April 29, 2012

if you build it, they will come: making co-working spaces accessible

catherine @ 11:03 pm

Co-working spaces are becoming increasingly popular all over the world, as this recent Globe & Mail article explains. Montreal has certainly been one of the pioneers in this growing trend, with the opening of its first co-working space in 2007, Station C, and more popping up since.

Co-working spaces are a great way for freelancers or small firms to have access to office space or office equipment with less administrative hassle, or a place to hold meetings or events. I have attended events in a couple of these spaces over the years, most notably at Notman House, the heritage building on Sherbrooke street near Saint-Laurent. Notman House is a beautiful old run-down building and, like other co-working spaces, a lot of geeks hold hackfests there and some IT orgs like to hold meetings there because, well, it is usually free as in beer (or at least more affordable than the alternatives).

Unfortunately, all the co-working spaces I am aware of are not accessible to people with disabilities, especially those with mobility impairments. So not only are these spaces not able to accommodate people with disabilities who freelance or work for virtual firms and need a place to work but they are left out of all the cool geeky events that are happening, it would seem, ALL THE TIME in Montreal.

Now I know that this exclusion is not intentional. There are a lot of plausible reasons for the inaccessibility of these spaces: lack of awareness, lack of knowledge, poor planning or poor advice and design from those who provide that type of expertise, limited funds or building prospects, etc. So hey, all you co-working spaces administrators or owners, do not take this personally, do not think for a minute that I am pointing fingers or groundlessly criticizing. I am not.

The point of this post is to make people who are thinking about opening co-working spaces, thinking of renovating these spaces or, due to growing needs, thinking of relocating, to consider incorporating accessibility as an important aspect of the choices they make.

Sure, you may not think there is a real need or that the number of people with disabilities is negligible and not worth the effort or the investment. But, as Dylan famously put it, “the times, they are a-changing”.

Indeed, people with disabilities are becoming increasingly educated and “hireable” and creative and economically relevant. I personally know some awesome programmers with disabilities that would be a real asset to the Montreal tech scene.

So lets give them the opportunity to contribute. Lets be pioneers once more and make co-working spaces inclusive to everyone. And let me know how I can help.

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