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We spoke to Darby Lee Young—one of Canada’s Top 40 Under 40, a Top 25 Women of Influence recipient and the namesake of a Fluevog shoe—about her vision for inclusive environments.

As told to Ximena González

Illustration by Julia Mercanti

“You never know if you can be part of a project unless you ask. [Entrepreneurs] have to understand that there are going to be ‘nos’ along the way, but sooner or later those ‘nos’ will turn into ‘yeses.’”


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As a born-and-raised Calgarian with cerebral palsy, I’ve always experienced barriers in enjoying the city’s amenities with my friends and family. The built environment is not designed for people like me, who require ease of access, so I decided to do something about it.

In 2015, I founded Level Playing Field, an accessibility consulting firm where I make use of my personal experience to design inclusive spaces for people of all abilities. My disability gives me first-hand insight into the intricacies of universal access. Paying attention to the small details of how we use a space is what allows people like me to get around comfortably and safely—and complying with building code requirements is not enough.

By taking a holistic approach with our work at Level Playing Field, we ensure that everyone has the freedom and ability to enter a space and feel welcome, whether they have a disability or not. After all, anyone who is able-bodied is only temporarily so. To do this, it’s essential that our input be considered at the concept design phase. Finding accessible solutions when a design has been completed—or, worse, already built—is not only costly; it also limits our ability to successfully deliver equal opportunities to access.

Accessibility is more than just ticking a box. For those of us with a disability of any kind, everywhere we go, we must consider the grade of a building’s access ramp, the location of a door’s push button, the size of washroom stalls, the height of countertops and even the availability of safe emergency exits.

For this reason, a key aspect of my practice is reframing accessibility as a right rather than a special consideration. People with disabilities should be treated as equal members of society, not just accommodated.

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