Julie Sawchuk Column: Wedding Barns and Climbing Courses
An Accessibility Advisory Committee is required by the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) legislation in cities, counties or townships where the resident population is greater than 10,000. The goal of the committee is to break down barriers for people with disabilities in the community. I am a volunteer member of the Huron County Accessibility Advisory Committee (HCAAC), which meets four times each year to discuss issues that have been brought to our attention.
The people on this committee sit on several subcommittees including special events, education, legislation and site review. It is my opinion that we are a relatively unknown committee. This came to my attention again last week while the site review subcommittee was conducting two reviews of local facilities.
Although the primary role of the HCAAC is to provide accessibility guidance to Huron County Council and its municipalities, members of the general public also are welcome to be in touch for advice.
The new Brussels Four Winds Barn weddings and events centre made a lot of great accessibility decisions early on in its construction, but they knew they had not thought of everything, so they called on us to make some recommendations.
On the day of our visit, heavy machinery was being used to grade the parking lot and exterior path, which made access to the barn tricky for me in my wheelchair, but it will be great when it’s all finished and paved. They plan to have wheelchair accessible parking spaces close to the power-operated main door.
The interior of the barn is truly stunning and I was impressed by how well they were able to marry the old-fashioned style with considerable access. The washrooms on the upper floor have a large accessible stall where they plan to add grab bars and lower the flush pull chain. The decision to install motion sensor taps is great for reducing the spread of infection and they are also helpful for those with limited reach or hand function.
Building into a hill creates the challenge of getting from one floor to another. For now, an exterior pathway is used with potential plans for an elevator in the future (how cool would that be in the silo?). Inside, on the staircase, Four Winds has used a sander to create colour contrast on the edge of each step – a great example of accessibility “looking good”. Hopefully they will address the safety of the railing at the bottom of the stairs.
One challenge we discussed at Four Winds was how to access the loft, which is 18 inches above the main level. With measuring tapes in hand we looked at different ways to install a ramp that not only met code (five per cent slope or less), it could also fit well with the architecture of the old barn style. Once the floors are sanded and level (barn board dries unevenly) and a few other minor tweaks, Four Winds will be an accessible space for families to enjoy celebrating special occasions together.
After leaving the barn, the site review subcommittee went right to a field in Walton. There we met Genny Smith from the Edge of Walton challenge course. Genny had been in touch because the Edge of Walton is looking to reach out to everyone, including groups of people of all abilities, and she knew they had some work to do to make this happen.
As it was with the International Plowing Match, making a field (and forest) accessible is not easy, but it’s also not impossible. We went through the necessities: parking, path of travel, sanitary facilities, services (i.e. the challenge course), emergency planning and trails. In a case like this (not your typical building space), it’s good to set priorities, but to also address the things that are simple and don’t cost a lot.
We sat down and helped make some plans. Priority number one: washrooms. Outdoor toilets are a challenge, but with the right plans and materials, one can have a (seasonal) accessible washroom set up in no time. Priority number two: path of travel. Everyone needs to be able to get from Point A to Point B safely. A path of wood chips may be good for some, but everyone can travel along a boardwalk.
Number three is the tricky part: how to make a challenge course (low ropes course, high climbing structures, tire wall) accessible. By its very nature it is already a challenge – so then how do you make it inclusive?
That is where my (and the committee’s) expertise and recommendations end – and the research begins. Reaching out to other groups with more experience in accessible outdoor education, visiting other locations which have achieved inclusion and hiring an expert are next on the path for the Edge of Walton. After that, they are on to even bigger ideas, so stay tuned!
It is not the job of this committee to enforce accessibility standards set under the AODA, instead it is our job to reach out to the public, provide education and access to tools that will help our community become accessible to all. To reach the Huron County Accessibility Advisory Committee call (519) 524-8394 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.