Tyrone Burke, March 8, 2021
Photo credit: Luther Caverly, file photos

Canada Foundation for Innovation funding for Abilities Living Laboratory will enable academic researchers and community partners to co-create accessibility solutions

When COVID-19 lockdowns closed theatres and cancelled concerts, it gave many Canadians their first taste of what it’s like to live in a city without entertainment options. But people with disabilities have always had much more limited access to cultural events.

Adrian Chan is working to change that. Chan is leading the creation of the Abilities Living Laboratory (ALL), a new, collaborative lab space that is partly funded through a $2.37 million grant from the Canada Foundation for Innovation. ALL will make it easier for academic researchers and community partners to develop products that directly address accessibility challenges.

“One of our main themes will be cultural life, recreation, leisure, and sport,” says Chan, a Professor in the Department of Systems and Computer Engineering and the Director of Research and Education in Accessibility, Design, and Innovation (READi).

“When people think about accessibility, it can be very utilitarian. Can you cook, eat, or wash yourself? But that’s not a life. We want to look at all aspects of life — participation in art, culture, music and sport.”

ALL’s two other research themes will explore solutions in personal mobility and rehabilitation, and accessibility and inclusion in public life. The research program aligns with the aims of the United Nations Convention on Persons with Disabilities, and will bring together a multidisciplinary team of researchers with expertise in science, engineering, design, health, social sciences, and the humanities.

The new facility will be housed in the ARISE building, and will be a space where researchers from Carleton and the University of Ottawa can co-create and prototype with community partners who bring expertise that includes lived experience. Flexible and adaptable test environments will allow the creation of mock-ups to optimize the contexts in which new technologies are being tested.

ALL also helps solve a persistent problem. Many university labs are full of equipment, and are not very accessible.

“Engineering labs can be difficult to physically navigate, and most are not spaces where community partners can come in and collaborate,” says Chan.

“But when we do research in the community, we do not have control over the environments that we work in. At a hospital, we can’t just start changing stuff. The Abilities Living Lab will be a type of in-between space — a bridge between bench-top lab research and research in the community. It provides us with a space to explore, prototype, iterate and co-create. It will be place where community partners can be active participants in the research process, including individuals with disabilities.”

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