Although it is well understood that there is a lack of quality barrier-free housing for people with disabilities in Saskatchewan, the only evidence in circulation has been anecdotal. For modifying public policy, this lack of hard data itself tends to be a barrier. To remedy this problem, Kama Soles and the North Saskatchewan Independent Living Centre (NSILC) conducted an extensive survey and hosted interviews and focus groups to document the needs and preferences of people with disabilities in Saskatoon. The resulting report, Affordable, Accessible Housing Needs Assessment at the North Saskatchewan Independent Living Centre, demonstrates a clear need for more low-income and home ownership opportunities.
In the past, housing opportunities for people with disabilities in Saskatoon were not especially promising. A 1995 survey of apartment buildings revealed that only 11.7% offered some degree of accessibility, and only 14 buildings overall offered total wheelchair accessibility. An additional complication is that commonly held notions of accessibility is limited to wheelchair users, and fails to consider the special needs of those with vision or hearing impairments, coordination deficits, or many other disabling conditions that restrict movement and independent living. Easy access to services like transportation, shopping centres, and schools is a further overlooked aspect to truly barrier-free living. Most accessible housing designs are also created with those aged 55 years and older in mind, thereby overlooking a huge segment of the disabled population. A further ignored issue is that people with disabilities are disproportionately in the lower income bracket, making affordability a significant concern. Clearly, current accessible housing policy is predicated on several erroneous assumptions.
Findings from questionnaires, focus groups, and interviews confirmed that these assumptions were largely ungrounded. For example, 80% of survey participants were under the age of 60 and preferred housing designed for those who were young, single, and low-income. Most participants would prefer to live in their own homes or in condominiums, as opposed to the current norm of rental apartments and care homes. Focus groups expanded on these initial findings and established that what people with disabilities really want in a home is much the same as what most everyone else does—a safe, affordable, and friendly neighbourhood that allows the freedom to express individual tastes and desires. Interviews with interested parties confirmed awareness within the medical profession, municipal government, and construction industry that the current status of accessible housing is inadequate, and encouraged discussion, research, and, in some cases, potential partnerships to remedy matters.
What Soles’ report accomplishes is to formally document and quantify the current status of housing for people with disabilities, and to demonstrate that the current reality falls far short of what these individuals desire, namely, to enjoy the opportunities that the rest of society enjoy in terms of a home life