2015 Parapan Am Games inspire reflection on accessible design.

Toronto deserves a medal for its ongoing commitment to accessible design.

Parapan Am Games

Recently Toronto was named the world’s most liveable city by Metropolis Magazine. Though the article didn’t mention it, one of the reasons I believe that Toronto is deserving of this title is its ongoing commitment to transforming itself into an accessible city for all.

Ensuring that public transit, attractions, sports facilities, restaurants and buildings are just as accessible for someone riding on two wheels as it is for someone walking on two legs, is no longer an afterthought. For the majority of architects and designers, accessibility for all is a concept that is an integral part of the planning and development stage of every project. In other words, accessibility is by design.

Para-athletes from all over the world got to experience this for themselves while visiting the city as participants in the Toronto-hosted 2015 Parapan Am Games. An article in the Toronto Star probed this storyline further, asking para-athletes how the city compared with the barriers they face back home. From widened doorways to the tiny bumps ahead of a blended curb, the athletes credited building designs and social attitudes as two factors that helped them overcome barriers while traversing the Toronto area.

Two examples of the concept of greater accessibility inspiring design are the Toronto CN Tower and a new app called Access Now.

Since the CN Tower first opened ‘EdgeWalk’, they’ve been working on enhancing the accessibility of this unique experience. As the official attraction for the Toronto 2015 Parapan Am Games, it was only fitting that they would launch the ‘wheelchair EdgeWalk experience’ on the opening day of the Games. Using a uniquely-designed, one-piece wheelchair with its own attachment to the EdgeWalk’s overhead rail and trolley system and a walksuit adapted for ease of dressing, para-visitors to the CN Tower can now live life on the edge too.

Whether a resident or a visitor, people with disabilities want to be able to go out and enjoy Toronto just like everyone else. It was this notion that inspired Ryerson University master’s student Maayan Ziv to create the Access Now app. The app allows users to submit their reviews or rate venues in Toronto on how accessible they are. Within a week of being launched during the ParaPan Am Games, more than 600 restaurants, cafes and bars in Toronto had been reviewed and/or rated on how accessible they were.

As architects and designers we want people to appreciate our work for both its aesthetic and functional value. By incorporating accessibility into our designs from the start, we will ensure that it’s possible for everyone to do just that.