Cambridge continues to lead in removing accessibility barriers


‘We are entering a world with an aging population, so we do have to consider accessibility for all, to plan for a better world for everyone, from children to elderly alike’

Accessibility is key to living in an inclusive city. And more and more cities seek to be more accessible, including mobility for its residents.

Cambridge continues to help minimize barriers for those with disabilities.

Dan Lajoie, chair of the city of Cambridge Accessibility Advisory Committee, says that Cambridge rates high when it comes to supporting accessibility.  

“The Accessibility Advisory Committee and city council have always been really receptive in making areas more accessible and have always made sure that there is a process in place to make places as accessible as possible,” Lajoie said.

All municipalities in Ontario are required to have an Accessible Advisory Committee that advises council on issues surrounding the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. (AODA)

“The committee has evolved over the years as has the AODA. Essentially, our role is to make sure that the city complies with any new property developments, trails, parks, or any facilities that are owned and operated by the city,” Lajoie said.  

The Cambridge Accessibility Advisory Committee (CAAC) provides advice to council and consults on projects under the AODA. The committee assists the city in promoting and facilitating a barrier-free Cambridge for citizens of all abilities.

The committee does this by reviewing municipal policies, programs and services and the identification, removal, and prevention of any barriers.

“Often times, we will get site plans. For example, if the city is working on an arena, we would look at those plans to make sure that all accessibility standards are in place, and even go above and beyond,” Lajoie said.

For the Accessibility Advisory Committee, Lajoie says it’s not just about meeting regulations, but building inclusive spaces.

“I think in the past few years, especially, we have taken strides to ensure that inclusive and universal design is a part of the plan early on,” Lajoie said.  

“Traditionally, we may have seen a set of plans and made recommendations, but now we are part of early capital project planning, to ensure that we have inclusion and accessibility on the minds of the designers who are building the space.”

Sheri Roberts also sits on the Cambridge Accessibility Advisory Committee and says that the idea is accessibility, not only for folks with disabilities, but universal design and accessibility for everyone.

“Whether it’s a mom with a stroller or an elderly person, it’s about getting into places safely and easily while supporting our local businesses,” Roberts said.

“We are entering a world with an aging population, so we do have to consider accessibility for all, to plan for a better world for everyone, from children to elderly alike. And if we do it right the first time, it will save money in the end.”

To ramp up efforts within Cambridge, Roberts created a chapter of the Toronto-based initiative, Stop Gap.

Stop Gap aims to minimize barriers for those with disabilities, creating free ramps for small businesses that might otherwise not be able to afford.

“Since 2015, there have been over 50 ramps installed in Cambridge. We partnered with the University of Waterloo School of Architecture, Cambridge Campus, and students helped with the graphics and design,” Roberts said.

“The ramps are light weight and made of wood, little decorative pieces of art seen throughout Cambridge.”

Roberts hopes to see the Stop Gap program continue post-pandemic.  

“I love all of our heritage buildings. We want everyone to enjoy them, regardless of ability. With some of our older buildings, the Stop Gap is a wonderful measure until something permanent is put in place,” Roberts said.

For anyone who has an issue with accessibility, they can contact the city.

“Anyone with a concern, can contact the inclusion coordinator at the city to get the process started. The city is very responsive. I have been here for over 15 years and since then, the city has been so supportive of these issues including Stop Gap,” Roberts said.

Lajoie says that anyone with a concern regarding a city-run property, can contact the city.

“The city will investigate in terms of what the issue is, and what can be done to accommodate the request,” Lajoie said.  

“In an older town, there are some architectural building designs that are dated and not always easy to make accessible. The AODA does not require a redesign of space unless a major renovation is taking place.”

There is a difference between city-run, owned properties and privately owned properties, but Lajoie says the city continuously takes measures to encourage accessibility.  

“If it’s a private business with a step to get into the store, we have in the past provided letters to vendors to say that people are interested in entering your store. Businesses do have their own requirements under the AODA that are to be followed. Anything over and beyond, what we can do is let them know that are some concerns.”

Roberts says that since living in Cambridge, she has always felt connected to her community.  

“Everyone is so welcoming, even if there is something that may not be as easily accessible,” Roberts said.

“Someone is always there to lend a hand.”

For more information, visit the city of Cambridge here.





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