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Being an accessibility consultant comes naturally for Cumberland’s Ramesh Lad

Ramesh Lad, of Step By Step Accessibility Consulting, was integral to Cypress Gardens receiving its Rick Hansen Foundation Accessibility Certification. Here he is in one of the fully accessible units. Photo by Terry Farrell

Ramesh Lad is a local expert on accessibility issues.

With his lived experience, all he needed was a little guidance to lay the foundation for his business, Step By Step Accessibility Consulting.

Step By Step’s mandate is to provide advice and consultation on matters related to accessibility. It sounds like the perfect fit for Lad, but surprisingly, Step By Step was a complete career change for the Cumberland resident.

Lad, who was born in the UK and moved to Canada in 2001, spent the first 16 years of his Canadian life as a youth-at-risk counsellor including some time in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

“That’s my background… I was working with youth in England as well, so it’s quite different from what I do now,” he said. “But it’s an area where sooner or later you start burning out a bit as well, and so I took a break from working in that field, back in 2017.”

He took a year off work, fully embracing the beauty of the Comox Valley with his wife, Julie.

“But I just didn’t want to sit around doing nothing, so when this program came up through the Rick Hansen Society (Rick Hansen Foundation Accessibility Certification), training people as accessibility advisors and auditors.

“Obviously, as a person with lived experience with a disability, it felt like an appropriate program.”

As someone with lifelong ability challenges, Lad said becoming an accessibility consultant is second nature.

“Being a person with a disability, I have spent all my life adapting, thinking outside the box to make things happen, to live a normal life. So this program was like icing on the cake, because it validates not only the lived experiences, but also gives me professional knowledge to go out and support other people - individuals and organizations - in their accessibility need.”

The business reaches far beyond the Comox Valley. Lad has helped businesses and developments improve their accessibility in all parts of Vancouver Island, as well as the Lower Mainland.

“Just before Christmas I finished a job for the Massey Theatre in New Westminster - they are doing a huge redevelopment of the old theatre there, and wanted to know how they could improve accessibility. So I have been working with the engineers and architects over there, to see what we can do. The original building was built in 1949, when accessibility wasn’t really at the forefront of any architecture. So I helped them look at how we could make that building user-friendly for a wider population.

“I’ll go wherever the work is - not just Vancouver Island.”

As the population ages, Lad’s work becomes more integral. And when one considers the demographics of the Comox Valley, it is an ideal community for him to lay roots.

“The aging population, I think that’s a thing a lot of people fall short on understanding accessibility,” said Lad. “They assume that accessibility only impacts a small percentage of the population, but in reality, we have a huge aging population. We have the Baby Boomers coming (into retirement age) now and if you just look at most people, as you get older, your ability to move around becomes restricted. Look at 20-30 years ago, your ability to move around, your vision, your hearing, was very different than what it is now. So your needs are changing. People are having hip replacements, and things like that, which affect your movements. As time moves on, businesses are going to have to realize that. Baby Boomers are coming. They are coming with money, and with expectations of being able to spend that money.”

Lad pointed to the Comox Valley Aquatic Centre and North Island College for their work accessorizing their businesses.

“I’ve been involved with NIC for their new students’ residents and they are clearly looking ahead and trying to make things happen,” he said.

“As for outdoor spaces, the city has done a really nice job with Simms Park. They have accessible washrooms and there is a ramp leading onto the stage area. So they have really gone above and beyond there.”

Lad said as his business grows, he is getting more and more developers and municipalities reaching out to him to get information. While he applauds the municipalities within the Comox Valley for their efforts in addressing accessibility, but cautions there is a long way to go yet.

He said there is a misconception that accessorizing a business comes with a steep cost, but sometimes it takes relatively little effort and investment.

An experience he had at a Vancouver Island pub reminded him of some people’s hesitancy to accessorize their business.

The pub had ramps to accommodate chairs, but the bathrooms were not accessible.

“You have to go outside the pub and into the building next door (part of the same hotel),” said Lad. “But there’s a level of dignity there that they hadn’t thought about. They thought about how they can get the customers in, but they haven’t thought about how those customers are going to access the services, and an important service in a pub is the washroom.”

Lad said he went into the pub washroom to have a look, and all that was needed in both the male and female washrooms was to take two cubicles and change them into one - a simple adjustment to a couple of panels, and change the plumbing.

He left his card at the bar for the general manager to contact him, but did not receive a reply.

“People’s needs are going to be changing as we go along,” he said. “If you start with a level playing field, it’s easy to adapt or upgrade after the fact. But that feel playing field is quite a ways off yet, I think.”