Photo by Chung Chow
Most people take their airport access for granted, when it comes to dropping off their luggage, to finding their way to their gate, and even boarding their plane.
But it was like mounting a polar expedition to travel anywhere for people who used a wheelchair.
Now, thanks to consultants like Richmond's Stan Leyenhorst of Universal Access Design Inc., many barriers are being designed out of buildings. Plans, that aim at accessibility for all, employ what is called universal design.
Thanks to the Vancouver International Airport Authority’s (YVR’s) Innovative Travel Solutions (ITS) team, CHECKITXPRESS makes it easier for everyone, whether in a chair or not, to do self-serve drop-off with their luggage before a flight.
Subcontracting with the Rick Hansen Foundation, Leyenhorst reviewed the initial plans for the baggage check station.
“One of the things was we advised on was making sure it was close enough to the ground,” says Leyenhorst.
Once there was a prototype, he says, “The next thing was to do with how sticky the belt was. At first, you couldn’t slide your bag because it would just stick.”
Now that the first model of the accessible baggage drop-off is in place and operating at YVR, Leyenhorst sees possibilities for future improvements with the little ramp to roll suitcases up to the conveyor belt.
“With the next iteration, we are going to try to make it about an inch lower and make that angle shallower,” he says.
Safety has also been designed into the CHECKITXPRESS system. “An other feature is, if you step on it it won’t go. The conveyor just stops,” he says.
Through his company and the Rick Hansen Foundation, Leyenhorst says, “This is something I’m doing all the time. Anytime YVR has anything new, a renovation or anything, the Rick Hansen Foundation with Brad McCannell have been on it. (Brad’s) been working as a consultant at YVR since 1993. Now he’s moved to the Rick Hansen Foundation as VP of access and inclusion.”
Leyenhorst keeps busy with his own consulting firm, UADI, for other companies, individuals and at the airport. “I do all the blue print reviews. I do the disability awareness and simulation training that YVR requires of all their employees. They are probably the most progressive company I’ve run into and the big reason is Craig Richmond.” Richmond is YVR’s president and CEO.
Leyenhorst also consulted with a family construction company to build his own home without barriers. It means a home he can fully use without steps, or thick carpets that impede wheels plus a host of other features like doors wide enough to get his chair through and an accessible kitchen, bathroom and shower.
“I am just about to launch the disability awareness training that Brad designed and I’m taking over. It’s called "Ramping Minds." Brad is also quadriplegic, almost as long as I have been,” says Leyenhorst.
“When we talk about inclusion, we’re not necessarily talking social inclusion. We are talking physical inclusion.”
But there’s always room for improvement.
“Rick Hansen has an accessibility certification rating system that launched last September. Now we are rating buildings for accessibility and not just mobility, for example, lighting for people who are deaf, blind, or have low vision. We are rating buildings for people with cognitive impairment.”
Sometimes the improvements take time and patience. Leyenhorst is consulting on the new Q-to-Q foot passenger ferry from Westminster Quay to Queensborough to make it wheelchair accessible. With a ramp that changes steepness with the tide and the need to chair tie-downs, making the ferry barrier-free takes ingenuity, and persistence.
Being in a chair takes planning and patience for many things that are quick and easy for those without physical challenges. “That’s why I get up at six in the morning everyday because everything takes longer,” Leyenhorst says.
When it comes to barriers to access, he says, “This is the problem; they often just don’t think about it. That’s why we're here, to make them think about it.”
Leyenhorst says optimistically, “We’re getting there.”