Darby Lee Young is the founder of Level Playing Field, a new universal design consulting company. Level Playing Field will be auditing all city-owned buildings to make recommendations on how to improve accessibility. Photo by Paula Trotter/For CREB®Now

Startup aims to improve accessibility for all Calgarians

A new company founded by a familiar face is developing a game plan on how to improve accessibility of all city-owned buildings.

Darby Lee Young sat on the City of Calgary’s advisory committee on accessibility for nearly five years – more than two of those years as the chair – before launching, earlier this year, the universal design consulting company Level Playing Field.

The Calgary-based firm will be auditing about 1,000 city-owned structures, including the Municipal Building, to determine improvements that need to be made to make the facilities accessible to people of all abilities.

Ward 7 Coun. Druh Farrell put forward a motion for this project, which council approved last summer.

“We’re talking about families with strollers, seniors; we’re talking about everybody.”

“The ultimate goal is that the City is trying to move forward with being the most accessible city in Canada,” said Young. “Level Playing Field is definitely hoping we can help everyone understand and recognize the need for inclusive for all. We’re also not just talking about people with disabilities. We’re talking about families with strollers, seniors; we’re talking about everybody.”

Young is a native Calgarian who was born with mild cerebral palsy and occasionally relies on mobility aids such as a scooter or forearm crutches to get around. The accessibility challenges Young has personally experienced motivates her to advocate for universal design, which is the creation of inclusive spaces that can be used by all people, regardless of their abilities, including sight and hearing impairments.

She’s proud of two major accomplishments the advisory committee on accessibility had during her tenure: the City staffing of an Accessibility and Disability Department, and working with Farrell on the councillor’s motion.

Young also helped with the creation of the city’s universal design guidebook.

Now, she’s looking forward to this multi-year project that will improve access to City facilities. Her team will start by reviewing and making recommendations for recreation centres and libraries.

“Our transit system could be a lot better, and we are working on that,” said Young.


Universal design challenges

For examples of universal design done well, Young points to Vancouver’s transit system and the Canadian Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg, both of which are easily accessible by all people.

But she notes there are two major challenges facing the creation of universally designed spaces. The first is provincial and national building codes do not require barrier-free designs unless structures are provincially or federally funded.

“Our transit system could be a lot better, and we are working on that.”

Young hopes Prime Minster Justin Trudeau will follow through on the Liberals’ campaign promise to create a National Disability Act, “to eliminate systemic barriers and deliver equality of opportunity to all Canadians living with disabilities.” Young anticipates the act would result in improvements to the building codes.

The second challenge is a lack of knowledge.

“Until somebody is in the situation, they don’t think about it. They don’t see a step and think about those of us that can’t get up that step,” said Young.

Young has ambitious goals for her new company. Not only does she want Level Playing Field’s contract with the City to make for more inclusive spaces for all Calgarians, but she wants other municipalities to follow suit.

“I want to make sure we’re leading the way for Canada,” she said. “I want us to develop a game plan so other cities can copy what we’ve done.”