accessibility as a discourse of space in Canadian housing cooperatives



Wheelchair accessibility is more than a matter of grab bars, ramps, and door widths. Accessibility can also be understood as a way of thinking and talking about the rights of people with disabilities that contains a critique of the notion of disability itself. This article examines the social and cultural construction of accessibility in the context of a particular kind of nonprofit rental housing in Canada. We present findings from a study of 17 urban housing cooperatives with varying degrees of accessibility, including three “fully accessible” co-ops. We are particularly concerned with issues of power and control in narratives about building accessible co-ops. We are also interested in spatial assumptions and how residents express their experience in spatial terms. Spaces framed by a discourse of accessibility and built to the standards of wheelchair-users express a shift in power toward people with disabilities. Yet these spaces also reveal the diversity of people's needs. We conclude that discourses and practices of accessibility both inscribe difference in the built environment and deny it, allowing people to assert individual freedom, control, and choice. [accessibility, space, housing, cooperatives, Canada]