Canada’s LivABLE Environment Conference Explores Accessible Design

If there is one thing the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us about Canadian shelter, it's that one must exercise caution with respect to long-term care facilities.  Today, growing older in your own home, where you can control your environment, has become increasingly desirable. However, not every dwelling is suitable for ageing in place. 

I remember my own parents choosing a small one-storey house for their home in their 'golden years'. My dad said he wanted a house he could paint without getting on a ladder. I didn’t get it at the time, but as they aged I understood. Dad was a builder and my mother the very definition of common sense, so they choose a place they could maintain with ease, a place where they could feel safe and content. My siblings and I were very grateful that our parents demonstrated foresight when choosing this final home, but not all of us have their combined wisdom and courage to face the future. 



Photo courtesy of Theresa Kowall-Shipp


If you're thinking ahead and planning for yourself, your clients, or someone you love, here are some facts before embarking on a residential design project for ageing in place. Hang onto your hat, this is a bit intimidating!

     - By 2030 - in less than two decades - seniors will number over 9.5 million and will make up 23% of Canadians.

     - A 2019 Angus Reid survey says that 67% of Canadians are concerned about future mobility issues.

     - Statistics Canada says that 22% of Canadians 15 and older have at least one physical disability, equal to about 6.2 million people.

    - One-third of Canadians 55 and older anticipate having mobility, vision, or hearing challenges within the next five to 10 years.

     - According to research by the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, 90% of older Canadians would prefer to age in place.

    - The 2006 Canadian census found that multigenerational households are the fastest-growing type of living situation.


So where are the superheroes who are going to help the industry and homeowners through this new way of thinking about residential design? Don’t worry they are out there! 

Meet Torontonian Linda Kafka, an industry professional encouraging builders and designers to think ahead so that we might all stand a chance of staying in our own homes longer and with more mobility. 



Photo courtesy of Linda Kafka


Linda is forward-thinking and trains others to be the same. She is a resource for the residential interior design industry and an inclusive design advocate. Linda is also a Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS) and the Principal of the Living in Place Network, an international community of professionals focused on designing and creating spaces for living and ageing in place. She is the driving force behind Canada's newly launched LivABLE Canada Conference, subtitled The Conference for Wellness in The Home and Living in Place!

The three-day business-to-business conference will, because of COVID, have to be virtual, but nonetheless, it will be a ‘must-attend’ for those in the design and building industries. And for those of us not in the trades but with interest in architecture, design and staying in our homes as long as possible, it is a conference we should follow with keen interest.

We want designers and builders to become well versed in how to improve the practicalities and practices around living gracefully and safely in your own home, no matter your abilities! In a recent conversation with Linda, she said that it's a matter of forethought; thinking and designing not just for the able-bodied but for potential needs down the line. Linda herself had her ‘aha moment’ not in the design classroom, but when she broke her leg. That's when she realized what was missing in the design and planning process. Doing her homework, she discovered that one in five Canadians has at least one element of physical challenge within the environment they live in. 


Photo courtesy of Linda Kafka


Laws have mandated the inclusion of mobility considerations for years in public buildings but Linda and her colleagues are taking a hard look at the residential build environment; a look that has been a long time coming. She says that she is excited about bringing the industry’s professionals together to have meaningful conversations around solutions that meet the needs of all building users. She refers to planning ahead, education and training, as well as products that meet building standards and are accessible to all people, regardless of age, or ability. 

No matter if you are in the industry or a homeowner who wants to plan for the future, I encourage you to get familiar with the basic tenants of design that are alternatively called universal, inclusive or accessible. It is a design approach that, by whatever name is used, allows us the security, comfort and safety of ageing in place.



Photo courtesy of Wikki commons


Bonus Time! Here is a look at the seven components of universal design. Keep these in mind when designing or planning your own forever home:

ONE: Equitable Use

The design of the property is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities. 
Make spaces that are:
          - identical or equitant in use
          - provide for privacy and equal safety to all users
          - visually appealing to all users

TWO: Flexibility in Use

The design is useful for a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.
Make sure that your design:

          - provides a choice in methods of use.
          - accommodates right- or left-handed access or use.
          - provides adaptability to the user’s pace.

THREE: Simple and Intuitive Use

Is the use of the design easy to understand, regardless of experience, knowledge, language skills or concentration level?
Will your design:

          - eliminate unnecessary complexity
          - be intuitive
          - accommodate a range of literacy/language skills

FOUR: Perceptible Information

Ask yourself if the design communicates effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or sensory abilities.
Will your design:

          - provide adequate contrast between essential information and its surroundings?
          - be compatible with devices used by people with sensory limitations?

FIVE: Tolerance for Error

Make sure that your design will minimize the possibility for hazards, accidental or unintended actions by:

     - providing warnings
     - providing failsafe features
     - discourage unconscious action

SIX: Low Physical Effort

Ensure design can be used efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue.

SEVEN: Size and Space for Approach and Use

Make sure that sufficient size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation and use, regardless of user’s body size, posture or mobility.


Want to learn more about this excellent initiative? Follow the prompts below:


If you are interested in different approaches to design, check out these stories on  


Theresa Kowall-Shipp is a TV producer, director and writer. Her interest in design and architecture grew from exposure to her family’s construction and architectural woodworking firm and producing or directing dozens of hours of design TV. 

Posted In: Canada

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