Wednesday Jun 05, 2024

Accessibility on Vancouver Island

He moved to Canada about 20 years ago from the UK and never left. We chat with accessibility consultant Ramesh Lad who aims to make Vancouver Island accessible to all.

 

TRANSCRIPT

 

00:08
Welcome again to DDA's Encouraging Abilities podcast, where we chat about everything disability related. I'm your host, DDA Communications Manager, Evan Kelly. Now we talk a lot about accessibility on this podcast, how things can be done better to level the playing field for people with disabilities, whether physical or cognitive. Now that could mean adopting a universal design concept so that everything we build or create is done with everyone in mind.

00:33
Sometimes that's easier said than done. So we need consultants who navigate design beyond meeting building codes, because building codes doesn't necessarily mean it's accessible. It just means it might be relatively safe. So joining me today is accessibility consultant, Ramesh Lad, who hails from Vancouver Island. I came across Ramesh on an ex or Twitter story, if you're still there. So the power of social media is good.

00:57
And I was a person with lived experience. Ramesh started step-by-step accessibility consulting in 2018 and has been building his business ever since. So thanks for joining me today, Ramesh. Thanks for giving me the chance to chat. Thank you. No problem. I always like to start things like this. So tell me a little bit about yourself. So where do I start? So I'm basically originally from England. I moved to Canada in 2001.

01:26
And I came with the idea of just to live and work out here for about a year, just to get some different experience and to have a different sort of lifestyle. But 22, 23 years later, I'm still here and enjoying Canada, basically. My background is I in England, I worked with youth in schools. Before that, I worked in human resources.

01:54
And then when I came to Canada, my first job I had was with BC Paraplegics Association as one of their counsellors. And then from there, I've done various other jobs. Most recent jobs I've had is working with youth at risk here in the Covox Valley. I've also worked on the downtown east side in Vancouver when we lived in Vancouver. So my career history is quite varied.

02:21
My personal background is I was affected by the drug thalidomide, which is a drug given to expectant women to alleviate things like morning sickness. But unfortunately, the drug had an impact on the fetus, which left people with various types of disabilities, including limbs missing or short limbs.

02:51
And not everyone, sadly, had survived. So in the UK at the moment, there's about 400 people that were affected by thalidomide that are still alive. In Canada, I think it's just under 100 now that are still living and, yeah, living. Now, if you don't mind me asking, Ramesh, how old are you? I'm 62. Okay. You look younger in your photographs.

03:20
Thank you. That's good. It's amazing what Photoshop can do. And so, I mean, you know, just checking your profiles and things in your business website, what really got you interested in working with at-risk youth? I think it's just one of those areas I fell into. Like I said, my background was working with youth in England, but mainly in schools and colleges.

03:51
So when we moved to the Valley, a position came up, when we moved to the Colmocks Valley, a position came up which was involving working with youth at risk. And I'd already worked with adults at risk, as I was saying earlier, on the downtown Eastside. So this is just sort of following on from that, but specifically working with youth at risk, which is an area that had an interest in, especially as I've worked with youth in the past.

04:18
So that was it really, it was just more of a chance that came up here in the Cobox Valley where there was a program run called Blade Runners which is working with youth at risk to try and give them basic skills to allow them to find entry level jobs. So I was working with youth to sort of train them up to get into entry level jobs and then not just train them but also...

04:45
working with local employers and local companies to try and get them placed as well. So, but my interest came from my background. Oh, interesting. Now, so Vancouver Island is, you know, of course, a little bit detached from the rest of BC. Do you, how's business? How do you, do you feel like you're making an impact on businesses and design over there? I think I am. It feels like it at the moment. I'm quite busy with mainly educational establishments.

05:14
that I'm working with and I've done some work for a couple of senior homes and I've just started working with somebody who wants to improve their home for aging in place. So I think it's taking off. Businesses are a little harder to work with because I think there's the financial barrier that they feel might come up with what they need to do to make their businesses accessible.

05:41
I think the other thing is here in the Covox Valley, I don't know if you've been here in recent years, but in Courtney, a lot of the businesses downtown, the buildings are a little older, so they're a bit more difficult to make fully accessible. But I think businesses do try really hard to accommodate everyone. Trevor Burrus Now talk about, tell me a little bit about the cost.

06:10
making things accessible is that the cost really is somewhat negligible. And if you're thinking about a business where if you're a retailer, for example, or a restaurant, whatever, that if you're not making something accessible, you're turning away a big dollar. Absolutely. No, that's totally true. You are. Yeah, it's basically you're throwing money out the door because...

06:38
people aren't able to get in. And I think what we have to remember here is that people always think of disability or people with disabilities as being this very small percentage of the population. So they're looking at the big picture of, well, all these customers are coming in. I might only get one person in a wheelchair or one person with a learning disability or a hearing impairment. But in reality, what they're forgetting is that we've got an aging population here.

07:06
You know, worldwide we've got an aging population. Now that aging population comes along with various challenges of their own. You know, for example, mobility might be an issue, or hearing might be an issue, or sight might be an issue. So if you're making those accommodations, that population of people that might not ordinarily use your services are more likely to use them. You know, whether it's retail, whether it's entertainment, whether it's...

07:35
leisure and so on. So I think the cost, and again coming to the cost of it, it depends what needs to be done. If it's a new building, then the cost is, as you were saying earlier on, absolutely minimal because you can put those, you can implement those design features that will allow greater accessibility into place as the building is being constructed, which saves a lot of money.

08:05
And those things that they're putting in aren't huge. Why the doors? As an example, or recently I worked for an organization that works for affordable housing, and they were building units, and to make the units accessible, one of the things we looked at was putting support beams in the bedrooms. So in the future, if one of their residents needs a hoist or something, that could...

08:34
The hoist could be attached to that support beam and it is safe and everything else. But if you try and do something like that after the building is built, you're talking about quite a few thousand dollars to make that happen. Whereas when the building was being built, it was minimal, a few hundred, and that's just for the material. The labor costs don't even come into it because they're building this unit anyway. So it all depends on what level of...

09:03
you're talking about. New buildings, I would say you're actually right, minimal. Older buildings, it might be a bit more, but again, I would say the costs are huge. I think there's a lot of assumptions about what needs to be done. So having somebody like myself or one of the other professionals from the Rick Hansen Foundation look at things would give them a clear idea of the cost maybe not being as high as they're thinking it's going to be.

09:34
So with that in mind when you enter a building or someone I guess someone's house or something like that when it when it turns When it comes to making a sort of a report, what are the main things you're kind of looking for? Well, I start right from outside So whether it's a building or a house, you know, you're looking at it from the exterior pathway to the front door or to the entrance of a building and then

10:03
You know, you're basically walking the building, walking through the building in your mind and looking at every aspect of it. So for example, on a driveway or a pathway, you wanna make sure that it's level, it's easy to identify the path, it's safe. The lighting is good for nighttime. When you get to the front door, is it a level entry, are there steps? How easy is it to reach an intercom if you're...

10:33
going into an apartment building. So it's every little detail that you can think of that you're looking at. You're not just looking at, okay, what if I'm inside, can I get from the living room to the bedroom, or can I get from one office to another? It's not that, it's you're looking at every aspect of that building, and not just the interior, but the exterior as well. And so you mentioned you've got aging clients, so you're dealing with private individuals as well?

11:01
Yeah, yeah. I've just started basically that that's that's come about through the article that you saw that you contacted me through. So yes, I'm hoping that that's something that I can work more on that would allow people to stay in their homes and to maintain a level of independence that they want. Well, yeah, and like you mentioned, you know, Aging Society, I mean, latest stats from 2022 say about

11:30
27% of Canadians identify with some sort of a disability. So Seems like there's a gold mine there for this kind of thing Yeah, exactly. And it's not just a gold mine. I mean, you know, yeah, absolutely There is a financial benefit for people like myself who are doing this work But at the end of the day, you know from a community and a society point of view There's so many pluses as well, you know as an example this person I'm working with at the moment

11:58
She's going to be able to stay in the community where she's lived for the last 20 years or so. She's going to be still around people that she knows. She's close to friends and family. So there's a huge benefit there. And then if she decides to move, that home will be ready for somebody else to move in and to continue with aging in place with maybe some minor alterations to meet their individual needs.

12:24
So I think the benefits outweigh any cost. Yeah, absolutely. And even in my own experience, I don't have a lived experience with a disability myself. My mom did get sick a few years ago and passed away shortly after that, but that's a whole other story. But once we realized that when she got sick and was ill, she was going to have some renovation work done in her house.

12:51
But we just turned to the renovator and said, like, hey, we got to cancel this stuff. Because it was, in fact, terminal illness. But she could only access a wheelchair at this point. So instead of getting him to put in new coverage, we're like, OK, we need you to build a ramp from here, here, here. And she had a slightly difficult layout of her house. But he did it. He built this great ramp that would take her around the side and out to the front of the house if need be. And it's, you know, it's. Right.

13:21
If we would just look at the construction of the house beforehand, not assuming that everybody's going to need a wheelchair, but I mean, a ramp to me can still be better than steps anyway. Absolutely. I mean, there's benefits to everyone. Something like a ramp, whether you've got children or you have a stroller for your kids or even just bringing your groceries in.

13:49
a lot easier coming up around than trying to carry them up a step up steps. Absolutely. Now you received your certification from the Rick Hansen Foundation. Now this, their program there, it's getting a lot of worldwide attention. Can you take me through that process? Yeah. Well, I was one of the first ones to do the program. So it might've changed quite a bit since I took the course, which was back in 2018. So.

14:18
really difficult for me to sort of go into too much detail because I might be giving you the wrong information, especially as I did it so long ago. So I think that's something that basically I might need to look into a bit more. I know somebody who's doing the course at the moment and they're doing it online and I think there are courses that are done in Vancouver which you can attend as well. But basically the course is there to...

14:46
The course contains standards for making buildings and other facilities accessible to people with a wide range of physical, sensory, or cognitive disabilities or a combination of all of those. So that's basically the basic aspect of the program. It's designing things that accommodate people of all abilities.

15:15
And to be inclusive as well, that's the other aspect of it, which is very important. So the designs are made to be inclusive. So for example, having an entrance into a building which has steps. So instead of having access, which used to be the case years and years ago, and I think it still is now, where sometimes you'd have to go through the back entrance if you're in a wheelchair or have mobility issues. Whereas the idea of universal design would be to make that.

15:44
so that everyone uses the same entrance to get into that building. So having a ramp and stairs designed in a way that is aesthetically pleasing, but it's also very practical. Now, is universal design something that people or builders and designers and architects could easily wrap their head around? Or is this, are you coming up against some pushback on that? No, not really. I mean, from my understanding of it, the course that the Rick Hansen Foundation are running,

16:13
They're actually trying to encourage people like I'd X and engineers and people from the construction field To actually take the course so that way, you know They have an understanding of what's required and how to make implement those things From this from the drawing stage onwards one of the architects I worked with on a project recently He's actually taken that course now he's actually done the program so you know just by

16:42
sort of me chatting with him and I was going through the process of this building that we were both working on. He's done the course now. So hopefully in future designs of buildings or homes, he'll be implementing some of those standards. So to the best of your knowledge, I mean, you've got experience in both.

17:09
both here and in the UK. How is Canada doing when it comes to adopting some of these concepts compared to the rest of the world? I understand that England has a lot of old buildings, so that might be a challenge. Yeah. I think Canada is doing quite well. I think there are still areas where there's need for improvement, especially when it comes to the leisure industry. Hotels and things are very –

17:38
My experience is that they're very, very reluctant to sort of follow through on things. I travel quite a bit, so staying in hotels and things. I've often said to them, your room looks great, you've got a great, accessible room, but there are things there that could make it better and could make it easier for people with various different abilities. I give them my card and they give me a card.

18:07
You know, say, I'm quite happy to work with you guys or if you want more information, let me know. And you very rarely hear from people after that. So I don't know if it gets passed on to a manager or whether it gets beyond the front desk. So, so, you know, I think there's a reluctance there. But again, as I was saying earlier on, they're missing out on a huge population. We're going to need those things, not necessarily just.

18:33
you know, one out of every 10 customers that might use a wheelchair or a walker, they're missing out on a lot of potential clients there or customers. Well, yeah, exactly. And it's the, you know, the city of Richmond and Vancouver, they're always there, you know, and good for them. They're coming up with these affordable housing concepts and, and, and new builds and stuff. And then there was one recently here in Richmond, where it's like, okay, we've got,

19:01
80, they've built 80 units of affordable housing for seniors and lower income. And they've got four of them set aside to be more accessible. And all I could think of is, well, why just four? Like what? Just make the whole thing accessible. Exactly. And it doesn't have to be that different. You can still have people using it that don't need those additional features. But you know.

19:31
If somebody else comes along that does need it, it's there, ready for them. Instead of saying turning somebody away because you've only got four units that are accessible and you've got six people applying, it doesn't make sense. And especially on new builds, it just doesn't seem to make sense that you could put all those features in. I mean, a good example is, again, I keep coming back to one of my recent projects, which was working for Affordable Housing, Co-Ontario Affordable Housing Society.

20:01
And what they've done in this new building is that they've got five or six units that are fully accessible, but then some of the other units have got in there. The way they've done it with the bathrooms is if it needs to be made into a more accessible bathroom, it's just a question of taking the bathtub out, which is one whole unit, the tub and the wall, and just putting the shower feature in there.

20:28
So that's such an easy thing to do, and it would cost very little for them to do that. But they've done it. So as the need gets higher, as the demand gets higher, sorry, they can make those changes to that building, that existing building, with minimum effort and minimum cost. Yeah, I guess, and you know, in the cost, the whole issue of the cost, which of course some people raise, is, I mean, costs certainly can be prohibitive, I'm sure. But I mean...

20:55
Oh yeah, absolutely. We're not talking about prohibitive costs, we're just talking about, okay, whoever owns the building might have to put two or three hundred dollars into it this month and then you're fine. Yeah, yeah, yeah, exactly, exactly. Yeah, it's looking at it in the long term rather than just the short term. Yeah, well exactly. That's really, really hard for people to sort of get their head around that I think sometimes.

21:24
Yeah, exactly. So, and it's, you know, recently I was at a place in Vancouver and it just, because a friend of mine is actually in a wheelchair and he's a photographer and he came out to shoot something for me a little while ago and we realized that there was, and I mean, when we're talking about old buildings, buildings in Vancouver aren't really that old, they're not like England.

21:48
But, uh, they're not, they're not necessarily as permanent either, but this place had a very accessible entrance, no problem. But the back, the back way out, let's just say there was an emergency or a fire or something at the front, it's stairs. Like there was, there was no way for them to get out. Yeah. Since, since I started working at DDA a few years ago, that's opened my eyes a lot is I kind of look at these things and go, Hey, this isn't.

22:16
This doesn't seem right. This doesn't seem fair. This doesn't seem level. So, yeah, no. Well, and I think, I think that that's where the issue is. That's where the problem is. You've got somebody who says, okay, well, we put ramps in here. So that's great, you know, but they're not looking at the whole picture that that person still needs to be able to get out in an emergency or use the washroom or, you know, be able to access other parts of the building like everyone else. It's not a question of just saying, okay, we put a ramp into, we can.

22:46
get people in through the door. You know, I stayed in places where I, you know, where they're called and said, do you have an accessible room? Yes, we do. And you turn up and it's not accessible at all. I mean, there's one place I stayed at where we couldn't even get in through the front door into our room. So I said, well, how do you expect this to be accessible? And she goes, well, we've got a grab bar in the bathroom.

23:16
and uh... and and i think that you know uh... and i think that's where you know is think about like the uh... recalculation certification and the professional that work with it uh... a very good at doing that and like i said before i think i look at everything from

23:44
entering the building or before I even enter the building. And that's the only way you're going to do it. You know, and not everyone, you know, in defense of most people, they haven't had the experience of having a disability. So they just look at it, well, I put a ramp here, so that's fine. Or, you know, and to them, that's good enough. But not realizing that.

24:13
that people need access to everything else once they're in that building. Mm-hmm. Yeah. Yeah, exactly. Now, in terms of your business, we'll go back and sort of more of a cost related thing. Like, obviously, you give people a report. Does that include an estimate of what it would cost? And do you get businesses just sort of looking at that and going, nah, no way? Or are businesses really coming to you because they do want to make these changes?

24:41
The people that are coming to me, they want to make those changes and so that's quite easy but I don't give them a cost on it. What I do is I basically start by saying, well, these are the things that are good. You've got a building that has got X, Y, and Z positive aspects to it and these are the things that you need to improve on. Now it's up to them. At that point, they can turn around and say, well, yeah, we can't do everything in one go.

25:09
One of the reasons why I call my business step-by-step because the idea is that you don't have to do everything in one go, you start somewhere and it's a step-by-step process to get to that end goal of making a building fully accessible. So, you know, I'll say to them, okay, these are the things that you need to do to make this building more accessible. And then if they wanna go further with it, I can say to them, okay, we can prioritize the things that you need to look at first.

25:39
and the things that can maybe wait for a year or two years. And that way, it instantly sort of makes them realize that this is gonna cost me a year's profit to make these changes. I can do a bit now, a bit next year. We're doing some renovations, so maybe I can add some accessibility features in at that point, and so on. So yeah, so, and then obviously, if they wanna take that next step, then the cost aspect comes into it after that.

26:08
It's pointless me spending all that time and effort to put in cost evaluations on everything when they really don't want to do all that. And I think it's off-putting. And I think it's off-putting as well. Now, are there builders, are there contractors who specialize in this kind of sector? Not really. Not that I know of. I mean, like I said, I don't know of anyone here in the Coalas Valley that specializes in that. But I think...

26:37
Working with builders like the guys that built our house that we live in now, because we were looking at accessibility features constantly in the house to make it as easy for me as possible. They got a lot out of it. Simple things like they were researching, well, we want level entry, so how are we going to do that without causing problems with flooding if it rains heavily? How can we make this?

27:07
So it is level entry and make them realize why that was important for me. Um, hopefully that that's something they've gone away with and next time they come across somebody who's a senior or somebody that has mobility issues, they're going to be looking at those things and thinking, okay, well, you know, maybe you need to have this at level entry to, or maybe you need to have these things in place to make it better, wider doors, so on. So I think, I think, I think by having personal experience, why the builders.

27:36
we worked with, they're going to take that knowledge away and hopefully use it again. Yeah, that would be great. Now in terms of cost and your own personal cost, the one thing that I find that people who don't have a lived experience with disabilities, they don't understand the cost of actually living with a disability. In terms of navigating this world, do you run into these issues where it's...

28:04
It's not just a cost to a business, but it's a cost to you.

28:09
Yeah, I mean, I think that does happen quite regularly. I mean, a few years ago, quite a few years ago, I wanted to get into voiceover work. And, you know, I did an audition tape, sent it out. But there are quite a few places that I couldn't go into because of accessibility. So I lost out on that one. You know, maybe being offered auditions. I wouldn't offer lots of auditions, but.

28:38
I was offered one or two, but then when I researched about the building, I couldn't get in, so I'd say no. So yeah, they were the cost to me as well. Yeah, absolutely. Trevor Burrus So lost revenue. And speaking of revenue, I mean, obviously you've probably heard of the new Canada Disability Benefit giving people an extra 200 bucks a month. What do you think about that?

29:07
But I don't think it goes far enough. I mean, that, what's that gonna cover? A couple of cab rides? You know, it's not a lot. I mean, 200 bucks isn't much for somebody, you know. I mean, I'm in the fortunate position, I'm working and everything else. But if you're not working, and you're on low income or benefits, 200 is nothing. Yeah, and you know, back to other costs. Now, are you, do you use a wheelchair?

29:36
I do. And is it motorized? Is it mechanized kind of thing? I've got two. When I'm out and about, I have a manual wheelchair and around the house and within our local community, I use the powered wheelchair. So I've got two wheelchairs. Like those alone can be ridiculously expensive. Oh man, a powered wheelchair, it's like buying a used car. The cost of a used car. Sometimes more than the cost of a used car. I mean, the one I'm...

30:05
The one I'm using now, I mean, there's nothing fancy about it. And that was around 25 grand, 25,000. That's unbelievable. And there's nothing to it. I mean, it's a wheelchair. It raises up and down. The back goes, you know, the back rest alters. And that's it. There's nothing else that really, you know, there's no bells and whistles on it. Yeah.

30:32
So we're getting kind of down to the end here. What else can an organization like DDA be doing to help foster accessibility? Well, I think you guys are doing quite a bit already, aren't you? I was reading just earlier on today, before you came on, about the fact that you've been working with the city of Vancouver for an accessibility strategy.

30:58
Oh, you've been instrumental in that with other organizations, I'm assuming. Yeah, there's a theory. Yeah. So I think you guys are on the right tracks with things like that. And especially in the city where, um, you know, you need to get to work with, with, with main organizations, I mean, in a small community, one to one might work, but in the city it's, it's, it's a lot harder. I know. So I think you're, you're, um,

31:28
accessibility strategy that you guys are working on is brilliant, really good idea. How's that going? How far have you got with that? In terms of the city strategy? That's not really part of my department. I mean, I chat with a woman who runs that part for DDA and I think she's quite pleased with what the city's doing and the moves they're making and some of the sort of legislation coming forward. So let's, I mean.

31:56
Excellent. Sounds positive to me, so, and that's good. That sounds great, yes, absolutely. So how? Yeah, so I think you're on the right tracks with sort of focusing on, you know, the larger picture, especially in the big cities like Vancouver. Mm-hmm, good, good. I'm glad to hear that Canada and BC is doing well, you know, from your perspective, so. There's always improvement, but you can say that about anything, and very much so about accessibility.

32:26
it's always going to be room to make changes for sure. Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Um, and so how can people get in touch with you? Um, they can get in touch with me, uh, through my website, which is, um, step-by-step consulting.ca. Um, they can email me at ramish at step-by-step consulting.ca or my phone number, which I can give you as well. Is that okay?

32:55
Perfect, yeah, if you like to, yeah, sure. Yeah, phone number is 778-992-0556. So those are the three main ways that they can get hold of me. All right, sounds good. Well, you have been listening to DDA's Encouraging Abilities podcast. Our guest today has been accessibility consultant Ramesh Ladd, who has his business step-by-step consulting. He brings his own lived experience to the profession of bringing universal design and consultancy everywhere and to everything we do in society. So thanks for joining me, Ramesh.

33:24
Thank you, thanks again for the opportunity. And I'm your host, GDA Communications Manager, Evan Kelly. Thanks for listening, we'll see you next time.

 

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