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'About freedom': A look inside an Alberta home adapted for physical disabilities

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ST. ALBERT, Alta. — Wider doors and lower kitchen counters in a home can make a monumental difference for someone with a physical disability or who is aging.

It’s a lesson a real estate agent in St. Albert, Alta., northwest of Edmonton, says he has learned while selling a modified luxury bungalow.

“This is something I’ve never seen before in my 15-year career,” Brian Cyr says as he walks around the main floor of the 362-square-metre house that he calls “a true lifetime home.”

“So many people who I deal with can only be in a home for so long until (they) move to an assisted-living facility because (of) limited mobility. 

“This home could be a home for many, many years to come.”

The three-bedroom, three-bathroom living space made Brad Bartko, an advocate for the disabled, teary-eyed when he rolled into the home in his wheelchair.

Cyr gave Bartko a tour of the home so he could learn more about it.

“We live in a world that’s not built for us … that’s not designed for people with disabilities,” says Bartko, 28, who has been in a wheelchair his whole life.

“Seeing this house gave me hope and I knew it would give people in the community hope that houses like this do exist. This house was the gold standard.”

Cyr says another “gentleman started doing 360s in his wheelchair in the middle of the room and he was in awe … he loved it.”

The home is on the market for $699,950.Cyr says the numerous modifications are “not something you do to get return on investment.”

“This is about freedom,” says the real estate agent. “There’s a very high percentage of Canadians that are living with disabilities, but how many homes are modified to accommodate these individuals?” 

Hallways are more spacious. Door frames are about five centimetres wider than in a traditional home.

“You’ll notice no barriers,” Cyr says in the kitchen. There’s no island, the counters are lower and a dumb waiter is built into the wall to help transport items to the basement.

Instead of stairs, there are ramps. There are also two elevators. One connects the garage to the main floor of the house.

“Right in here, you have the ultimate adaptation,” says Cyr as he walks toward the second elevator located in a den on the main floor. The elevator goes to the walkout — or “rollout” — basement.

In the basement, a bar with a lower counter makes it easier for someone with a disability to serve drinks to guests. There’s also a lowered pool table to entertain them.

One of the three bedrooms is also in the basement. It’s meant for a caregiver and has built-in speakers in the walls. 

An automated dog door is built into the basement entrance.

“The dog has a special collar,” Cyr says. “When the dog comes up to it, a sensor picks it up, and, swish, (the door) opens up.”

The price tag for all the modifications adds about $150,000, Cyr adds.

“Without the more costly modifications, like the elevators, it’s probably the same price.”

The master bedroom is on the main floor “for obvious reasons.”

A “zero-entry” shower in the corner means there are no barriers and allows someone in a wheelchair to roll down a sloped floor and close a curtain behind them. The sink has space underneath it, like a desk, so that a wheelchair can pull up to it. The toilet has a bidet. Clothing rods in the dressing area are lower. 

Also in the master bedroom is a ceiling track attached to a sling above the bed. It’s meant to help a caregiver take someone from the bed to the bathroom and dressing area. 

“It’s all about thinking about things that people with disabilities may need,” Cyr says.

Kevin Benson designed the home in 2017 for a friend who had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS, and has since died.

“I learned a lot,” says the owner of Hereditary Homes.

“The ALS Society (of Canada) came in and helped him with what he was going to need. My friend bought the home to basically be close to his parents … He put a lot of money into it to renovate it.”

Benson says some of the modifications, including something as small as a one-step staircase instead of multiple steps, have been helpful in his own life.

“Five years ago, I had a hip replacement. I was on crutches for a couple of months and, I’ll tell you, I was sure happy that it was only one step from the garage.”

An increasing number of people looking for their “forever home” have been asking him about the modifications.

“Most are in their 50s and 60s,” Benson says.

“Nobody wants to think that they’re going to be in a wheelchair any time soon, but it’s definitely talked about. They’re doing everything they can to make it livable and make it their last home.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 23, 2021.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship

Fakiha Baig, The Canadian Press

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Alberta

Alberta ombudsman says she doesn't have the power to probe EMS dispatch consolidation

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EDMONTON — Alberta’s ombudsman says she doesn’t have the power to investigate a complaint about the decision to consolidate ambulance emergency dispatch services in the province.

The complaint was filed by the cities of Red Deer, Calgary, Lethbridge and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.

The municipalities have contended that the decision to consolidate the dispatch services to save the government money could put the lives of people in their communities at risk.

In a release late Friday, Ombudsman Marianne Ryan says the decision was technically made by Alberta Health Services, which her office is prohibited by law from investigating.

When the United Conservative government announced the consolidation in August 2020, then health minister Tyler Shandro said the province’s dispatch system would allow for better co-ordination of all ground ambulances and air resources.

At the time, the four mayors of the municipalities, none of whom are now still in office, said they were blindsided by the decision and would fight the change.

“While the issue being complained about clearly affects many Albertans, I am bound by my governing legislation to only investigate matters that are clearly within my jurisdiction,” Ryan said in the release.

“Given the substance of the complaint has been widely reported in the media and that it relates to an issue affecting a great many Albertans, I advised the mayors that I would be making a public statement.”

Last February, a judge granted an interim injunction sought by Alberta Health and Alberta Health Services after the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo stopped transferring emergency medical calls to the provincial dispatch centre.

The municipality, which includes Fort McMurray, stopped transferring calls after its council decided the provincial ambulance dispatch service was putting patients at risk due to delays and confusion.

A lawyer for Wood Buffalo had argued it was in the public interest for the municipality to keep handling emergency medical calls through its own dispatch centre.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 26, 2021

The Canadian Press

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Alberta

Alberta Ombudsman can’t do anything about City of Red Deer complaint about 9-11 Dispatch

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Ombudsman Responds to Municipalities’ Complaint About Ambulance Dispatch

Marianne Ryan, Alberta’s Ombudsman took the unusual step of publicly commenting on a complaint received involving Alberta Health Services.

The City of Red Deer, along with the municipalities of Calgary, Lethbridge and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo filed a complaint to the Ombudsman regarding Alberta Health Services’ consolidation of ambulance emergency dispatch services.

The Ombudsman Act authorizes the Ombudsman to investigate administrative decisions of government ministries and many related bodies, but the Act specifically prohibits her from investigating decisions of Alberta Health Services (AHS).

“My office thoroughly analyzed the complaint and confirmed that the decision to consolidate ambulance dispatch services was indeed made by AHS. While many government-related bodies fall under my jurisdiction, AHS is not one of them,” stated Marianne Ryan, Alberta’s Ombudsman. “In fact, the Ombudsman Act specifically states that my powers of investigation do not apply to health authorities. My ability to investigate AHS decisions would require a change in legislation. While the issue being complained about clearly affects many Albertans, I am bound by my governing legislation to only investigate matters that are clearly within my jurisdiction.”

Investigations by the Ombudsman are conducted in confidence, and it is the Ombudsman’s general practice not to comment publicly on complaints, especially ones that are not being investigated.

“Given the substance of the complaint has been widely reported in the media and that it relates to an issue affecting a great many Albertans, I advised the mayors that I would be making a public statement.”

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