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Darby Young on creating accessible communities.
In Canada, one in five people over the age of 15 have one or more disabilities. For many people, there are countless barriers to accessing everyday needs and services.
How can ensure people of all abilities can thrive in our communities? To learn more, I sat down with Darby Young, Principal of Level Playing Field and Accessibility Strategist. We also hear from Alex, Crystal and Kathleen.
If you are tuning in from the Municipality of the County of Kings, or the Villages of Aylesford, Canning, Cornwallis Square, Greenwood, Kingston, New Minas and Port Williams, check out the Municipality’s website to share your stories.
John Lewis 0:03
I’m John Lewis, and you’re listening to 360 Degree City, a podcast where we talk to people who are working to make cities better. Our hope is that after each episode, you’ll start to see your own city from a slightly different angle.
John Lewis 0:18
In Canada, one in five people over the age of 15 have one or more disabilities. In some provinces like Nova Scotia, 30% of adults have one or more disabilities. For many of these people, there are still countless barriers to accessing everyday needs and services. A barrier is anything that hinders or challenges people with disabilities from participating fully in society. This includes narrow door entrances, broken elevators, community events that lack aids for those with visual or auditory impairments, or generally a society that doesn’t accept and include people of all abilities.
John Lewis 0:53
We can make our communities more accessible for everyone. across Canada, some provinces are creating policies and plans for Accessible communities, particularly in Ontario, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, and soon in British Columbia. So how can we build on this momentum to ensure people of all abilities can thrive in our communities? To learn more, I sat down with someone who’s leading the way in making communities more accessible.
Darby Young 1:16
Hi, my name is Darby young. I am the founder of Level Playing Field Inc. We are an accessibility consulting agency that works to make spaces accessible across North America. And we have projects coast to coast in Canada and we look to make sure that all individuals no matter their ability or disability, can have equal opportunities to community, to sporting events, to working, to you name it, making sure it’s a safe space for all.
John Lewis 1:46
Throughout this episode, you’ll hear from residents of the Municipality of the County of Kings in Nova Scotia, as they share their stories on the daily barriers that they face. Intelligent futures and a level playing field or creating an accessibility plan for the Municipality of the County of Kings and the villages of Aylesford, Canning, Cornwallis Square, Greenwood, Kingston, New Minas and Port Williams. Our team is heading to Nova Scotia next week with Darby and her crew, to interview folks with disabilities, host community pop up events, and have workshop with members of their joint accessibility Advisory Committee. If you want to share your stories and ideas to improve accessibility in the Municipality of the County of Kings and the villages, listen through the end of the podcast to learn more.
John Lewis 2:32
Okay, so when we talk about accessibility in our communities, that obviously can mean a lot of things probably to a lot of different people. You know, when you talk about accessibility, what do you really mean by that?
Darby Young 2:45
Well, when I talk about accessibility, I always like to say for starters, it’s not just the wheelchair, as most people think when they think accessibility, they screen the manual wheelchair, when in fact, every individual is actually temporarily able bodied, whether it’s a skiing accident, or you step off the curb, or just an old age, everybody’s considered a TAB. So when we look at accessibility, we look at it from all different angles so from the physical side of things, from the vision side of things from the hearing, to the invisible disabilities, but also those that are more specialized like autism and stuff like that to make sure that everyone has the equal opportunity.
John Lewis 3:30
And when you say the invisible disabilities, maybe you could you expand on that to help people understand what some of those might be.
Darby Young 3:36
So a lot of times when when we talk about invisible disabilities, it can be anything from somebody having, you know, hearing loss that they don’t necessarily identify with, somebody who’s dyslexic, that can’t necessarily read stuff, they’re disabilities that aren’t in the forefront where when you look at the person you can actually identify with what they are. Even me as a person with cerebral palsy, a lot of times I get mistaken for MS because I still semi walk. I don’t completely walk all the time, but I semi walk. And so people think well that’s just MS not CP because CP is known for the wheelchair and quite severe.
John Lewis 4:25
Chrystal from Coldbrook, Nova Scotia shared some of the misperceptions she experiences in her day to day life.
My name is Crystal McCormick and I live in Coldbrook Nova Scotia. For me the biggest accessibility challenge that I face in my community is not necessarily how I enter a building, but rather how people perceive me once I am in that building. They look at me because I am physically challenged as though I am also emotionally and mentally challenged and they tend to talk down to me and make me feel like I’m not welcome or worthy. If people were more open in understanding that I am still a person, I have other appendages, if you will, two crutches. But I am me, I am a highly intelligent individual. And I have a lot to offer. So don’t look at me. And so I’m in nothing. That really irritates me. And I think that we need to have a lot of education given to people who aren’t familiar with people with physical challenges.
John Lewis 5:39
Okay, and so when you, you know, you’re all over North America, you’re you’re coast to coast in Canada, we’re working on some stuff in Nova Scotia together these days. In your experience covering all kinds of communities, what are what are some typical barriers that that you’ll see in your travels in your work?
Darby Young 6:01
Well, I would say like, ultimately, the biggest barrier we see is that the importance of accessibility isn’t actually there. In that spaces are being designed, or there’s conversations and people like “yeah, Yeah, it’s accessible,” when in all fact, it truly isn’t. And then the biggest question is, people just don’t understand the necessities around accessibility, and they see it as dollar signs instead of the inclusivity. So if a store has a step out front, and you want to add a ramp, and the store owner goes, “Well, no, we don’t have anybody with disabilities coming in the store.” Well, yeah, that’s because nobody’s gonna get in the store. So we have like, as a person with disability, I spend money, everybody knows that, I love to shop. And so when you’ve got a barrier, and my legs aren’t working that day, and I can’t get in, then I’m just gonna bypass you and be like, well, I don’t matter to them. So I’m going to go somewhere where I can so the biggest thing for accessibility is the misunderstanding of it. And that people see it as dollar signs, and don’t necessarily see it as a value to the community.
John Lewis 7:18
And what are some of the arguments you make in terms of trying to trying to get people’s mindsets to shift beyond the dollar sign?
Darby Young 7:27
Well, like the prime example I used to, but the storefront is a big one. And people kind of been stopped and think about the clientele. And who it prevents, but it’s the matter of just putting the person in that in their own place and being like, If I was you, or you were me, how would you handle this situation? Or what would you do? And then sometimes a lot of that helps, because then people stop and think, and they’re like, “Oh, I never thought about that.” Or we show them different barriers, and they think about it, but they’re still we’re still quite far away from getting to the point where people actually include accessibility and universal design and inclusion across the board. At least down in the States, they’re doing it because of the ADA. But up here in Canada, we don’t necessarily have it right now. We’ve got the accessible Canada’s act that rolled out in 2019. And we’re definitely seeing a pickup in it. But I still think we’re probably at least, I would be surprised, but I’m thinking 10 years before there’s a full like inclusion aspect to where we don’t have to push so hard to actually be included within the community and society.
John Lewis 8:46
Okay, and the ADA that you refer to is, could you just share what that acronym means for those that are listening that don’t know?
Darby Young 8:55
Yeah, sorry that’s me and drop in acronyms and do that often. So the ADA is the Americans Disabilities Act, which has been around probably about 31 years if not 32. No, I think was 31 in July. So it down in the US when they build any spaces, any built environments, and even festivals and amusement parks even it’s it’s quite detailed on what has to be included for accessibility. Where in Canada. Yes. Nova Scotia has got an Accessibility Act. Ontario’s got one. Manitoba has got one. We’re starting to see more and more from the different provinces. But in order for those to be enforced, it’s taking a lot like we’ve seen Ontario struggle. It’s in it’s 10th, or actually more 11th or 12th year now. And it took 10 years for it to actually have teeth. So people were complaining that Yeah, we’ve got the AODA, which is the Ontario Disabilities Act. And it took 10 years for them to actually put some teeth behind it to hold people accountable for not following it.
John Lewis 10:14
And what is, in this space, What is teeth, What do teeth look like, in terms of when you have legislation, that’s one step, but then what do we what do we do with it?
Darby Young 10:24
So we want to make it enforceable. So if you design a building and you forget to make your entryways accessible, then you’re fined. Where, you know, in Ontario, if you didn’t follow it, there was nobody really, truly following up on it. So you weren’t seeing the fines and there weren’t the penalties for not complying to it so that when I say teeth, that’s what I mean is the fact that there was no weight to force people. You can say, “Oh, yeah, we’ve looked at it.” But did you apply it? “Well, no, because nobody’s gonna come knocking on my door to say I didn’t.”
John Lewis 11:09
Alex spoke to us about some systemic accessibility barriers.
Alex Leblanc 11:13
Greeting. My name is Thomas Alexander Leblanc. My friends call me Alex. I live in the Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia. The area was formerly known as New Scotland and Acadia, I would like to acknowledge the land as Mi’kma’ki as natural and unceded Mi’kmaq territory. A chair of power helps me through my day. The most damaging barriers I have faced in the community have been systemic and attitudinal. And attitudinal barrier is negativity projected from one person or group towards another, based on their perceived ability/disability when trying to access a service. systemic barriers stem from outdated practices, conflicting laws, regulations, jurisdictions, and non disclosure litigation settlements. These barriers are difficult to change, because they require societal change. I feel I have experienced ableism in a number of ways, the denial of essential services has been particularly hurtful. Denial of access to emergency services is a serious issue for some. The example I chose to highlight is the Annapolis Valley Regional Hospital. There is one safety concern where the parking lot meets exhibition Street, there is a 10 inch unmarked drop from the sidewalk to the street. And also the bus shelter at the same location does not have shelter for people in mobility devices, or for strollers.
John Lewis 12:55
What are some of the innovative solutions that you’ve seen? I mean, either in terms of you know, let’s talk the whole gambit. And any of the best solutions you’ve seen from the legislative right down to the specific design in a place. What are what are some of the best solutions that you’ve come across in your work?
Darby Young 13:13
Well, we’re definitely seeing a pickup in the architecture firms and the clientele who are now understanding the accessibility aspects and wanting to spend the money to include people, we’ve definitely seen a pickup in that, which is good, it’s a great starting point. But we’re still forcing, you know, we’re still forcing people to do it. Which is wrong. Because a prime example for for something that we’ve been dealing with, or I’ve been dealing with right now is, if you want to go and buy a car, John, you can walk into Ford, and test drive a car and sign on the dotted line, and leave. For me to rent a car as a person with a disability. I can do that. But then I have to make modifications to my vehicle for me to use it. And for me to do that takes a lot of work. And because when the car dealers make new cars, they also make changes to those cars. As we’ve seen, there’s new body styles and all this coming out as time changes which we expect and want to, but does the technology that I require. Like my scooter lift and stuff like that actually changed over time and it’s slower. I don’t know why I’m having that argument right now. But I can’t go buy a new vehicle right now. Because the lift that I want to put in the vehicle isn’t compatible. So you can walk in and buy it. And right then in there I have to go in find a car then go look and see what the lift be compatible. Well no, the lifts not compatible. It’s not compatible with any 2021 models. So what do I do? Well, now I have to wait for the manufacturer of the lift to bring it up to the 2021’s or go down a couple years into a US like there’s so many factors. I can’t go buy office space for my team because or rent office space just like that, because we need to make sure there’s accessible washrooms. Those don’t exist in buildings. And a lot of times right now, especially in Calgary, where downtown’s quite empty and all the landlords are renovating. They’re renovating but they’re doing cosmetic. So therefore, they don’t actually have to bring it up to code to include the accessible washrooms even though the buildings were built in the 80s.
John Lewis 15:50
Oh, really? Okay.
Darby Young 15:52
So there’s that type of like, as a person with a disability, it’s difficult because we can’t just go in and buy something and walk out. There’s so many underlying factors, whether whether you’ve got a physical disability or hearing disability or invisible, everybody uses everything in a different way. And sometimes, well, I would say 90% need modifications, whether you change the brightness on your screen, or you have to work glasses to dry you know, like there’s all these types of things that we keep forgetting that nobody’s perfect.
John Lewis 16:35
Kathleen graciously shared her experiences with her son in accessible washrooms.
Kathleen Purdy 16:41
My name is Kathleen Purdy and I live in Canning. When I take my adult son who has an intellectual disability out into the community, one of the first things that I look for is public washrooms. And my son, when he needs to go to the washroom, it’s usually urgent so we need to know where they are. Preferable is family washroom, or a wheelchair accessible washroom because he needs help to pull up his pants to adjust his clothes, etc. I’ve been in places where there’s a male washrooms and female washrooms each with several stalls, I have to decide, “well, am I going to send him into the male washroom and just wait in the hallway for him to come out and help him adjust his clothing? Or am I going to take him into the women’s washroom?” Recently, I saw a wheelchair accessible porta potti, which was great. Also, recently, I was in another community where there were a lot of tourists, and this was outside and there were quite a few signs on buildings and so on that said, “no public washroom available.” And I just thought, “wow, that’s interesting, because there were no signs that said, ‘washrooms available.'” So it’d be really great. If there were more and very visible public washrooms for people with all abilities.
John Lewis 18:22
It’s got to be exhausting. To have to have to navigate every single thing that so many people, you know, too many people take for granted. Yeah. So thank goodness, you’re doing this work!
Darby Young 18:39
I’m trying, I’m trying it’s definitely you know, it’s hard when you’ve got architects or space owners that are like, “Well, yeah, we work with the architects, and they do it to code.” Well, but building anything to code, especially nowadays, is 30 years behind how we live. So we’re building something that’s 30 years behind how we live right now, what’s it going to be like, in 20 years from now, let alone five? Like, why aren’t we thinking… everybody’s so tied to dollars, and everything is so tied to this building code, wherever you are, but it’s like how what we stop and think actually help people in general, even you, use the space? What do you need in order to move around? What do you need to go to work every day? What like, if you want to go the park, you know, all those types of things. Like, why don’t we just actually stop and think about how people use the space? And then the biggest one, the biggest areas we’re missing is we worry about how we get everybody in somewhere. And we forget if we’ve got emergencies, and we have to get everybody out, what that looks like. Yes, we talk about egress for sure on code, but everybody forgets that when we’ve got 20,000 people in an arena. And if we have a bomb threat, and we have to evacuate, what does that look like for 20,000 People? Able bodied or not — temporarily able bodied or disabled. What does that look like?
John Lewis 20:17
So could you maybe, because it really does seem that there’s, you know, the precursor to effective action is a mindset, a level of awareness, could you maybe walk us through, you know, how you get your collaborators, your clients, your communities, You know, what are some of the key things that you found are successful to get people’s awareness to the, to a productive level, or make some progress in that direction?
Darby Young 20:45
I think the biggest thing we found is the collaboration. So once sort of somebody hangs out with me, or, or they work with us on a on a project, or even just spend a couple hours with with me or my team or doing something, you start to see it, and you understand what’s actually transpiring within our country and within North America, and how different people are versus what, what our society is. And that sort of then awakens people to have further conversations, and think about how we design spaces, and so forth.
John Lewis 21:25
Mm hmm. is are there particular… like I to that point, a colleague, a shared colleague of ours as he has learned and worked with you. He mentioned as he’s learned from you there’s things that you just can’t unsee. Once you see it, which in the best way possible, right? So are there you know, any anecdotes or stories about people seeing things and kind of their reflection and how it’s changed their their practice?
Darby Young 21:57
Oh, most definitely. I now get certain texts from certain people when they see stuff and I get a “damnit Darby!” text. Because after they’ve spent time with me, they’re like, “I can’t, I can’t unsee this.” And like, so everywhere I go, it’s, “oh, look at this, can you deal with this? Can you be like, Why? Why is this?” So it does it, resonates? And the sad part is that when we don’t when we have to think about things, we miss out on certain opportunities. So the more we can spend being collaborative, and include everybody on projects, the better it is for everyone, versus “Oh, I’m an expert in this,” Well, no, some of the architecture firms, who we work with are the major ones, major players. And they’re like, “we’re not experts in everything.” So we bring in our subject matter experts, and then we can look at the project. And we can be like, “well, what’s the intent of this?” And it’s like, “oh, yeah, you’re right. From that point of view that doesn’t make sense.” “Well, no, it doesn’t.” So it’s trying to have that sort of conversation. But yeah, once somebody sort of stays with us once or works with us once they usually turn around and keep coming back, because yeah, they can’t turn it off. Like, John, when we, when we’re gonna be in Halifax, here in a week or so. You’re gonna learn, definitely what it’s like for me to get around and how difficult it is and, anytime I have to go somewhere, I know, my staffer was looking into hotels and stuff. It’s not just about calling up the hotel and being like, “Well, do you have an accessible room?” It’s about “well, what’s in that accessible room? Are their grab bars? Are there not?” It’s the finer details that people don’t realize that they need to ask for or don’t know, because they haven’t lived it. So using the lived experience examples of being there in real life, or the videos has made a definite impact.
John Lewis 24:24
Yeah, that there’s a prior guest on the podcast Robin, Mazumdar. I saw an article he wrote, this line of “the dignity lies in the details.” And I think that that’s that’s a really helpful way to capture… there’s all these big picture things, but it’s down to the lived experience of folks and how it can it can be as easy and dignified and normal as possible for folks.
Darby Young 24:53
Well, and like another prime example, which is actually kind of hilarious is we were going for Projects interview, because we’ve been on a project with with a prime architect, and we had to meet city council to give our presentation. So we notified them that I was coming. And as a person with a disability, we said, “Can I get in?” And it’s like, “oh, no.” So we had to change the location, from council chambers, to the fire hall of all places. And then when I got to the fire hall, I had to park like, in the parking lot, where everybody does out back, go through the back door, go all the way through the firehall, out the front door, down the sidewalk, up the ramp, and into the side building. While everybody else just walked in the back door and up three stairs, and in. You know everybody was like, “what?” And on top of that, it was pouring rain. Which made that adventure outside. So you know, for a city or a town, not the City, because it’s got 10,000 people in it. For the City to sort of have to move to the fire hall. That was eye opening. And then when we get to the fire hall, and they see how much work it was for me to just get in. To have that presentation. I think it was eye opening. That of course we ended up winning the project. And I thought there’s no way we wouldn’t after. Yeah, this episode. But yeah, it’s the mentality of “there are stairs. So what big deal?” Well, those stairs can prevent a lot of people if you break an ankle, and you’re on crutches stairs, aren’t that fun. So there’s all those different factors.
John Lewis 26:51
Yeah, for sure. For sure. So you videotape your journey in and showed it and then just said “any questions?”
Darby Young 26:58
Oh, they were there because the project manager had to actually walked me around the building. And he’s like, “oh, maybe this isn’t such a good idea.” Really?
John Lewis 27:07
Yeah, you think?
Darby Young 27:10
But hey, does this mean we won the project? I think so.
John Lewis 27:14
Let’s let’s get to work. Yeah. So for folks that are wanting to start making these positive changes, where can people get started? You know, if they’ve, they’ve heard this conversation and they want to get to work, start helping, any suggestions for even Where to begin?
Darby Young 27:37
Have the conversations, don’t be afraid to have the conversations and reach out to ask what that looks like. Because we can set up we can we can talk with everybody, walk them through strategies, set up game plans for how they move forward with accessibility and what that looks like. So that it’s also not done as a piecemeal? Because that’s even worse. When it’s like, “Okay, well, you know, for federally regulated, we have to start reporting. So okay, well, let’s do this part, and then let’s do this part.” And it’s like, “No, no, hold on a second, let’s actually think about this first, and set up a strategy, and then know exactly what our milestones and game plan are.” Because as soon as you start just being like, “Okay, let’s do this, or let’s do that, or whatever,” you end up forgetting certain items. And then it ends up being a rush portion, which nobody likes to see. Because then it’s an afterthought. And that’s definitely what we want to get away from. We want people no matter what you’re working on, what type of space or document or policy or anything, is to make sure that you feel warm like that it’s not an afterthought, and that everybody’s included in each and every way.
John Lewis 29:05
Okay, great. That’s really helpful. I think, just the encouragement to have the conversation. I mean, that’s that’s the starting point. But people can be unsure, intimidated, so just to get on with it.
Darby Young 29:23
There’s no dumb question. Some people are like, “Oh, this is a dumb question.” No, no, this is this is something that is new to people. Some people are also very scared to ask about it or talk about it because they don’t necessarily know how to approach it without, making somebody feel uncomfortable. But it’s all a matter of let’s reach out. So if you’re unsure, you’re unsure how to ask the questions be like, “Hey, I’m really not sure how to handle this. How do we do this?” And we can walk them through the way.
John Lewis 29:57
Okay, that’s great. Okay, now we’ve had I don’t know 75 – 80 guests on the in the history of the podcast, but you’re the first that has your own shoe line. So I have to ask so can you share the story about the Darby shoe?
Darby Young 30:21
Well as my mom always said and I’ve always said to is when I walk I walk with character because my gait is not normal. So people always stare or they try to make fun of me so I’ve always been one to buy really funky shoes because you know what? If people are gonna stare in my eyes well look good doing it. So I fell in love with Fluevog about eight years ago, eight-nine years ago when one of my really good friends is a big “vogger” as I call him. He’s got like 14 pairs. And I’m like, “well I need a pair for a party coming up since I’m going with you, might as well. And so I ended up wearing out my first pair of Fluevogs which were so comfy. Which were awesome because of how my gait is I dragged my toe. And then we went to fluevog and back to fluevog and I’m like “hey guys, I’ve really loved these shoes but I’ve worn the toe out how can we fix these? Like is there a way that we can add more stuff to them? like there’s got to be away, like come on, everything can be done,” and so they came back to me saying “we can’t because of the style of the shoe but how about we make you your own shoe line?” I kind of went, “what?” They’re like “we can we can make you a shoe, and then we’ll just call it ‘the Darby'” and I was just like “okay,” like in shock and awe because of course you know John Fluevog is world renowned as much the Canadian designer he’s world renowned. The Darby shoes are across the world. So I’ve seen them in Australia and so on from people and yeah we rolled out with two colors, they were so popular, the original two were so popular that they came up with another two to make it four and then they were so popular again we’re now up to six. And so I’ve got six colors right now of the Darby shoe. Not sure what’s going to happen this fall/winter. I guess we will see if they release another color, but they’re on demand and the thing with Fluevog is because they only make a certain amount, that when the demand is super high then they run a second round so the more than the demand the more shoes they make. so that’s how we’ve ended up with the other colors because everybody loves them and of course they love the story behind it and global news actually won an international award for the documentary they did the interview they did about it as well. So it’s been coast to coast as well it was on Global National and yeah it’s been great for Fluevog, it’s been great for myself and Level Playing Field because everybody seems to read the story and understand the importance. So it’s gotten more and more people to talk about accessibility and persons with disabilities and understanding that we need modifications to simple things like shoes that a lot of people don’t understand. And as we’ve seen Nike’s now done it with the Flyease and, some of that so it’s trending in the right way because the same thing. Like you can go to a shoe store and buy a pair of shoes for me to go to a shoe store and buy a pair of shoes it takes a couple hours.
John Lewis 34:08
Yeah, yeah, right, right. Oh, that’s amazing. And plus now when I when my kid asked me what I did today at work, I can see I talked to a shoe mogul. Okay, so the last question is one that we ask every guest. Can you tell us a city that you love, and why you love it?
Darby Young 34:36
A city that I love well, ultimately, of course, I’m born and raised calgarian. So I love my home. I love my hometown. But I would probably say if I could live anywhere in the world, it would actually be back in Stockholm, Sweden. I was there for three and a half weeks with our world championship hockey team. Cuz one of my side gigs is Team Services in the hockey world. And I got to go to Sweden for three and a half weeks in 2013. And I have never felt so welcome and safe in a foreign country or in a in a city before where there was no real barriers and when there was people were extremely helpful instead of just standing there staring at you like, “What is this about?” It was enjoyable. So I’ve always said to my my team that if we could we’d open a Sweden office, but most definitely, I love my Calgary. I love our people here. I don’t love some of our buildings, and those that know me know those. But yeah.
John Lewis 35:56
John Lewis 35:58
Thanks so much to Darby, Alex, crystal and Kathleen for sharing their stories and insights about accessibility in the places where they live in work. We all need to pay attention to how our work contributes or takes away access for all people, including those with disabilities. And as we become more aware of accessibility barriers, there’s so much opportunity for us to rebuild our communities and cities in a just way that improves life for all.
If you’re listening to this episode from the municipality of the county of kings or the villages of Aylesford, Canning, Cornwallis Square, Greenwood, Kingston, New Minas, and port Williams, check out the municipalities website to share your stories. We have an online survey out right now, as well as a print survey that you can find at your local library or Village office. And if you’d like to talk to us in person, we’ll be hosting a series of pop up events from October 24 to 27th. Throughout the municipality. Learn more at countyofkings.ca/accessibility or by emailing email@example.com. Thanks for listening.
360 degree city is created by our team at Intelligent Futures. To learn more about the work we do, go to intelligentfutures.ca I’m john lewis. Thanks for stopping by!