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The Inter-Organizational Access Committee (Ioac)

Editor's Note: Editor's Note: Ainley Bridgeman is a long time equality rights activist, living in Winnipeg, Manitoba. She is currently the chairperson of the Inter-Organizational Access Committee.

Introduction

The Inter-Organizational Access Committee (IOAC) is a community group that promotes the philosophy and implementation of universal design principles in human made environments. Its membership is fluid, involving individuals and public and private organizational participants. The IOAC is issue oriented, bringing people together around specific problems or objectives. Its funding came from project grants and lately through royalties from the sale of its publication. It has a valuable association with the Manitoba League of Persons with Disabilities (MLPD) for staff and administrative assistance.

A word about universal design. The premise of universal design is simply that people in our population have a range of functioning, and it seeks to design for the range. Conventional architecture typically designs for the "average", which excludes many, thus necessitating "barrier-free" measures to attempt to address obvious gaps. With universal design, the primary design will take into account the continuum of needs such as vision, hearing, balance, lower body strength and mobility, upper body sttrength and mobility, stamina, stature, cognition and life span. The design solutions must be the same for all--flexible, simple to use, safe, etc. The approach does not simply rely on specifications, but on a problem-solving process that clearly evaluates the functional adequacy of a proposed design solution. Since universal design is a more integrated approach rather than disability specific, it should more readily win the support of decision-makers, especially in view of our rapidly greying population.

Background

The IOAC originated through the initiative of a progressive orientation and mobility instructor at the CNIB, who wished to gather greater expertise to respond to the frequent community requests for advice on making environments accessible to people with little or no vision. This group increased its consumer participation, secured a consumer chairperson, detached itself from the CNIB and became affiliated with the MLPD.

Work

During the first few years of its separate existence, the IOAC managed two federally funded projects which resulted in the SUPPLEMENT TO UNIVERSAL DESIGN GUIDELINES; FOCUSING ON THE NEEDS OF PEOPLE WITH VISUAL IMPAIRMENTS (1995) and a second edition with the addition of an audit check list for evaluating environments in terms of the guidelines (1996).

Also during this time a subcommittee addressed the need for access to pedestrian signal information, and extensive discussion and work was done in cooperation with City staff on criteria for prioritizing the installation of audible signals. When it became evident that access to signals required a political process, the IOAC worked with the former NFB:AE chapter, later the Alliance of Blind Manitobans, to advocate for an audible signals policy. This was achieved in April, 1998.

There have been problems with the implementation of the audible signals policy. Therefore in July, 2001, the IOAC subcommittee developed "Implementation Guidelines for Accessible Pedestrian Signals" using a universal design approach. We are presently attempting to assist the City by offering to evaluate more accessible pedestrian signal designs. So, towards the objective of accessible pedestrian signal services, we continue to negotiate, do political advocacy and, as it becomes necessary, encourage human rights complaints.

In 1999 an IOAC representative on the new Winnipeg Airport's Authority's Community Consultative Committee won the strategic objective "to develop state of the art airport facilities showcasing universal design principles." The commitment encompasses a multiple format policy as well. Although capital expenditures have been drastically cut, in line with the reduction in the air industry, universal design principles are incorporated when addressing any modifications at the airport. A new airport terminal building is tentatively slated for 2007. An outside universal design consultant and a universal design advisory committee are used for reference.

In 1999 following a Winnipeg universal design conference, the IOAC began a process to develop a universal design by-law and policy for the City of Winnipeg. We contracted with a universal design consultant to do the policy drafting. The IOAC's proposed universal design by-law and policy went through a long negotiation with the City of Winnipeg Access Advisory Committee and the City Administration. The resulting document was not substantially compromised through this process. Winnipeg City Council adopted its universal design policy in December, 2001.

The policy applies to all new and major retrofits to indoor and outdoor environments, as well as transportation, services, communications, policies and budgets. It has an ongoing training component, with designated staff accountable for results. There is a specific review process including an audit checklist and, in certain circumstances, an audit by an outside universal design consultant.

The IOAC is also working on the development of a Charter challenge to the National Building Code through grants from the Court Challenges Program. We view the Code as discriminatory, as its "barrier free" approach provides inferior access to people with "disabilities". That compromises safety.