That the House recognize the importance that Visitability can have for Canadians of all ages and abilities, and particularly persons with a physical disability, aging individuals, seniors and their families, in Canada, by: (a) emphasizing the efforts of companies, contractors and builders who are already applying the principles of Visitability in their new constructions; (b) encouraging the Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities to address the topic of Visitability in the accessibility legislation to be introduced in the House; and (c) inviting the federal government to address the subject of Visitability with its provincial and territorial partners in upcoming Federal, Provincial and Territorial discussions.
Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise in the House today in the first hour of debate on my Motion No. 157 on visitability. It is the first time the term “visitability” has been used in the House of Commons, but the visitable housing, or visitability movement, began in the U.S. in the early 1980s. It is the concept of designing and building homes with basic accessibility. Visitability homes provide easy, independent access on main levels for all ages and abilities. Visitable houses also offer convenient, age-friendly homes for residents and a welcoming environment for visitors of all ages.
Visitability does not mean fully accessible or universal design, and it does not apply to the upper floors or basement. Visitable housing benefits everyone: seniors, persons with a disability, parents, and children. It benefits parents manoeuvring strollers, people in the moving industry, people with temporary physical injuries, friends, family, and neighbours who have limited ability, and anyone who would like to invite a friend or family member who has a physical impediment over to their home.
Visitability increases the usability of a home over its and the homeowners' lifetimes and makes economic sense. To simplify the basic accessibility I am referring to, a visitable home has three basic accessibility features. One, it has a no-step entrance. At minimum, there is one accessible, no-step level entrance at the front, back, or side of the house, with an accessible route to the driveway. Two, it has clear passageways, wider doorways and hallways, with all doorways and halls wider, i.e., a minimum of 38 inches, so there is clear passage throughout the main floor. Three, it has a main floor visitable bathroom. The bathroom on the main floor is accessible by visitors who use mobility devices.
Motion No 157 is meant to introduce the concept of minimum accessibility measures designed to accommodate everyone, including our aging demographic, allowing individuals to stay in their homes for as long as they so desire, and to address the high population of persons with a disability in Canada, which we have seen growing especially in New Brunswick. By having this conversation, we are able to adapt our thinking patterns to better plan for the future, whether it is for our parents, our children, or ourselves. Motion No. 157 is a first step.
Increasing public awareness and understanding is a large piece of this motion. Mutual respect and understanding, combined with further education, will contribute to an inclusive society, making it vitally important to improve public understanding of visitability and minimum accessibility standards.
My interest on this issue is based initially around personal experience through family members and friends who have been affected through temporary or permanent disability and age-related health issues, which limit mobility and the ability to navigate steps and tight spaces, sometimes even in their own homes. Our approach to finding solutions must include conversations with stakeholders who work in the field of disability, seniors issues, as well as contractors and home builders, to encourage the possibility of access and small, minimum standards that can be followed to allow for this access.
Over the past several months, I have had discussions and collaborated with municipalities, residents, other MPs, contractors, national organizations, provincial organizations, seniors, a significant number of persons with a disability, and young families, leading to a growing interest in the need for change. It is evident that through those conversations, visitability is a positive step forward. I was pleased to see it included in the recently announced national housing strategy by my colleague, the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development.
Houses are often built without any consideration of end users with mobility issues, such as those with a disability or an aging population. Each of our individual needs change over time, and when it comes to housing and our requirements throughout the time we live in our home, they will vary as we age. Changes could be associated with pregnancy, small children, equipment, illness, aging, or disability. We may not be the only individuals affected. It could affect any member of our family or our friends.
I will quickly share a story. A mother of two living with a mobility disability moved to my riding a few years ago. After sharing a post on social media about my motion, she commented, “Thank you so much.... I dream one day of not considering home access when making friends.” Her mother then commented, “It is a matter of educating people, we never thought of accessibility until our daughter had a spinal cord injury.”
Simply being aware of the concept of visitability or minimum accessibility can adjust our thinking to allow for the potential to age in place and allow access to all in our homes. There is very little accessible or visitable housing stock available in Canada. There are many architectural barriers in homes and little adaptability to the changing needs of residents over the lifetime of a home.
Many seniors and persons who are diagnosed with a disability are forced to sell their homes, such as split-entry level homes, because they are difficult to modify and due to the high costs of modifications. Split-level entry homes are becoming increasingly unpopular for new home buyers due to the desire to age in place. Whatever form it takes, as stated by the Canadian Medical Association, a spacious suburban bungalow or urban condo, our homes are more than roofs over our heads. We invest in them with memories and emotions.
It is not surprising that a 2013 survey found that 83% of us want to age in place by remaining in our current dwelling for as long as possible. This seems like a reasonable objective. Statistics Canada has estimated that the over-65 population was numbered at just over six million in 2017 in Canada. They represent 17% of our population, according to information collected in the 2016 census, and it will be about 25% by 2036.
It is reported that one in seven Canadians is living with a disability. Statistics Canada's Canadian survey on disability in 2012 indicated at that time the most common disability type nationwide was pain, followed by flexibility or mobility. In 2012, almost 14% of the Canadian population 15 years of age or older, which is 3.8 million individuals, reporting having a disability that limits their daily activities. That is one in seven Canadians 15 years of age or older.
Although visitable housing was first introduced in consideration of people with physical disabilities, the concept is now widely accepted as a desirable home design for a wide range of residents, as cited by the American Association of Retired Persons, the Canadian Centre on Disability Studies, and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.
I would be remiss if I did not also mention the key benefits to visitability cited by the Canadian Centre on Disability Studies and pointed out by Ability New Brunswick, a non-profit provincial organization that works to empower mobility and independence for New Brunswickers living with a mobility disability.
Designing a new home with visitable features promotes sustainable living, reduces environmental costs, and is more cost-effective than attempting to retrofit a home with narrow hallways and doors and an inaccessible bathroom at a later time when mobility changes. Visitable homes give the opportunity to welcome and be inclusive to guests who use a mobility device, reducing the social isolation often experienced by seniors and persons with a disability. Visitable homes help avoid the necessity of moving into an institutional setting. A house with a no-step entrance can also help reduce the number of falls and stair-related injuries by seniors, which in turn saves on long-term health care costs. Visitable houses can be aesthetically pleasing and marketable to home buyers. A visitable house design can also be useful for residents who have temporary difficulty in walking, for example, due to a broken leg or ankle, something which I have experienced personally over the past couple of years.
When visitable features are planned from the onset, costs can be negligible. Retrofits of conventional homes to make them visitable cost significantly more than making the homes visitable from the building onset.
Benefits of visitability go beyond the housing market. From an economic development standpoint, when we do not plan for the population of persons with a disability to simply come through our front door, as a business, for example, we are missing out. If we consider the statistics I mentioned, that more than six million people are living with a disability in Canada, and include their friends and families, so up to 12 million Canadians, we are looking at a huge market. This population has a large understanding of disability and its impacts on the people they love, and they represent more than a third of our population. All of these people pick cars and restaurants based on the needs of their loved ones with disabilities. This is a market we cannot ignore. By addressing the demands of persons with a disability, we are making options available to everyone.
I would like to point out how amazing our environment would be if we took the principles of visitability beyond housing and into our greater community. It makes economic sense. Seniors issues are currently at a high point. The Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Health Coalition and other advocates are pushing for a national seniors strategy, one which would include housing. This is an opportunity to support seniors, persons with a disability, and Canadians of all ages and abilities today, while we are preparing for the diverse and growing needs of our population of tomorrow.
To reference the study brought forward as a result of the motion from my colleague, the hon. member for Nickel Belt, around a national seniors strategy, affordable and accessible housing need to go hand in hand. When we talk about affordable housing, it is imperative that it go hand in hand with accessible housing.
The federal, provincial, and territorial ministers responsible for housing recently agreed to a shared vision where “Canadians have access to housing that meets their needs and they can afford. Housing is the cornerstone of building sustainable, inclusive communities and a strong Canadian economy where we can prosper and thrive.” This inclusive community needs to ensure that our needs are met through affordable housing, but we also need to be able to get through the front door in order to have full community participation from all Canadians who contribute to a thriving economy.
I want to ensure that I emphasize the fact that visitable housing is beneficial to all, not just persons with disabilities or seniors. There are instances where a mother or a father is coming through the door with an armful of groceries, a stroller, and children. Not having to navigate steps on the way through the door, on top of everything else, allows for greater ease and less risk of potential injury. As a father of four, I can attest to that. I can think of countless times when a no-step entry could have been beneficial for my family.
Houses are built and purchased every day. Visitability is something that can become a natural and common consideration in the pre-construction phase and implemented into the design. Several communities in Canada are leaders in developing and implementing visitability policies and practices. Beecher Bay First Nation in British Columbia has developed a policy where visitability is mandatory for all residential and non-residential buildings. Vancouver requires visitable elements in its building bylaw. The City of Winnipeg has developed design standards for visitable housing, and the City of Ottawa has committed to 100% of social housing projects being completely or mostly visitable.
The first neighbourhood plan in Canada to include predominantly visitable housing is currently being developed in Manitoba. Over 1,000 single-family homes are being built with visitability features in Bridgwater, Manitoba neighbourhoods. Many of these homes have been completed and are already occupied, as cited by the Canadian Centre on Disability Studies in 2017.
The Canadian Medical Association has stated that an increasing number of builders, contractors, and others have obtained a certified aging-in-place specialist certificate. Overseen by the National Association of Home Builders in the U.S., the CAPS program has a Canadian-specific syllabus that focuses on the needs of Canadian homes and climates. This specification is useful for Canadians looking to analyze existing housing or design new housing. The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation maintains an online portal of aging-in-place resources, which includes some useful links for accessible and adaptable housing and aging in place.
Canadians of all ages and abilities should have the opportunity to live and age in place in their homes. Working toward a more accessible society through considering and addressing basic minimum accessibility standards, so that Canadians have the option to build homes, grow old, live independently, and age in place as they get older, is crucial to our society. I applaud the work of companies, contractors, and builders who are already applying the principles of visitability in their new construction for Canadians who wish to plan for the future.
Our government is committed to creating ambitious federal accessibility legislation that would lead to more consistent experiences of accessibility across Canada. Visitability is a great place to start. As we work to foster an environment where Canadians of all ages and abilities can age in place, we need to ensure that the frameworks in place to support research are effective and accessible and foster collaboration. It is imperative that we learn best practices from communities already demonstrating these practices and engage with our partners in order to coordinate and collaborate in combatting today's accessibility challenges. Planning and public education are needed if we are to ensure that Canada has communities, spaces, and homes where Canadians can be as independent as possible, be active in their communities, and age in place.
As a member of Parliament in our great country, where I am proud to live and raise my children, I bring Motion No. 157 on visitability to the House as a first step toward a more accessible Canada. With this motion, my goal is clear: include these minimum standards of accessibility, known as visitability, in the anticipated federal accessibility legislation and encourage collaboration with provinces and territories to improve the possibility for Canadians of all ages and abilities to age in place. For people without a disability, seniors who experience mobility difficulties, and families requiring space, visitability makes things easier. Planning to age in place with visitability principles makes things possible for a large number of Canadians.
In closing, I would like to recognize the hard work and effort put forth by one of my team members, Courtenay Brennan, who worked tirelessly with me on this motion, and who has been a strong advocate in New Brunswick for persons with disabilities and for accessibility legislation.