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First fully accessible universal washroom opens at Upper Canada

Accessibility advocates say the new facility at Newmarket's mall should serve as a benchmark for universal washrooms of the future
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A Change.org petition that garnered more than 26,000 signatures to get physically disabled children, adults and seniors off the washroom floor at Upper Canada Mall was instrumental in the official opening today of the first fully accessible universal washroom on the premises.

It’s been a two-year long project that saw many in the community working together to make it happen.

York Region District School Board special education teacher Derek Bunn, who started the petition in 2018, said support poured in from across the community and Canada, the United States and around the world.

He describes the situation for supporting people on a trip to the loo as follows:

“Children, adults and seniors who visit the Upper Canada Mall or any mall, and need to use the washroom, must be physically lifted from their wheelchair and be laid on the floor near toilets and the garbage in order to be changed. This type of activity is happening every day. Does this seem fair? Does this bother you? Does it shock you? I'm one of many who does this when I support someone at the mall. It is really unfair, unhygienic, unsafe and not dignified,” Bunn stated in the petition.

He sent the petition to Upper Canada Mall manager Oxford Properties Group, which helped “push the mall in the right direction,” to design its first fully accessible universal washroom, Bunn said.

Everyone involved in bringing the project to fruition was on hand this morning for the official ribbon-cutting of the 238-square-foot private washroom near the mall food court that could serve as the benchmark for universal washrooms of the future, said Steve Foglia, a Newmarket resident and artist who is chairperson of the Town of Newmarket’s accessibility advisory committee.

Foglia said Bunn mentioned to the committee a few years ago that he was having an issue with being forced to change school children on the floor while they were on outings.

“I thought, that’s got to stop,” Foglia said. “We are so grateful and, honestly, they gave us everything we asked for without even questioning it, everything.”

As it turned out, Upper Canada Mall was undertaking a renovation of its washroom facilities in 2019, and the stage was set for the universal washroom.

The area’s councillor, Christina Bisanz, contacted mall management on behalf of the accessibility advisory committee, and Petroff Partnership Architects were brought in to carry out the vision.

“If you build an accessible washroom by the Ontario Building Code, it’s not accessible,” Foglia said. “If you build it by the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act standards, it’s better but it’s still not 100 per cent accessible. This universal washroom is doing everything you could possibly need it to.”

To put the features of the new universal washroom into perspective, Foglia said there’s always an issue for people in wheelchairs to get through the door without banging into the sides. Personally, he can’t wash his hands a lot of the time because he can’t fit his chair underneath the sink.

“So we made an extra wide door that’s 40 inches wide so people can go through the door just like an able-bodied person would,” he said. “We also have a sink that you can access with a wheelchair, along with the soap dispenser and water, and hand dryer.”

“We pulled things away from the wall so you can get under it with a chair,” he said. “And a person can use the sling to transfer themselves out of the chair, onto the adjustable change table, over to the toilet, over to the sink and back to the change table, and back to the chair without anybody having to lift somebody out of the chair, that’s very important. And keeping people off the floor, as it should be.”

Here are the features of the fully accessible universal washroom at Upper Canada Mall:

  • An adult change table complete with a lift and sling (600 lb. capacity) that allows an individual to move around the room
  • Waiting area for support workers
  • Privacy curtain
  • Emergency bars to call for help
  • Accessible toilet, sink, soap dispenser, water, and hand dryer
  • Contrasting floor tiles to help those with a visual impairment navigate the facilities
  • Child-sized toilet and child change table
  • Grab bars fastened to walls
  • Security system that includes guests buzzing in to gain access

“This is how it should be done,” Foglia said.

Upper Canada Mall’s general manager, Ryan DaSilva, thanked the Newmarket community for their help and support on the project, and said the universal washroom ensures “everyone feels welcome at the mall”.

Bunn added that Upper Canada Mall has always been the hub of social and shopping experiences, and it is a great atmosphere for people in wheelchairs to spend the day there. 

“What a great economic benefit this is to the mall, and a great social outing to everybody in the GTA,” he said.

Oxford Properties Group declined to provide the cost of the new washroom, but said the project was a custom-build and the first of its kind for the group.




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Kim Champion

About the Author: Kim Champion

Kim Champion is a veteran journalist and editor who covers Newmarket and issues that impact York Region.
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