Earlier this month, former Lieutenant Governor of Ontario and disability advocate David Onley released a scathing report that says the province’s 14-year-old accessibility act is nowhere close to reaching its goal to make Ontario fully accessible by 2025.
Onley, a wheelchair user, says Ontario’s disabled citizens are barred from full inclusion and discriminated against on a daily basis. This comes as no surprise to Dan Hughes, who runs the Enhanced day program for adults with autism in Pickering. Hughes is also president of Liberty Hamlets Inc., a company that is developing a 100 per cent accessible condominium in Pickering, a building Hughes believes is the first of its kind in Canada – and maybe even the world.
Each of the 336 units in Axess Condos will be 100 per cent accessible, with wider corridors and doorways, levered door handles, washrooms large enough to allow wheelchairs to turn and more. Twenty per cent of the units will be reserved for sale to those with disabilities and their families. Ten per cent will be sold to individuals with cognitive disabilities, and 10 per cent to people with physical disabilities. The remaining 80 per cent will be sold to the general public.
Both of Hughes’ parents had physical disabilities and he has extensive experience in the social services field. He also studied facilities planning and management design and is certified as an Ontario building official and a home inspector. As a volunteer member of the City of Pickering’s accessibility advisory committee, he reviewed building plans and found most met only bare minimum accessibility requirements or were inadequate. So, he decided to develop a project himself that would fully accommodate those with disabilities.
Hughes has assembled an impressive team for Axess, including Fieldgate Construction Management Ltd. and the MBTW Group, a top Toronto landscape architecture, urban design and community planning firm. The project architect is Philip Tan of Architect 1:1, whose adult son has autism.
“MBTW and Fieldgate are very big, experienced companies and I wanted to bring in professionals who know the market and could stick to a timeline. They really like our vision of building this as an accessible building,” says Hughes. “This is a legacy project for MBTW as they can pick and choose what projects they want to work on. They were excited and wanted to be part of it and it was the same with Fieldgate.”
Axess Condos at 1525 Pickering Parkway will be in the city’s Central Business District, within minutes of the GO Station, Highway 401 and the Pickering Town Centre. The city recently announced that a new arts centre, youth and seniors’ centre and library will be built just a few hundred meters away. Axess will have 22 and 24-storeys tall towers with a shared three-storey podium featuring commercial, office and retail space. A restaurant on the top floor of one tower will offer a panoramic view to Lake Ontario to the south.
The Enhanced program will move into space in the podium where participants will be taught social skills, life and employment skills. Trillium Support Services will provide personal support workers and respite services that condo residents can arrange with the condo concierge.
“We are working with lawyers in Ottawa so families will be able to purchase a unit in a disabled individual’s name and it won’t affect their ODSP (Ontario Disability Support Plan),” says Hughes.
The building will also appeal to first-time buyers, families and downsizers who have had a limited choice of new condominiums in the area; the accessibility aspect will also appeal to older buyers who will be able to age in place if they face future mobility challenges.
Prices start in the $300,00s, or about $620 per square foot. The south tower’s average unit size is 950 square feet plus and many north tower units are more than 770 square feet-plus to accommodate families, but there will be a mix of floor plans, from one to three-bedroom.