would have lived in an institution and not been able/allowed to venture out into the community.
What is my point? Well, historically, the need to accommodate people with disabilities was not taken into consideration when we built our villages, churches, schools, homes and storefronts. Honestly, who thought that building a high school into a hill was a good idea? Two-storey homes take up less space on building lots, true, but why not put the first floor at ground level?
With the advancement of medicine (think antibiotics and joint replacements) and technology (mobility devices like wheelchairs and power scooters) people with physical disabilities are living longer and are getting out of their homes and around their community like never before. The problem is, of course, we are not tearing down and rebuilding at the same rate. Shrinking rural populations do not lead to new construction.
So what is being done? Renovation and retrofitting for a start are happening. The Province of Ontario has set the lofty goal of being completely accessible by the year 2025*. Why the asterisk? Because conditions apply. Only new construction and renovations of public spaces must comply. However, if you look at it from a business perspective - it is the smart thing to do.
Ontario, and many other places around the world, is going to undergo a cultural shift. People with disabilities bring a lot to the table. We bring our knowledge, expertise and a different perspective to the workforce - a workforce that currently underutilizes these resources. Harnessing the power of people with disabilities allows for the application of the principles of universal design to new products, services, transportation, communication and recreation.
The other part of the picture is that people with disabilities have friends and family. Creating an accessibly-built environment means that everyone can enjoy it together. My extended family of 13 has found a place to meet, eat and be social that is completely accessible midway between our homes. That table of 13 meets there several times each year now; had they not been able to accommodate our needs we never would have even graced their door. Don’t get me started on my list of places (shops, restaurants and services) to which I will never go back.
So it is with great excitement (for so many reasons) that the newly-constructed and soon-to-be open Cowbell Brewing Co. has grown out of the Huron County clay. From day one, the people at Cowbell have shown that creating accessible places and services is the right thing to do.
Back in January, 2017 I invited myself to have a look at the blueprints at their architect’s office. What I saw was everything I had expected and more. The week before I met with them I spent time combing through legislation and building code – looking for the not-so-obvious accessibility needs. With very few exceptions, they were all there. So now I wait, wheels at the ready, to see the plans on paper transformed to real life wood, steel and cement.
When you arrive to take in the opening days you will see multiple wheelchair accessible (wide, level and close to the main entrance) parking spaces, wide automatic doors (ground-heated for snowmelt in winter) accommodated seating, elevator (with tactile buttons) to the second floor for tours of the brewery on the accessible walkway. And most exciting for me (because I plan my days around where I can find one) there is not one, but two universally accessible washrooms!
When I asked Steven and Grant if they had a goal of being Ontario’s most accessible brewery they replied that even though these plans could possibly result in that, they were doing it “because it is the right thing to do”.
Julie Sawchuk is a resident of Blyth and blogger of “Living with Paralysis”.