The NCC’s Advisory Committee on Universal Accessibility (ACUA) advises the NCC on its projects that have a significant universal accessibility component. Its members have experience and expertise in matters related to universal accessibility. Outgoing committee vice-chair, Bob Brown, discusses how the committee helps ensure barrier-free access to NCC sites, and reflects on his own experiences serving on the committee.

In October, my last term as vice-chair of the NCC’s Advisory Committee on Universal Accessibility will come to an end. By that time, I will have served nine years in the role, providing real-life experience and expertise in universal accessibility to the NCC.

Making the National Capital barrier-free

A project that left a lasting impression on me is the remodelling of NCC-owned buildings along Sussex Drive. These needed several upgrades to be brought to code.

One of the buildings had a large ramp system that took a lot of space. When presenting to ACUA, the NCC project team initially suggested replacing them with key-operated chairlifts. However, we had concerns about that. It meant that people with disabilities would have to rely on someone else with a key to move around the building, which was questionable in terms of usability, independence and dignity.

Ramps installed at 3 Clarence Street in the ByWard Market.
Ramps installed at 3 Clarence Street in the ByWard Market.

We eventually got our point across, and the team went back to the drawing board. This has set an example for future projects: just because the standards are met doesn’t mean there is no room for improvement. Inclusivity needs to be all-encompassing.

We faced the same kind of issues later on with work at Rideau Hall. Once again, the first-hand experience of ACUA members helped remove barriers from public spaces for all Canadians.

Looking back

ACUA and the NCC have come a long way. In 2018, almost seven years after the committee was created, accessibility made it to another important NCC committee: the Advisory Committee on Planning, Design and Realty (ACPDR).

ACPDR plays in the big leagues. It advises on major federal plans, policies and projects, some of which are not NCC-led. Having a seat at that table among other professionals and giving a voice to accessibility really made a difference. It was a significant step forward — this bridge between the two committees enriches discussions and exchanges in both.

I remember being in an ACPDR meeting where the chair said: “The days of inaccessibility approvals are over. It’s our policy, we have to do better.” That made me immensely proud.

Looking forward

As my time in ACUA draws to a close, I leave with the satisfaction of a job well done and the confidence that the committee will carry on its important work.

I hope that the NCC continues to lead by example and gives accessibility proper consideration at every step of the projects and plans it has an influence over. I also wish that ACUA gets to advise on more and more projects over time.

More broadly, I hope that the new Accessible Canada Act will bring a much-needed cultural change to the National Capital Region. To see this happen, the Act needs regulation and strong enforcement.

I’m not sure yet what my next challenge will be, but I know I won’t rest until accessibility is non-negotiable.

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