Universal Design for Toronto


Some of Toronto's residents with disabilities may soon see their living standards improve thanks to a new partnership between Toronto Community Housing and OCAD. On January 19, the two groups, along with Mayor David Miller, announced that they will be collaborating to research ways Toronto housing can become more accessible through inclusive design. "Everyone will benefit when people with accessibility needs can live independently and with dignity," Mitzie Hunter, chief administrative officer for TCH, told Torontoist. "This work is going to help to achieve that."

The creative collaboration will see OCAD students do applied research in the Moss Park area, speaking to residents with disabilities about the challenges they face. Specifically, the students will be looking at approaches to wayfinding and navigation systems in common areas, according to Cheryl Giraudy, associate dean of OCAD's Faculty of Design. Their findings will result in planning and implementation strategies that adhere to the Build Environment standards of the Accessibility for Ontario with Disabilities Act of 2005. It's TCH's hope that these strategies will apply to their broader portfolio of housing around the city, which includes more than 350 high- and low-rise apartment buildings.

The biggest challenges, according to Doreen Balabanoff, acting dean of the Faculty of Design, will be "making sure that inclusive design actually responds to the rich set of needs that a diverse community represents--who is being forgotten or left out? What abilities or disabilities are we missing in our considerations? And, as with all design challenges, are we asking the right questions?"

Mayor Miller, Toronto Community Housing tenant Tracy Izzard, and Toronto Community Housing Health Promotion Officer Penny Lamy spoke at the announcement of the partnership between Ontario Community Housing and OCAD on January 19. Photo by Lino Ragno.

Hunter said TCH opted to partner with the Faculty of Design at OCAD because of its rich history of innovative talent and emerging designers with fresh perspectives, and also because of its impressive curriculum in the area of universal and inclusive design--like the first-place winner of the 2008 OCAD Design Competition. The competition, which challenged students to develop inclusive/universal design solutions, was won by "Pathways," an inclusive wayfinding concept designed by OCAD students Rizwan Ali, Lesley Look Hong, Emily Oppenheim, Finlay Paterson, and Steve Reaume.

"The work under the umbrella agreement," Giraudy says, "will touch all levels of our design program offerings, including independent and field studies, courses with embedded research, paid research projects, and thesis work for students who want to specialize in universal and inclusive design as part of their major program or area of study."

The students will make recommendations in the form of a design guideline in late 2010, to be followed by a prototype in 2011. It's a start to making Toronto a more inclusive place to live.


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