The Barriers of Barrier Free Living

May 31, 2013
June 27, 2013
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Old tools on a wooden table

Ask around in the City of Edmonton if people have heard of the term ‘barrier free’ and you’d be surprised to know that more and more people are becoming familiar with housing needs for people with mobility issues. Seniors groups and associations have become more prevalent and it’s no longer uncommon to have a friend, co-worker, or family member who requires a cane, a walker, or a wheelchair. Building product and construction companies have jumped on this trend by offering all manners of barrier free products.

I’m here to tell you though, that some clarification about barrier free needs to be addressed before we embark on changing how we design, build or renovate our homes to meet our new lifestyles.

There is no such thing as barrier free.

That’s right. I said it. We are entering a new era in home design meant to allow us greater freedom in how we live in our homes and I’m telling you that barrier free is an unreachable goal.

Barriers exist everywhere in homes. Doorknobs, stairs, appliances designed to open correctly for right handed people, bathrooms, and sidewalks. The word barrier itself suggests something that we must remove in order to have a comfortable life. For some people with mobility issues, opening their refrigerator door is a barrier but we’d be crazy to suggest removing the door to allow for an all access pass to the vegetable crisper. The only place I know of that could be said to be truly barrier free would be the parking lot of my local grocery store at 2am on a warm summer night. Wheelchair or walker, skateboard or bicycle, it’s easy to get from one side to the other.

So, what should we be striving for in our home designs? I think a more appropriate term is accessibility.

Accessibility is the concept of creating a living environment that meets the needs of not only the primary individual with mobility issues, but also the needs of everyone who uses the living space. This means that family, friends, visitors, care-givers and pets, should not be burdened by the design of the home. What good is having a home easily accessible by one individual if no one feels comfortable coming over for a visit? The idea of accessibility is not only access to your home, but access to your lifestyle.

Accessibility, as opposed to barrier free, also lends itself to the idea that changes in home can be small and affordable steps to a better lifestyle. Not everyone can afford an addition to their home to accommodate an elevator or a new curb-less shower, especially since many of the situations that place an individual in need of these changes in their home are sudden and without warning. Many people find themselves in a position where they are on a limited budget and long list of changes to make in their homes. Barrier free renovations suggest tearing everything out and starting from scratch, a potentially expensive venture, whereas accessibility renovations suggest doing things that makes sense on your pocket book as well as your lifestyle.

So, as this movement approaches a point where our ideas of living space need to change, we should come at these issues from an accessibility standpoint. After all, we can always improve our home to fit our needs, but we can’t always eliminate every barrier.

If you’re in the Greater Edmonton area and are looking for a contractor for you renovation project, visit our website at www.nordalta.com/contact.php to find information on how to contact us. We’d be happy to speak to you about what we can do to get the ball rolling on your next home or office project. You can also leave comments with us at info@nordalta.com.

Michael Breault is a project coordinator for Nord Alta Construction. You can find the company website at www.nordalta.com. You can also find Michael and Nord Atla Construction on facebook at www.facebook.com/NordAltaConstruction, on twitter at www.twitter.com/Nordalta, and on LinkedIn.

Robert Breault is the president and owner of Nord Alta Construction. You can find the company website at www.nordalta.com. You can also find Robert and Nord Alta Construction on facebook at www.facebook.com/NordAltaContruction and on LinkedIn.