What will events look like in a post pandemic-era?

Think of Pride Day parades, the Super Bowl, New York Fashion Week, and other massive events that reach thousands of people annually. The COVID-19 crisis has called their future into question. With the congregation of large groups largely restricted, how will the show — sporting, fashion, trade, music, and the like — go on? 

While many organizations are opting to weather the pandemic by going virtual until a vaccine is developed, event design will likely not ever return to normal post-COVID.  

Reflecting on the pre-pandemic realities of event design, the consumption of event entertainment has not changed in centuries. We are a tribal people; emerged from a society that has always been narrative driven, congregating around a campfire and social circles, telling stories, sharing memories. Even as we’ve progressed with industry, architecture, technology and entertainment changing the settings and communication channels, the essence is still really to come together and share these experiences.

The shared experience is what has always driven — and what I suspect will always drive us — toward live events.

While the pandemic cut off our ability to gather literally overnight, the desire to meet up did not stop. Social distancing is described as the measures we must take to not spread the virus, however, it is a somewhat misleading term. We have come together more actively than ever socially, on Zoom and FaceTime sharing experiences. 

As we continue to gather around this proverbial, digital campfire, we have all become more adaptable as we seek out technologies and technologies seek out us in delivering some wonderful new opportunities. We are constantly reminded that technology is never static, and that some of the most creative periods in human history have come out of extreme situations of stress and duress.

The only certainty that is out there is change!

Until groups can occupy venues again, what opportunity is there for people to consume events and entertainment?  

More than 12 million players tuned in for Travis Scott’s ‘Fortnite’ event. That is roughly the same size as the average ‘Monday Night Football’ audience. Over 20-million viewers tuned into Global Citizen’s One World: Together at Home concert to watch the Rolling Stones and other music powerhouses perform from home with very little production value. While typical live concerts can attract two to three million attendees, that pales in the face of 20-million VIRTUAL viewers soon after the breakout of a worldwide crisis. This April 2020 event was a shining example for how our industry could move forward, even though there is a long developmental period for digital events to anticipate ahead.

One cannot underestimate how we, as human beings, engage in all our senses. 

At this stage, you can’t imagine that technology is capable of replicating the feeling that you have attending a summer festival, enjoying the balmy breeze in close proximity of your friends, glass of wine or beer in hand. While the consumption of music in this way may not be perfect, the experience is embellished by the overall environment. 

That is where this lockdown period has been a great experimental petri dish for our industry. How much of this new technology and virtual experiences that we’ve been forced to discover will stay with us as we move out of this period? And how much will disappear because it just never really fulfilled the overall desire to experience events live?

With tech becoming more readily available, live performances are now happening in empty spaces that are outfitted for digital engagement. 

Right now, the production value of these events is in flux as consuming these virtual events is still a novelty. But how important will production value become once the ability opens up to consume events on different platforms — virtual and live — remains to be seen. 

While the virtual world still has not come up with a design language that does its justice, its designers continue to use visual reference points for building from the physical world. When we start talking about VR and events, and how we can move forward into a future where we mix both remote and live audiences and performers, the landscape starts to get interesting. In fact, I believe we’re in the midst of a renaissance on many levels where we’ll see an increasing blurring between the virtual and the real.

The short-term future will rely on the decentralization of events.  

While the pre-pandemic event-scape highlighted major venues, the post-pandemic venue will be spread out by different hosts across various countries. Audiences are still there, they just will not be congregating. 

Event profs are having many conversations about the future of this “distributed” event model, driven by the business incentive for holding these events in the first place. The challenge is we now must find the locations that can physically allow for these events. Due to the continued need to physically distance, a lot of the venues coming out of this lockdown will just not be able to cater to the measures that need to be put in place.

At which point in the business model do the arena’s, theatres, and stadiums open to a smaller crowd? And how can you incorporate the remote audience who would normally go to that event, but cannot? 

We are still very bound by the things we know. Surpassing this limitation depends on strategizing how the physical and digital event worlds can be merged.

The generation of consumers that just consume what was given to them has come to an end.  People want to participate in virtual and hybrid events and therefore, we need to personalize the shared experiences as the demand for individualism is leading the way. The design world has yet to catch up to the virtual world. However, a new design language will emerge out of this which is clearly not present now. The production value for most events is relatively poor but there is a novelty about it.  

There are no constraints in the digital world. What will happen is the digital and live will co-create together. The current tech is communicative rather than genuinely collaborative on a project from your living room or bedroom. This is the struggle for remote designers and this too shall change in time.

Janice Cardinale

Janice Cardinale

Janice Cardinale is Founder and Chief Idea Hunter at  The Idea Hunter, Canada’s trend-setting source for corporate entertainment, event management, and creative services. A passionate leader and change-maker in the event industry, her work has been recognized with several awards. Janice devotes her time to mentoring the next generation of event professionals as Board Chair for Seneca’s Event Design and Management program, and is also a board member for Seneca’s Business & Marketing Management program.

Meet Michelle Kwok, Entrepreneur and Founder of FLIK

Michelle is a born and raised Vancouverite —  medical science student turned social entrepreneur. She co-founded FLIK, a platform connecting female founders/leaders and students across the world via meaningful apprenticeships.  Michelle has had the honour of speaking at universities and spaces across North America sharing her thoughts on entrepreneurship, womxn empowerment, diversity and inclusion, and breaking down barriers. She now serves on the alumni advisory council of League of Innovators and as an alumni rep for Next 36 where she works to accelerate more youth entrepreneurs. She has been recognized as a Top 20 Women entrepreneur to watch in 2020 by Tease Tea Founders Fund and awarded as YWCA’s Young Woman of Distinction in 2020.

My first job ever was… a summer camp counsellor! It was such a blast. I got to work with my friends, was promoted to a camp leader, and grew into my first big leadership role. 

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I felt so narrow in my academics in medical science. I went into medicine because I wanted to create a positive impact in peoples’ lives, but I didn’t think through the 8+ years of schooling. I was itching to make a difference, and found that entrepreneurship is the only profession where you can make your dream job and formulate it to create your dream impact — a scalable impact. I have so much respect for the practice of medicine, but I was always a Jill of all trades, honing many different skills, and working on several projects at once. Medical school was never for me. In entrepreneurship, I was finally able to use my designation as a “Jill of all trades” to my advantage, managing several departments, working with diverse people, and working towards a greater cause.

My proudest accomplishment is… Launching FLIK. It’s not just the action of launching my own company, but it was such a personal journey. When we first launched FLIK, Ravina and I both struggled from a major case of imposter syndrome. We had people telling us it wouldn’t work, that we didn’t look like tech founders, that we should just stick to what we know. We almost didn’t launch the company and so we might never have engaged this community of thousands of womxn globally. That was a major step: accepting that we might not be experts in tech, yet launching FLIK into the world was still the right path. Personally and professionally, creating FLIK from nothing has been my proudest accomplishment to date.

My boldest move to date was… When I decided I was leaving school a year early to enter Next 36, one of the top programs for young founders in Canada. I decided I would become an entrepreneur instead of going to medical school. I had 15 minutes left in walk-in academic counselling so I ran in. I asked to change my degree so I could graduate early, and I did it. I had this feeling it was the right move even though I didn’t know what my plan was going to be after Next 36. Deciding to graduate in 3 years instead of 4 was a bold move, but it was well worth it in the end.

I surprise people when I tell them… I have never had a traditional business education. I learned everything I know now through experiential learning, apprenticeships, starting ventures, and mentors that I met throughout my younger years.

My best advice to people starting out in business is… You don’t have to walk this road alone! Find a Co-founder with complementary skillsets and build a team you trust. Take advice from those who want to help you — so many people will want to help you. This can be a lonely road, and you have the power to make it a bit less lonely.

My biggest setback was… My imposter syndrome. It’s definitely something I still struggle with every day, but walking into entrepreneurship, I’ve never felt so much like I didn’t belong. I unfortunately wasn’t exposed to many female entrepreneurs early on and so felt that I shouldn’t be in the position to start my own company. I didn’t look like Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg, I had never known another Asian woman to be a founder of a tech company. Without this representation, so many times, I thought I could just easily give up.

I overcame it by… Reaching out to female founders who resonated with my identity. I learned from how they navigated barriers and challenges specific to womxn in business and entrepreneurship. I realized that I didn’t have to look like everyone else or sound like everyone else in a room to be a great leader or entrepreneur. My diversity of thought could be an advantage. I still struggle with imposter syndrome, but I try to remind myself that no matter what, I can push through and be part of the representation that is so needed in the world of female entrepreneurship. 

The best thing about being an entrepreneur is… You wake up every morning to work on something you truly love and that you truly believe in. You have the power to make your work each day impact thousands if not millions in a positive way. This has definitely been the most rewarding year of my life.

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… Probably split it half way between work and sleep.

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I’m a wicked basketball player. I started playing when I was 5 years old and I’m always the most unassuming on the court, because I’m 5’4 and a girl, but I’ve beat my fair share of boys on the rec courts.

The one thing I wish I knew when starting my business is… The most important trait you can have as an entrepreneur is belief. Half of this job is just believing that you CAN do it. You don’t have to be THE expert in your field, you just have to be the one with the deepest drive and belief in the work you’re doing.

I stay inspired by… My team. They each bring such incredible passion to FLIK, knowing they’re working towards a larger cause, each elevating the other.

The future excites me because… We’re just on the ground floor and there is so much more impact to create, so many more womxn to elevate, and so many more voices to amplify. 

My next step is… Expanding globally. We are serving 47 countries around the world, but we will be expanding further to other countries and deeper into the countries we are already working with. Womxn from all over the world need unique support and we are here to be that comprehensive resource to elevate entrepreneurial womxn worldwide.

Meet Resilience Expert and Champion of Women’s Rights, Komal Minhas.

Komal Minhas is an internationally respected resilience expert, host, interviewer, investor and champion of women and women’s rights. Featured on Oprah’s Super Soul 100 list, Komal has interviewed inspiring people including Michelle Obama and Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, and is the founder and host of the successful podcast Lessons Learned, featuring soulful conversations about resilience. Komal also just launched an online shop of inspirational uplifting prints, perfect for home or office.

My first job ever was… working the concession stand at our local hockey arena! I wasn’t allowed to work — as a first-generation Canadian, education was a major priority — but I secretly got this job so I could save up to go on a class trip to Europe in 9th grade. Of course my parents found out, but it all worked out in the end.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… my entrepreneurial spirit didn’t fit the traditional workplace mould. My business has become a creative vessel for me, and a space for me to make an impact, create wealth for myself and my team, educate and tell powerful stories. It’s my dream job!

My proudest accomplishment is… having my parents in the stadium the day I interviewed Michelle Obama in 2019. It was one of the best moments of my life to see their pride after holding space for such a powerful conversation with the former First Lady.

My boldest move to date was… pitching Michelle Obama directly at a meet and greet to interview her as part of her stadium tour. She took my hands and said, ‘this is destiny.’ It took 10 months, and lots of no’s for it to finally happen. That was my boldest moment!

I surprise people when I tell them… I am actually more of an introvert than an extrovert! I really love my down time!

My best advice to people starting out in business is… take your time. The start-up world is full of stories of ‘overnight’ successes, but they are few and far between. Do what you need to take your time as you build and do it in a way that makes sense to you financially.

My biggest setback was… being diagnosed with cancer and a neurological illness in the same 10-months. Recovery took a few years during my 20s. 

I overcame it by… listening to my body and taking recovery day-by-day. When you face mortality at such an early age, you come to appreciate life in different ways. That experience led me to having a strong focus on purpose and impact and finding a way to create a business that could help me maximize both things well.

The best thing about being an entrepreneur is… employing others and leading them in a mindful, empathetic way.

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… sleep.

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… how hard this journey of entrepreneurship really is and how much my support system helps me get through hard days.

The one thing I wish I knew when starting my business is… it takes time to find product-market fit and each failure is actually a powerful step forward towards something that will work and hopefully scale.

I stay inspired by… my friends, and making new friends who challenge me and show me what is possible in my own life.

The future excites me because… so much can happen!

What does it mean to lead in a crisis?

What makes someone an expert in a crisis? Is it years of experience? Lived experiences? Training? Following examples from others? All of the above?

I’m no expert, let me start there. It’s been really difficult building a new company, one that went into a pandemic driven lockdown before we were 18 months old. One that can’t “pivot” to online services. I’m trying to grow, sustain, and just survive all at the same time. And in that, maybe inspire. This past weekend I was on the phone with a good friend of mine who has successfully founded and run a number of startups and he asked me a question that stopped me from pacing in my slippers in my living room. He asked,

“What is your leadership approach right now?”

The answer wasn’t immediately clear to me, so I paused. I responded that I typically work from a place of collaboration. As an entrepreneur who has always struggled with authority, I’m not a fan of top-down leadership. I love a good consensus-building session. My friend clarified his question. “What about trust? Where does trust fall into your leadership approach? Where is trust from and for your team today?”

With the latest lockdown measures in Toronto (started on November 23rd), The Workaround has had to temporarily close our doors. Shared space / meeting rooms and event spaces are ordered closed. Revenue is down between 55-90%. Childcare can be open but not without parents working on-site. Even if I could open, limited capacity is far worse from a business perspective, because it means a trickle of income but the same fixed costs (PPE, cleaning, hydro, rent). Laying off my staff, even temporarily, means reduced income for them in month 10 of a pandemic. No scenario is optimal. There is no easy win. It’s all lose-lose.

I’ve yet to see the playbook for what great business leadership looks like in a global pandemic. As I sat down to write the “we’re closing again” email, anxiety overwhelmed me. Should I fight? Pivot quickly? Find a way to keep revenue growing? All orders of government are advising we don’t meet indoors with people not from our own household, where meeting spaces are closed, where the loudest message is to work from home if at all possible. It doesn’t mean I get to stop working (or take a break!) but simply have to find another way to keep the purpose and vision of The Workaround alive. To support working parenthood. While I am closed because we are following public health guidelines. Even when it doesn’t make business sense. The politicalization of COVID has made it even more difficult for small business owners to make strategic decisions. Taking a position comes at a cost.

“Whether you’re a team lead at a large organization or a small business owner or a freelancer with a range of clients, trust has to be central to how we work.”

Why even bother taking a position? Because as my friend suggested, leading is about more than keeping the lights on. It’s about trust. I can’t think of another example when I’d be arguing the government should close my company down temporarily (with funding!), but this is one of them. Forcing business owners to figure out alternative strategies to stay economically afloat during a public health emergency isn’t fair. My definition of trust includes modelling people over profits (that’s a joke by the way; no profits for brick and mortar during a pandemic), that I truly want my staff team around for the long-haul. I want the business to survive and their jobs to remain there and to know that when tested, I will do what I can to keep them and our members well.

I need them to trust me. 

Whether you’re a team lead at a large organization or a small business owner or a freelancer with a range of clients, trust has to be central to how we work. How we approach times of stress. It also has to be central to reporting to shareholders. If stakeholders can’t trust that we are leading the organization from a place of integrity, we put the company in both reputational and fiduciary risk.

Is this what leadership looks like in a crisis? Perhaps. It’s probably survival more than trust if I’m honest. Vulnerability even. One thing you can do today is to take the time to think about how you can build up, and break trust with your team by the big and small decisions you make. Even when it doesn’t seem like the call you’re making is a demonstration of your leadership, it is. You know this. If you’re not sure how to navigate leadership in a crisis, there are many, many amazing women-led organizations who can help. My advice is simple: curate and honour trust. 

Trust that customers will return, even if they are hesitant today.

Trust that stress shows itself in many ways, and when the crisis ends some of the stress does too.

Trust that taking care of yourself and your family, team, and loved ones so that you can be equipped to run your company and excel at your work is the right call.

Trust that we’ve done these hard things before, and we can do it again.

Trust this will end.

How Patricia McLeod turned corporate governance into a full-time job — even though she didn’t fit the typical board member profile.

By Hailey Eisen 

The advice that Patricia McLeod likes to give — “Pick things you’re good at, because if you love what you’re doing enough you’ll find a path forward” — sums up her own journey over the past five years.  

Patricia spent 23 years as a lawyer and executive in Calgary and Vancouver before making an unusual career pivot. Armed with an Executive MBA, plus years of legal, privacy, compliance and corporate responsibility experience, Patricia began to expand on her volunteer experience. She took board positions with organizations focusing on community and economic development, arts, innovation, and vulnerable women and families. 

In 2015, she began to feel that her board work was more strategic than her job. The variety of challenges and opportunities was exciting. Patricia wondered if she could turn governance into her full-time career. She asked a handful of women directors for their opinions. 

Their responses were not reassuring. “I ended up with a long list of reasons why I wasn’t likely to be successful in corporate governance,” she says. “They weren’t being negative, they were just coming from a different place — C-Suite executives who’d been specifically tapped for their board positions.” 

As it was pointed out, Patricia wasn’t even 50, had never been a CEO, and wasn’t ready to retire. Plus, she had no experience in the oil and gas sector — a bit of a problem for someone wanting to serve on boards in Calgary. “I remember thinking: They’re right, but where am I in the board world? I’m the gap.”

Nevertheless, Patricia was undaunted. 

Within six months, she secured her first paid governance position and within 18 months, she was appointed as Chair of the Board of Calgary Co-op, one of the largest retail cooperatives in North America with annual revenues of around $1.2 billion and 440,000 member-owners. In two years, she resigned from her general counsel role, had a full portfolio of board positions and was making more money than she’d earned in her previous job. 

“I’m not a pioneer on boards because I’m a woman. Women on boards is now a much more well-known and supported concept. But I’m a pioneer because I treat my board work as a profession,” Patricia says. 

And following her passion has made her happy. 

“With board work, you’re doing strategy, leadership, issues management — all of which is so motivating to me,” she says. “And it’s a balancing act, like being a consultant.” 

Today, Patricia sits on a wide cross-section of boards, including Calgary Co-op, the Beverage Container Management Board, Alberta Innovates, and the Calgary Film Centre.

 “I’ve learned to describe myself not by what I do, but by how I can transfer my skills.” 

She says her prior board roles with First Air and Air Inuit proved especially satisfying. Based in Quebec and Ontario, the airlines operate passenger, charter and cargo services in Nunavik and Nunavut. “This was the first time they’d opened up the organization to non-Inuit board members, and there was a great deal of learning on both sides,” Patricia says. During her term, First Air merged with another Inuit-owned airline and Patricia brought her experience in governance, legal and relationship-building to the merger process. “It was one of the most valuable experiences I’ve ever had.”  

But with no airline experience (or experience in many of the industries in which she now serves on boards), Patricia has had to market herself differently. “I’ve learned to describe myself not by what I do, but by how I can transfer my skills. For example, I worked in utilities, a highly regulated, high-hazard industry, which transferred nicely to the aviation industry.”

Patricia says she’s also needed a lot of self-confidence in applying for board positions — “for every ten interviews you’ll get one position” — and taking on a wide range of roles. She also needed to be willing to put her name forward for board leadership opportunities. She credits her Executive MBA with giving her the confidence to make the leap into governance and the success she’s having as a leader. 

With an undergraduate degree in business, a law degree, and years of work, Patricia went back to school in 2009 to earn her EMBA at Smith School of Business. “I knew I was a strong lawyer but felt the MBA would give me the business credibility I was lacking.” With two young daughters at home and a full-time job, Patricia joined the EMBA program from Calgary, with the strong support of her company. 

“The program not only helped me rethink the language of business writing, which was really important for me coming from a law background, it also put a huge emphasis on group work and leadership,” she recalls. “I literally use the skills from that program on a daily basis, when I’m chairing boards and leading groups, public speaking, leaning into difficult decisions and facing down big issues.” 

Completing the EMBA, she says, made her courageous enough to step into governance and gave her the skills to feel comfortable doing so. But first, it gave her the confidence to put her hand up at AltaLink, where she worked, to take on different roles beyond her existing scope. 

“Sometimes in an established career you are seen in a certain way, and you have to jar people out of that. You have to raise your hand and step outside of your comfort zone.” 

And staying just beyond her comfort zone is what keeps Patricia engaged. “It reinvigorates me, this board work,” she says. “I was recently offered a prestigious role back in legal, and while I was tempted, I decided to be brave and continue on the path I’m on.”

Meet entrepreneur and Motivational Speaker, Ashley Wright

Ashley Wright is a young entrepreneur and motivational speaker from Toronto, Canada. She started her first business when she was 17 years old which led to the creation of her current businesses: The Wright Success and Study Cryptos. The Wright Success focuses on helping individuals become the best version of themselves through self-development and business coaching. Study Cryptos is an online academy that makes learning about Cryptocurrency and Blockchain Technology easy.

My first job ever was… a server at a Harvey’s restaurant.

My proudest accomplishment is… when I had my first sold-out event! My cryptocurrency workshop was packed and was filled with excited individuals. It was very engaging, professional and powerful. Not only did the event end in a standing ovation, but I was able to inspire and motivate everyone that attended.

The idea for Study Cryptos came to me when… I had an overwhelming amount of people messaging me about how to get started in cryptocurrency. I had many people asking me how to buy it, how to invest in it etc. That’s when I had that lightbulb moment on how I could turn my passion into a business. I decided to create an online cryptocurrency academy where individuals can learn about the crypto space anytime and from anywhere. I also started hosting cryptocurrency workshops across the city and online to continue to educate and engage interested individuals.

My boldest move to date was… creating the opportunity to interview, celebrity rapper, Akon. While at a conference he was speaking at, I made sure to stand out and take advantage of every opportunity that came my way. I then had the opportunity to interview him regarding the upcoming cryptocurrency he is creating. 

I surprise people when I tell them… that I am in the cryptocurrency space. As soon as I mention that, they are surprised and instantly show curiosity. There aren’t too many women in this space, let alone women of colour. I decided to use this to my advantage and become the top woman of colour in cryptocurrency in Canada.

My advice for people interested in self-development and business coaching is… that it’s crucial in your entrepreneurship and success journey. In order to achieve your goals and success, you must have a positive success mindset and master your craft. You cannot get to the next level with the same you. You must grow. Business coaching and mentorship allow you to learn and leverage an expert’s experience and knowledge. 

My biggest setback was… myself. I used to doubt myself and my potential and that held me back the most. One of my favourite quotes, “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right” by Henry Ford, explains just that. 

I overcame it by…changing my mindset and by doing lots of self-reflection. I took the time to reflect and appreciate my accomplishments so far and used that to build confidence. I then studied the law of attraction and understood that what you put out there is what you will receive. 

If I want success, I have to speak it into existence. 

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… Je parle français. I speak French!

Being a young entrepreneur is… an exciting and unique journey. As an entrepreneur, you are tested in every aspect of your life. You experience the lows and sacrifices while building your business. You also get to experience amazing moments where you see your ideas come to life. 

I stay inspired by… Looking at my goals on my vision board, hearing powerful success stories of aggressive new start-ups, and getting kind and moving feedback from my clients.

My favourite thing about what I do is… that I can help and inspire people to become more, achieve more, and walk in their purpose.

The future excites me because…I continue to expand my businesses and grow my brand. This allows me to have a greater reach when it comes to helping and inspiring people. 

My next step is… to start another business, specifically in the Blockchain space and create a young women empowerment organization called Queen’s United.

5 Key Ways to Expand How We Approach Accessibility

Today is International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD). The world has observed this day since 1992, when the United Nations established it to promote an understanding of disability issues and mobilize support for the dignity, rights and well-being of persons with disabilities. In celebration of IDPD, Women of Influence invited Darby to share her expert advice on the topic.

By Darby Lee Young

I come to the topic of accessibility with skin in the game. I was born with mild cerebral palsy, and I run an accessibility agency. This subject is my bread-and-butter. Working to ensure a more accessible world for everyone, leaving no one behind, is both personal and professional to me. Accessibility is complex and it would take a whole book to cover the basics. However, in my daily conversations around kitchen tables and boardroom tables, there are profound points that come up all the time. They are often overlooked, and I wish everyone understood these points better. Here are five of them.

1. There’s more to accessibility than the wheelchair.

You cannot tell if someone has a disability just by how they look, or by talking to them. Some disabilities are not immediately apparent, nor do they need be — it’s just that the presence of a wheelchair is more in-your-face. And although accessibility is usually represented by a wheelchair icon, keep in mind that it’s just an icon. It cannot capture the spectrum of wheelchair types or other devices, let alone the full range of disabilities. Consider that accessibility in a space doesn’t just mean accessible for someone in a wheelchair.

You’d think this was pretty obvious, but that’s not always the case. I’ll get to that.

2. Consider the details.

It’s not just the big things that make a big impact on accessibility. It’s the little ones, too. For example, carpet. When designing a space, it’s important to consider colour contrast and direction of the carpet pile. Have you ever smashed your face into a glass window, or tripped on a step you didn’t see? Exponentiate that. There needs to be contrast between the colour of the walls and the floor. And heavily patterned carpets make it needlessly difficult for people with visual disabilities to wayfind. Picture how a dark square shape in the carpet pattern can appear like a gaping hole or a step, making it unnecessarily more difficult for someone with vision loss to assess depth. Or long hallways in hotels or airports, and the ability to reduce friction resistance pending the direction of the carpet pile.

3. Think — and build — beyond the code.

In North America in 2020, we are working with regulatory guidelines that are old and outdated. Building just to codes misses the big picture. First, we’ve come a long way since the time these regulations were articulated. They were designed with the idea of ‘accommodation’ in the built environment, not with design stewardship at the forefront.  Factoring in code standards is a good start, but because the principles of design are not integrated at the beginning of the design process, operating this way falls short in a myriad of ways and becomes costly to integrate after the fact. That affects people with disabilities, and businesses’ bottom line. I’ll get to that a little later. 

Some architects might posit that we cannot build to perfection, with the underlying sentiment that “perfection is the enemy of the good”, and that building to code is good enough. But try saying that to someone in a scooter who is in the public space you designed and cannot make a turn from the hallway to access the washroom. Checking the boxes for code doesn’t cut it after the fact, and by that time it’s too late. Designing a space with the idea of ‘accommodation’ as a separate, piecemeal treatment to a built environment is far from ideal. It’s not even good enough. It does not consider most people from the get-go.

Leaving no one behind in accessibility requires design stewardship and not just sticking to what’s been done before, what’s good for some, or what’s good for now. That thinking, and that way of building, leaves out most people with disabilities and it needs to go the way of the flip phone. 

Instead, let’s design spaces that truly work well for everyone. Let’s change not just carpets, but how we approach accessibility, diversity, and design differently how we relate to each other. It’s a fundamental change for the better in how we use and move through spaces, leaving no one behind, while promoting active and healthy communities.

4. Think Human (Centered Design Approach)

If building to code doesn’t cut it, what does? Universal Design comes close.

Human-Centered Design goes one step beyond Universal Design, by engaging people with diverse lived experiences into the design process. Human-Centered Design is premised on the understanding that for design to truly serve the people it proclaims to serve, the design needs to be informed by research and interactions with real users, in addition to the traditional processes of evaluating and auditing existing products and facilities. 

That’s because we are human, and as such, our individual understanding is subjective and fragmented. Every person is limited in what they know. Each one of us perceives issues from our own perspective. and until diverse opinions and experiences are invited into the design processes, people will never know what they do not know. That’s why we need to figure things out together. 

The lived experiences of neurodiverse people and persons with disabilities — the nuances of barriers that we experience in everyday life — cannot be understood through empathy, theory, or the adherence to regulatory checkboxes alone. In accessible design, a human-centered approach regards people with disabilities not only as end users, but as drivers of design. That means people with disabilities must be integrated into key decision-making processes within a project cycle.

5. Drive design differently.

To improve how we approach accessibility, we need a fundamental shift. Factoring a range of perspectives builds synergies and drives design that works for everyone.

But there’s more to it than that. Think about public washrooms, for example. We can do better than making a few of the washrooms accessible. It’s about making all stalls functional for everyone. Designing healthy, active communities from the ground up will make a difference to everyone’s quality of life, no matter their age, ability, or life circumstance.

We are at the threshold of a massive opportunity for leadership. Let’s expand our thinking. Canada can maximize the flexibility and robustness of our guidelines, and step up to be positioned as an international leader in accessibility.

To do that, we must be willing to go above and beyond compliance to the traditional confines of regulatory standards. We have to transcend the systems that inadvertently label and disable people. Human-Centered Design destigmatizes disability and other diversities by finding shared commonalities. Instead of reaffirming disability by designing through code compliance and accommodation, let’s envision opportunities to enrich our social fabric, considering the entire ecosystem.

Architects and policy makers, I urge you to design differently, and make accessibility integral in your work. Factor in accessibility consultants and people with lived experiences of disabilities as part of early design processes of new builds and retrofits. You’ll be better positioned to envision not only what accessible design looks like, but what equitable and integrated design for all will mean for future generations.

You won’t know what you don’t know about accessibility — until you do.

What is at stake? 

What can happen when we don’t approach accessibility in depth? 

If we don’t consider the big picture, and recognize accessibility as integral to design from start to finish, we’re not just impacting the lives of people of all ages, abilities, and community groups. We’re also closing the door on opportunity and potential for active, healthy cities. 

And beyond the opportunity cost, failure to factor in accessibility and accessibility consultants can result in millions of dollars in losses to businesses’ bottom lines. One recent example is the San Francisco 49ers football stadium class action lawsuit. It’s something we can learn from.

Contribute to Change on #GivingTuesday

From an increased gender gap in the labour market, to ongoing violence against Black and Indigenous communities, to the disproportionate impact of COVID-19, 2020 has highlighted a need for systemic change across multiple industries and institutions. 

As we reflect on the events of the past few months, we can’t help but be amazed by the women and change-makers who continue to lead, demand justice, and develop solutions to challenge barriers and pave new pathways for change, especially in the social impact sector. From supporting child survivors of sexual abuse to fighting voter suppression, here are 10 Canada and U.S.-based organizations that are making a difference and fighting for justice.

We encourage you to learn more about their work, and make a donation toward the mission this #GivingTuesday.

Organizations in Canada

Developing Young Leaders of Tomorrow Today (DYLOTT)

Founded by 2020 Top 25 Women of Influence award recipient Candies Kotchapaw, DYLOTT is a leadership incubator that delivers a variety of youth programs intentionally designed to ensure young Black leaders have the tools to excel in the current and emerging Canadian and International job market. Their programs are designed to address barriers to social inclusion in employment, education and the broader social context.

Little Warriors

Little Warriors is a Canadian charitable organization focused on the awareness, prevention and treatment of child sexual abuse. It was founded by Glori Meldrum, a two-time RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards Social Change Finalist. Little Warriors raises awareness and provides information about child sexual abuse and advocates for and with child suvivors of sexual abuse to ensure the rights, needs and interests of children are respected and protected.

G(irls)20

Launched in 2009 at the Clinton Global Initiative, G(irls)20 places young women at the centre of the decision making process. They envision a world in which girls and women are able to participate fully in the economic growth, political stability and social innovations of their countries.

Assembly of Seven Generations (A7G)

A7G is an Indigenous owned and youth-led non-profit organization focused on cultural support and empowerment programs/policies for Indigenous youth, while being led by traditional knowledge and Elder guidance. A7G offers a wide range of resources and activities that aim to build community for Indigenous youth in Ottawa, including language drop-ins, land-based activities like berry picking, and conversations on topics such as toxic masculinity and whiteness, that advance liberation and fight oppression.

Girls Action Foundation

Girls Action Foundation provides spaces for girls and young women to speak out, build skills, and take action on issues that are relevant to them and their communities. Through building coalitions and partnerships, they provide leadership and growth opportunities in safe and inclusive spaces.

Children First

Children First Canada has a bold and ambitious vision to make Canada the best place in the world for kids to grow up.They are improving children’s well-being by building greater awareness among Canadians about the urgent needs of kids, and mobilizing government and other key influencers to change the status quo.

Friends of Ruby

Friends of Ruby is dedicated to the progressive well-being of LGBTQI2S youth (aged 16-29) through mental health services, social services, and housing. Their approach is comprehensive, involving mind, body and community.

Organizations in the United States

67 Sueños

67 Sueños works with marginalized undocumented youth and youth from mixed status families affected by high rates of violence, mass incarceration, deportation, and poverty. Using political education, trauma healing, artivism, and introducing them to alternative life changing experiences, 67 Sueños cultivates youth organizing and power building by guiding youth to trust their own process and reframe their stories as a source of power and resistance.

Black Voters Matter

Co-founded by LaTosha Brown, Black Voters Matter Fund aims to increase the influence, power, and representation of Black people through effective policy, and to invest in grassroots Black-led groups in the U.S. 

Trans Lifeline

Trans Lifeline is a grassroots hotline and microgrants non-profit organization offering direct emotional and financial support to trans people in crisis — for the trans community, by the trans community.