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Squamish's new Westwinds aims to be an example of accessibility

Each aspect of the new seniors’ housing complex was designed with accessibility in mind, says the executive director.

It starts with accessible parking spots right out front of the building.

When Mike Haley helped move his sister into the new Polygon Westwinds seniors' residence on Third Avenue in April, he was impressed with how accessible the whole complex was — from the parking lot through to the bathroom in the unit. 

This is high praise from Haley, who is not just a helpful brother; he also sits on the Squamish Accessibility Advisory Committee

On top of that, he thinks about accessibility for a living. He's a senior home safety specialist with Scott Construction. 

Haley says Westwinds can serve as an example for other builds in our ever-expanding town.

Canada's population is aging, and thus, accessibility issues will likely be an increasing priority for many. 

According to Government of Canada stats, in 2012, about one in seven Canadians was a senior; by 2030, that number will be nearly one in four.

What the Westwinds gets right

Moving from outside the building and into the underground parking garage, there is ample room for the residents of all 232 units to park their power mobility scooters — or their mountain bikes. 

Next, the doors into the lobby of the building are on a timer that allows seniors a bit more time to make their way in.

The exact length of time came with trial and error, says Laura Modray, executive director of the Squamish Senior Citizens Home Society, which operates the retirement home. 

"One of our residents is in a wheelchair, and he had a problem. By the time he swung around, hitting the button and then swung around and got through — it was close," she recalled. 

"He needed a couple more seconds." 

And so the timer was adjusted.

Haley said a change like that makes a "huge" difference for folks with mobility issues.

The wide hallways are also easier to navigate for people who use wheelchairs. 

"When we built Westwinds, our goal was to make all the units fully adaptable," said Modray, of the independent living facility.

"Adaptable means that a person can be on a walker, and they can do a circle."

The inclusion of animals may not be something that springs to mind as accessibility, but the building also allows pets. 

"We recognize the value of having a companion pet — the benefits outweigh the negatives," Modray said, noting mental health is improved by having a pet

The building has dedicated space that will be used for, among other activities, the neuro-rehab program.

Perhaps Westwinds' most prominent and dare-we-say fun accessibility feature is the colour-coded images and matching floors. 

"There's wayfinding — every floor has a different colour code," Modray explained. 

It is a bit like on BCFerries, where each ship level has an animal associated, so travellers remember where they left their car.

At Westwinds, Squamish artist Liesl Petersen created murals for each floor that include an eagle, orca and elk. 

The colour of the mural matches the carpeting and theme of its particular storey of the building.

Thus, residents can more easily find their units. 

The hallway lights also come on as people move down them, so that it is always easy to see clearly.

There is also a little shelf outside each unit that residents can personalize. Some have flowers. Others have pictures or knick-knacks. 

Turning to the apartments, eight are fully accessible for those who use wheelchairs.

The washrooms in all the units are very large and decked out with several accessibility features. 

Modray says she jokes that they could probably fit 25 people into each unit's washroom. 

(On The Squamish Chief's visit, three people could fit and still socially distance.)

"The bathroom is the place where most accidents happen with seniors," Modray said. " So we put a lot of time and effort into the bathrooms."

There are grab bars at the toilet and a seat in the shower/tub.

The flooring in the bathroom is a non-slip material. 

Outlets throughout the units are higher so folks do not have to bend down so far and so they can be reached from a wheelchair. 

The unit doors also have a lower and higher peephole to accommodate for the same reason.

Decks off the units are large, with lots of room for wheelchairs or walkers. 

"The whole idea of everything about these units is that we want people to age in place," said Modray, noting that rooms are hard to come by in most long-term care facilities, and many people want to remain in their own homes.

Though it is an independent living facility, if residents eventually have some health or mobility challenges, they can have homecare help and remain at Westwinds for their whole lives.

On common ground

In the sprawling outdoor common area on the grounds of Westwinds are many garden boxes for residents, including four raised garden beds for gardeners who use wheelchairs. 

The area has paths wide enough for folks using mobility aids, and there are areas for barbecuing, games and socializing. 

Though not directly related to accessibility, Westwinds also has three furnished units that can be rented out for by residents to accommodate visitors, allowing them to have company in the same building.

Find out more about the facility by following Squamish Senior Living on Facebook.


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