Improving access at Vancouver’s largest hospital
This article first appeared in the September/October 2002 issue of Occupational Therapy Now, a magazine published by the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists
Pam Andrews is a facility planner at Vancouver Hospital and Health Sciences Centre in British Columbia, where she works to increase accessibility at its five sites. As a registered occupational therapist, Pam understands the connection between people and their environments and how their health and well-being affect their ability to participate in what is important to them. Thousands of people travel in and out, and around hospitals every day. Ensuring that they can do this easily is Pam’s job.
Accessibility describes the degree to which people with disabilities (either physical or mental) can make use of goods and services in a facility. For example, a person using a wheelchair may need a special desk where the shelves are easily adjusted, a bathroom with grab bars for support in the shower and around the toilet, and sufficiently wide doorways to accommodate the width of a turning wheelchair. Accessibility features help everyone. Curb cuts at street crossings not only help people who use wheelchairs, but also those using shopping carts or parents with strollers.
Pam also closely monitors and suggests improvements to signage, as accessibility is not just about ramps for wheelchairs. For example, many of the signs at the hospital are light purple with white lettering and the lack of contrast makes them difficult to read. In a newly renovated wing of the hospital, signs are being installed with matte black backgrounds. This is especially important for people with reduced eyesight. For this project, Braille and tactile signage have been used for the door numbers and are posted in a consistent location on the wall by the latch side of the door. Access has also been improved by the installation of two tele-type devices, which allow those with hearing impairments to use the public telephones. Wayfinding is also Pam’s responsibility and this work improves people’s ability to find their way to a desired location. For example, painted lines on the floors can lead people to different areas of the hospital.
Vancouver General Hospital, the largest of the five sites that Pam monitors, is comprised of 26 buildings and covers 12 city blocks. It’s easy for anyone to become lost in a facility this complex. However, by responding to access concerns, Pam ensures that the hospital is efficient and equipped to handle the many visitors and patients that visit every day. “My client is not just one person,” she explains. “Access in a hospital is especially important, as many people are either ill or preoccupied with thoughts of a loved one who is not well. The hospital should also be accessible for all employees, regardless of their abilities.”
Pam also chairs the hospital’s Accessibility Advisory Committee. This committee responds to accessibility concerns and organizes assessments at the different health facilities. “We have people from all over the hospital who sit on this committee. Because everybody involved feels they own a piece of it, changes happen quickly,” says Pam. Members of the committee represent a variety of different hospital sectors such as occupational therapy, social work, facilities planning and construction, parking, audiology and patient relations.
“If the building were accessible, I wouldn’t be doing the job I’m doing now,” Pam concludes. She knows first hand the importance of accessibility. Pam has multiple sclerosis and lives the Accessibility Advisory Committee’s mandate: “To provide leadership to advance accessibility for all people, regardless of ability.” She is quick to point out that the mandate concentrates on abilities. “It’s not about the fact that I use a wheelchair and you don’t, or that a person is visually impaired and you’re not. You should be able to access the services offered no matter how tall, how short, how old or how young you are.” — Vanessa Ong
Pam Andrews can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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