The Cost Benefit of Truly Accessible Design

Assessing the Cost/Benefit of becoming Accessible-Friendly

Accessible Design, also known as Barrier-Free design, creates inclusion, and inclusion creates opportunities for all to participate in, and enjoy, the services and products small businesses have to offer. Whether you are a patron, a client, a customer, or an employee, removing and preventing barriers in small businesses provides freedom of access and of use, on a one time or repeated basis.

Accessibility has a powerful influence on how people use small businesses. An Angus Reid Institute study in January 2019 informs that 24 % of Canadians have mobility, vision or hearing disabilities or challenges and 47 % of Canadians have friends and family members who have physical disabilities. Have you witnessed aging parents who are using walkers, out shopping with their daughters or sons?

Destination BC informs us that Canadians with disabilities are estimated to have spent $165 billion dollars in 2017 in Canada. Small businesses that are inaccessible cannot afford to miss out on this largely untapped consumer market; however, barriers continue to exist that prevent freedom of choice and safe access to opportunities that add meaning, enjoyment, and quality of life.

Inaccessible small businesses are not only discriminatory for customers and consumers, they are also discriminatory of employees. Inaccessible businesses infringe on human rights. Accessible businesses offer opportunities for both consumers and employees with disabilities. Businesses with barriers create a loss of economic viability when inaccessibility affects both the consumer and the employee. Investing in accessibility is an investment that will create in a return on investment over time.

The Conference Board of Canada in their 2018 report titled “The Business Case to Build Physically Accessible Environments”, informs us that if businesses were made more accessible approximately half a million Canadians would be able to work more hours. Persons with disabilities are a largely untapped resource for employers. Accessibility offers opportunity for employers who are experiencing challenges recruiting employees, which is costly.

Building a more accessible small business requires knowledge of the diversity of barriers and knowledge of the means to remove them. Accessible design does not have to be clinical or unattractive. Universal Design (UD) Principles can be implemented which create a design that is “invisible” as described by Brad McCannell, VP, Access and Inclusion with the Rick Hansen Foundation, in reference to Vancouver International Airport (YVR). UD means everyone benefits, and no one even realizes the design was created to suite any particular need.

In a fashionable high-rise in Kelowna the lawyer’s office wheelchair accessible stall in the Ladies washroom, has two unrepaired holes in the wall, as a coat hook was removed. Unfortunate? Costly? A second visit was funded to remove one hook, then reinstall it at a lower level. A third visit will repair the holes? These costs should be avoided, if the hook was installed at the height of 1000 to 1200mm above the finished floor, which is within easy reach from a seated position. Re-dos are not necessarily unattractive, but they can be unsightly or unfinished. Contractors hourly wages vary but are never insignificant.

BC’s small businesses have numerous examples of barriers that can affect all of us, persons with disabilities and friends and families, i.e. from children, to seniors i.e. “Baby Boomers”, to parents pushing prams, from participating to the greatest extent. These inaccessible environments create exclusion within families and groups, and with exclusion there is a bad or frustrating memory, which can amount to a huge loss of future engagement with that business.

How to Create a Positive Change in Accessibility

Installation of design features, that eliminate concerns with physical, cognitive, sensory, and emotional barriers are best created with a thorough understanding and informed action plan. Some changes are possible with minimal funding e.g. D shaped door handles ($100-300), changes in lighting to allow illumination quality that is as close to a full spectrum as possible, and other changes require significant funding, e.g. exterior ramp or automatic door openers.

Understanding the extent of the barriers in your business and how to remove the barriers is not an easy task, nor is it best completed as a do it yourself (DYI) project. I have witnessed attempts at accessibility that fail, which is expensive, unfortunate, and no doubt disheartening for the caring business owner. A lovely winery in the Okanagan, installed a ramp to their tasting room; however, at the top of the ramp, at the landing entrance to the tasting room, there is one step/threshold barrier that is high enough to negate the benefits of the ramp. This winery informs us on their website and a popular tourism website that they are wheelchair accessible; unfortunately, they are not.

In another winery, their washroom is luxuriant in size; however, the door is extremely heavy to open, even for my able-bodied self. When the wine tasting staff hear you groan, they nod, smile, and tell you that that the door is “heavy”, and they are right. Someone using a wheelchair, or a walker would have significant difficulty accessing the washroom independently. It is important to remember, that if someone has to ask for help, the situation is no longer barrier-free or dignified.

Caution must be taken to ensure attempts at accessibility are not fraught with these types of errors. Redesigns, additions, and revisions at a later date are a cost worth avoiding at all cost, especially in our current economic climate.

Now is the Time to Start

Proactive and socially sensitive small business owners will want to start by asking themselves important questions, and by seeking resources to help them resolve problem areas. Accessibility Professional Consultants can conduct on-site accessibility audits for under $1000.00. Reports will provide a current level of accessibility and recommendations to create a truly accessible business. Investing in building contractor who has specialized training and past experience with accessible design will help ensure, your new ramp does not bring your customers to their first step.  The Canadian Home Builders Association provides a great place to start.