Universal Design: Zero Barrier Entry

So you’ve found your property and know that you want to build a Universally Designed structure on it. Maybe you’re building your custom dream home and want to know that you’re going to be able to stay in it as you age. Maybe you’ve just been told you have a progressive condition and you’re going to eventually need a wheelchair, will eventually lose your hearing or will slowly go blind over the next few years. Maybe you have a young child with a disability who will eventually want to have independence within their home. Or maybe you’ve lived with these types of disabilities for years and are simply counting down the days until your home is fully functional for yourself.

Unless you’re in the final category, it’s likely that while you may be thinking about accessibility, the nitty gritty details of what design elements will matter may or may not be front and centre in your mind. Building on the Seven Principles of Universal Design, over the next few weeks we’re going to dig in to some specific design examples. First up – Zero Barrier Entry.

Zero Barrier Entry

Anyone who has ever tried to bump a stroller up six steps, move a heavy piece of furniture up to a second story entrance or help their chihuahua in and out of the house will know that entries to homes can be a huge barrier for everyone involved. If you add in having Grandma to visit at 92 or helping your partner back from the hospital after breaking their leg you start to get the picture. Zero barrier entry makes sure that everyone can get in and out of the house easily and safely. Zero barrier entry creates Equitable Use (Principle 1), is Simple and Easy to Use (Principle 3), provides Perceptible Information (Principle 4), good Tolerance for Error (Principle 5), and Low Physical Effort (Principle 6).

Design requirements:

  • At grade entry for all units OR
  • Ramped entry of 36″ (minimum) to 48″ (preferable) width for Size and Space for Approach and Use (Principle 7) at a 1:12 ratio slope with railings on BOTH sides for Equitable Use (Principle 1) OR Porch Lift/Elevator Entry (may be necessary for building with entries at different grade levels, or for properties where size is a constraint)
  • Optional: ramp/elevator WITH stepped entry for Flexibility in Use (Principle 2)
  • Zero barrier door sill that opens 36″ (minimum) to 48″ (preferable) wide for Size and Space for Approach and Use (Principle 7)
  • Minimize clutter around the door (Principle 7) and a bench beside the door for Equitable Use (Principle 1) to place packages on while opening door, or sit on while waiting for the door to be answered.
  • Use lever handles in contrasting colours to the door for Equitable Use (Principle 1) for ease of opening.
  • Covered porch to allow residents and visitors time to enter and exit the building at their own pace in inclement weather creating Equitable Use (Principle 1).

Other blog posts in this series:

The Case for Universally Designed Communities

“Can’t You Just Add An Elevator?”

Universal Design: Property Considerations

The Seven Principles of Universal Design

Universal Design: Zero Barrier Entries

Universal Design: Bathrooms

Why We Need to Rethink Our Relationship With Pain

[Image description: a colorful assortment of pills fill a counter]

Given the amount of pain medication we consume on an average annual basis (Americans received more than 300 million pain prescriptions in 2015 alone – not including over the counter usage) it’s very quickly obvious that we in North America have a pain problem. In fact, that same study suggested that Americans use 80% of global opioid production each year. But I’m not sure it’s the problem we think we have. As someone who lives with and has lived with pain almost every single day of my life I think it’s possible that our problem with pain is that we don’t understand that it is nuanced.

(Before I go on, let me clarify. I am not suggesting that we should never use pain medication. I am simply pointing out that the level of pain medication used currently suggests that we are using more than what is necessary, and that this indicates some bigger problems in our thinking about pain.)

All through more than a dozen operations I heard “no pain, no gain” as if pain was always, in every form, a good thing. This attitude seems to have extended out to the exercise world where even quite serious athletes risk damaging their bodies by taking painkillers before a race and frequently “pushing through” the pain signals their bodies give out.

On the other side of the equation we have pain avoidance. Folks who live in terror of something happening – of experiencing pain. I see this most strongly right now in certain parenting approaches, when children are “bubble wrapped” to prevent as much physical and emotional pain as possible. Unfortunately, this pain avoidance strategy often overflows into a “don’t talk to me about your pain” approach, which creates barriers and boundaries between us as humans, only serving ironically to increase – not decrease – our overall pain.

The problem is that both of these approaches to pain miss it’s nuance and therefore it’s value, cutting us off not only from each other, but also from a major source of physical wisdom available to us as human beings. That’s because pain is one of the body’s most powerful ways of communicating with us. It is a useful biofeedback mechanism that alerts us to our basic needs (such as hunger, the need to use the bathroom or the fact that something sharp or dangerously hot is touching us).

When we stop listening to pain, we disconnect with our bodies in ways that increase injuries, affect our ability to interact in healthy ways with food and increase our overall stress levels for no beneficial reason.

Conversely, when we assign a blanket negative value to pain, we miss the opportunity for growth. That’s because whether it’s improvement at the gym, developing a new skill or processing hard emotions, pain is frequently – perhaps invariably – an element of growth. The experience of growth or maturation is one of being stretched, and there is discomfort and sometimes even pain that goes along with that stretching that benefits from being appreciated, valued and even embraced.

So what’s the answer?

I think we need to tune in more fully to our pain. Instead of trying to numb or dull it with medication, alcohol, distraction or caffeine, we need space to hear what our bodies and emotions are communicating. Sometimes we can get to this point on our own. But sometimes we have been numbing for so long – and our pain is so great – that it can be helpful to walk through this pain with a coach or therapist to help us stay grounded as we begin to process it. Often when we do this we realise there are underlying issues at play that we were completely unaware of – but that can be addressed and even resolved within the coaching context.

Once we are regularly and safely tuning in to our bodies messages we will start to realise that there are different types of pain offering different information. Dull throbbing may just be the body gently repairing itself after healthy exercise or the emotions gently realigning after a particularly painful interaction. This dull ache suggests that we should be gentle with ourselves – get the rest and support our hearts and bodies require – but often doesn’t need a course correction. Sharp, shooting pains on the other hand indicate something serious is happening, and that we need to stop and respond immediately to prevent even greater damage.

The length and location of pain tells us more information and invites us into reflection to solve the problem: a headache at the end of the day may be an indication of fatigue, stress, dehydration or hunger, but it’s up to us to tune in to determine the answer.

Finally, the deeper pains we carry – trauma, abuse, grief, and sometimes even chronic pain – call us to show up for the therapeutic process, regrounding ourselves in who we were always made to be and creating deep roots that will hold firm regardless of what comes next.

Let me know if you want to talk.

Affordable, Accessible Second Suites

First views of the first accessible, affordable second suite in Barrie. Every day I hear stories of families and individuals who are not only trapped in the unaffordable rental market, but trapped while dealing with major accessibility needs for themselves or a family member.

The level of increased disability these situations cause – both for disabled individuals and for their caregivers – is insane. Mental health issues, back problems, hygiene issues, nutrition issues, injuries – the list goes on.

In fact, I’ve read so many of these stories recently that I had a dream about a person in this situation just before I woke up and when the alarm went off my pillow was covered in tears.

We know that two units won’t solve the accessible affordable housing crisis – not by a long shot – but when each of us show up and do our part it’s amazing where that momentum can take us!

Lots of work to do – the view will get better – but it now exists!

Pain

We’re getting our house ready to put it on the market and we’ve made a lot of progress this week, but I’ve still got a long way to go before we’re ready to list. Unfortunately I’ve done more than I should in the process and I’ve been tired and in pain physically.

Time for some deep breaths and baby steps.

One of the things we don’t talk about enough as humans is the fact that our physical pain and exhaustion are not separate from our emotional pain and exhaustion. They don’t function in isolation.

The 1 to 10 on the pain scale is actually part of your overall 1 to 10 human scale that is made up of your emotional, physical, mental, relational and even spiritual well-being. And the reality is that all of us – regardless of what combination of unprocessed grief, stressors, loneliness or pain we carry – tip the scale at a 7 out of 10. That’s the point where it becomes too much.

I didn’t used to know this. I thought that I should be able to lock my physical pain up in a box and ignore it and still function like everything was normal and my starting level was 0. This is what I assumed was necessary as a child who lived in chronic pain of 4-6 daily and it took until my very late thirties to realise that it wasn’t working and – more importantly – it never could.

That’s because physiologically what’s happening with pain and stress and overwhelm and loneliness is that it triggers our amygdala – our fight or flight or freeze or fawn or force system – into action. We react as if we were face to face with a lion on the savannah, responsible for protecting our children or village. Which can be helpful in short term situations but isn’t as useful in the long run!

So what CAN we do in these situations?

Reducing our overall pain levels wherever possible, taking some deep breaths to calm our amygdala down, and taking some baby steps to lean into the wisdom of our values won’t fix everything, but it can be a good place to start.

And if you’re not sure what those are? Send me a message. I’d love to connect!

Why it’s Time to Change our Perspective on Wheelchairs

The movie Wall-E doesn’t paint a great picture of people using wheeled devices to move around. In fact, it sort of suggests that wheelchair usage – especially from power wheelchairs – is just a great way for people to get fatter and lazier than they already are.

Unfortunately, the confusion about wheelchair usage isn’t limited just to Wall-E’s creators. Many people seem to think that wheelchairs are an impediment to people’s lives – they focus on all of the things that you “can’t” do in a wheelchair, but in the process they miss out on all of the wonderful things a wheelchair enables you to do when you need it!

Because of this, folks like me – who struggled for years with pain issues, fatigue, weakness and exercise intolerance – think that the most important thing we can do is to avoid getting a wheelchair. And when we go to talk to our health care providers, it is very unlikely that they will recommend that we get a wheelchair either.

I admit that the problem is complex. I understand that the more we sit down as humans, the greater issues we will have with bone density, tight tendons, weakening muscles, etc. But here’s the problem. When your disabilities are great enough to leave you stuck on a couch or in a bed, that causes the same problems while introducing a whole host of other problems: like an inability to get outside, to socialise, to hold down a job, to parent your children or invest in your partnering relationship or friendships. In other words, it introduces all sorts of mental health and relational health and financial health problems. So why not trust that in our structurally able-body designed world people will naturally be forced to stand/walk as much as they are able, and that having a wheeled device to use whenever they CAN’T do that is a net positive to their quality of life?

Which brings up the second problem: the world is challenging to navigate from a chair. I’m not going to lie and pretend that’s not the case. I live in Canada, in a city with paratransit and incredibly accessible general transit, and I frequently run into challenges navigating my spaces. But the answer to this problem isn’t to offer fewer wheelchairs to people who need them. The answer is to increase our awareness of the issues that are currently unquestioned in our structural approaches. And we do this by increasing visibility, not hiding from our need for a chair. In my experience, when I show up in spaces people quickly become aware of the issues in their spaces, and often respond with surprise and shock that the structures that pose barriers to me even exist. They say things like, “you’d think they would have thought of that” and other similar comments. And then – amazingly – they often move to make the accommodations that were needed.

Finally the experience problem. Most people’s experiences with wheelchairs involve only the hospital-grade, one-size-fits-no one, good-luck-if-you-can-independently-push-it chairs. If that’s the only experience you’ve had, then I can guarantee you that your wheelchair – however needed – had an unnecessarily disabling impact on you. Good wheelchair design exists, but it is not celebrated in your average hospital or drug store chair. A custom fitted, disability-specific wheelchair makes all the difference in the world. Matching your chair up with your unique needs – including activity level, physical issues, home set up and transportation reality – is crucial to your ability to use a chair well.

So how do you know when it’s time to start asking for a wheelchair? I would say you know when you start looking longingly at them. When sitting down not only feels better, but feels like the only way to cope or function or string a sentence together. When you find yourself regularly missing out on events and experiences you love with people you love because you simply CAN’T get out of bed. You know when the cost of pretending is having to spend more time in recovery than you did on the activity. And you know when this has become not just your once in a while reality, but is a frequent occurrence.

Talk to your doctor. Talk to an occupational or physiotherapist. And if you’re still feeling nervous about how people will view you or how you will navigate the world, send me a message. Let’s talk. Remember that wheelchairs are often powered by love!

Deep Breaths and Baby Steps

And the walls came tumbling down!

Our accessibility build involves connecting an existing, older structure to a new extension. Part of making that possible requires that some of the walls of both the original foundation and the original structure get moved/removed to allow flow from one space to the next.

It was really interesting to watch the steps that went into getting to this point.

They didn’t just carve a hole off the back of the house and then connect the two. The amazing folks at @communitybuildersbarrie wanted to maintain structural integrity for the original home throughout the process, so first they created all sorts of supports – both under the existing foundation and in place of the existing foundation as it came down one section at a time. The result is a super solid structure that will serve us well for a very long time!

Making room for new ideas and ways of living is like this as well. I talk to people sometimes that just want to blow the old way of doing things straight out of the water without first putting up the new structures that will support their new way of life. But the order of our process matters. We need the foundation to stay solid – even get stronger – before we can open our lives out to a more expansive, functional way of living.

So on this Blue Monday my wish for you is simple: don’t try to jump ahead of where you’re at in your process. Instead think “Deep breaths and baby steps.” Reach out and ask for a hand. A good solid foundation can take you a really long way forward!

#deepbreathsandbabysteps #accessiblehousing #lifecoaching #lifecoach

Under the Surface

Work continues on the #accessiblehouse although you wouldn’t know it from above! All of the work the past two weeks has been underground, but when I sent someone down to take pictures it turned out that @communitybuildersbarrie has been very busy! As impatient as we are to get into this new house, we are working hard to appreciate and celebrate each week’s accomplishments to fuel the work that we have to do.

Sometimes life change is like this. There’s lots of work being done, we’re desperate to see it happen, but right now all the work is going on under the surface.

Here’s your reminder to pause and take notice. Take the time to pause and reflect and see the progress you’ve made. Then take some time to celebrate your successes – you’ll be amazed at how motivating this can be!

“Perfection”

I struggled with the word perfect for years and years and years. It felt like this impossible state that I had to somehow already have achieved with a password, able body and infinite bank account I didn’t have.

That is, until one day I was talking to my sister-in-law, who has her Ph.D. in Old English. She explained to me that in the middle ages, the word ‘perfect’ meant whole, or mature. For example, when you finished your seven year apprenticeship and presented your masterpiece before the guild it wasn’t expected to be flawless, but to demonstrate that your understand the whole of your craft and that you had become mature in your capacity and were ready to join the guild. If that was the case, then your masterpiece was perfect.

We’ve come up with a very different meaning for this word over the years, and I don’t know about you, but the flawlessness thing? I just can’t make that work. But mature? Even whole? I might not have arrived yet, but I can see the progress I make year on year as I keep on becoming mature. And that leaves me with a sense of hope and possibility and agency – the ability to think that I can make changes in my life!

So my question to you is this – what would it mean if perfection didn’t mean flawless? And what would this change?

#perfection #perfect #personalcoach #lifecoaching #lifecoach

Accessibility and Universal Design

I talk a lot about the value of building Universally Designed homes and communities from the beginning. That’s because the cost of modifications to our existing, inaccessible buildings is incredibly high!

But until we change the world, we still have to shift from inaccessible to accessible, and the idea I think in most people’s heads is that this will be covered by insurance companies. Only we apparently need to have a conversation with the insurance companies about the cost of making our non-universally designed homes and vehicles accessible. Perhaps they’ve never seen the invoices for these items?

I was reading through my husband’s new insurance brochure for the year – something that I unfortunately need to be intimately aware of – and I came across this statement:

“If benefits are payable under this benefit provision for an injury that requires the use of a wheelchair to be ambulatory ... [insurance company name] will pay the actual expense incurred less any amount paid for the same expenses under this plans health care benefit up to $10,000 for all home and vehicle modifications combined.”

$10,000.

*JUST* $10,000 for ALL home and vehicle modifications combined.

*ONLY* $10,000. Total. For all modifications.

Does that sound like a small amount or a large amount to you?

To clarify, the modifications on a vehicle alone – if you already own a two year or newer van that qualifies to be modified – will cost $30,000 – $40,000, depending on your level of injury/impairment.

The cost of *simply* adding a lift to your home to enter and exit the front door will be above $10,000.

That doesn’t cover the bathroom. It doesn’t cover the bedroom. It doesn’t cover internal stairs. It doesn’t cover any of those things.

My husband has a good job. He has a good benefits package. We are fortunate. And this is all that they would offer if our reason for needing an accessible vehicle and home was due to an injury that my husband had suffered that qualified under his plan’s provisions. (To be clear – we do not qualify for these funds).

I understand that insurance companies have to put limits, but these completely inadequate limits are so low that they have the potential to leave otherwise capable, hard-working individuals bed-bound and highly dependent.

I understand that many, many folks do not have even this much support. I understand – because this is the situation we find ourselves in – that very few folks with disabilities have access to even this much financially. However, I think most of us assume that if we have insurance and live in Ontario then the things we will need in the event of a major disability will be taken care of. And unfortunately, this is yet another example that we’re not there yet.

Out from the Clutches of Worry, Fear and Control

Over on @parentingforward, @cindybrandt was talking about the way we worry as parents. She said, “Every parent worries. To love is to worry. What if that doesn’t have to be true? What if we can learn better coping mechanisms for our anxieties so that we don’t exchange them with our children? What if we don’t wear worry as a badge of honor?”

And I thought about this for a while, because my parenting journey has been a long hard tussle from the clutches of worry and fear and control.

This is me and my fam some 13 or so years ago. It was after our son died (he fits between the two kids) but before I understood about Autism or trauma (my own or anyone else’s). It was before we understood about gender or sexuality differences. It was before I knew how to work through my own baggage. It was before that time when I decided to try giving up fear for Lent.

And I so wish that I could go back and do some #lifecoaching for this woman. I wish I could help her name and work through the messages and fears that left her tied up in knots. I wish I could walk her through emotional self-regulation strategies, self-care practices and some basic relationship tools to help her avoid the years of heartache and pain that are coming.

We all know that isn’t an option. But do you know what IS an option? For me to pass on to others what I’ve learned.

So, if you’re feeling like your parenting is being ruled by fear instead of love, then maybe it’s time we had a chat. In my experience you can’t just “try harder” to be less afraid. You have to get to the root of why you’re afraid and then find the path through it. You can’t just “try harder” to be gentle with your kids. You have to practice being gentle with yourself until the gentleness overflows. And you can’t “try harder” to make sure that your kids become who you want them to be. You have to become who you were meant to be yourself, so that you can invite your kids to embark on the journey for themselves.

Change is possible…

Photo Credit: Robynn Munnings