Blyth's Sawchuk pens new book on accessible bathroom design
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
Blyth’s Julie Sawchuk has released her next book on accessible building design – officially launching it on March 10 live from Blyth Cowbell Brewing Company – this time focusing on bathrooms.
She launched her book virtually, live from the brewery’s bathroom, which she says is one of the most accessible in the county. The launch included her two co-authors, Samantha Proulx and Jane Vorbrodt, and several other interested parties, including a representative from the Rick Hansen Foundation, for which Sawchuk is a certified ambassador.
Sawchuk, who has already penned one successful book on accessible home design, began work on Building Better Bathrooms in late 2019 after attending a conference in Vancouver and meeting the two women who would eventually become her co-authors on the project.
They spoke about accessible bathroom design as being another blind spot in accessible building design. After going back and forth about it for a while, they decided they should do something about it and set about writing a pamphlet on accessible bathroom design together.
Not long after they got started, however, did it become clear that what they were producing would be far more robust than any pamphlet and that they had committed to writing a book together.
The bathroom, Sawchuk said, is the most important room in the house when it comes to accessible design. Whether in a home, a business or a community centre, the accessibility of the bathroom determines how long someone with a disability can be in the building.
She said that the information available to contractors and architects is all related to the Ontario Building Code. Not only does the code not explain “the why” behind accessible design, but it also sets the lowest bar for an acceptable home. Instead of inching ahead of that bar, Sawchuk said, we should be standing on the bar and reaching upwards, always trying to do better.
“The why” of accessible design, Sawchuk said, is the most important aspect of it and really a driving force behind the work she’s doing.
By not being so formal, like the Ontario Building Code, Sawchuk and her co-authors are able to be anecdotal about bathroom design and explain why something needs to be placed where it’s placed or why it has to be as high as it is.
That understanding, she said, is crucial to changing minds and implanting the basics of accessible design into the minds of those who are building homes and buildings. If they understand why the Ontario Building Code is telling them they need to do something, they can then be creative and seek to improve upon it, making life better for those who need accessible washrooms and other building features.
Once the trio began working on the project, they aimed for publication in December of 2020. Sawchuk said the COVID-19 pandemic actually didn’t hinder the process very much, as the three authors would have had to meet remotely anyway, with Proulx based in Calgary and Vorbrodt in Vancouver.
However, what delayed publication was actually ensuring that its contents were applicable in the real world.
As Sawchuk worked with Gary Rutledge on an accessible suite in his subdivision at the north end of Blyth, she began applying the information the three women had gathered for the book.
She tried to apply that information to the project, but then found it needed tweaking here or there. Practically applying the principles, she said, was the best thing for the book as she was able to find out what worked and what didn’t. She was then able to hone the information and ensure it would be helpful to those reading it.
That final step was so important, Sawchuk said, and soon enough the book was ready to be published.
The other change she made rather late in the process, she said, was to go back and inject some personal stories, anecdotes and “uncomfortable conversations” into the book, making it personal. Once her husband told her that’s what he thought was missing, she agreed. It now plays such a crucial role in the book that it’s how the book begins.
It is now available as an e-book and has already seen success on Amazon. It is available in print as well, she said, with the printing being done by Blyth Printing. She is proud to have the book produced right in her home community.
While Sawchuk doesn’t have a new book project on the go just yet, her next initiative will be to connect with design and construction students locally, hoping to get her guidelines in their hands. If she can influence teenaged students and get them thinking about accessible design now, she said it could help change the world of home and building design for years to come.
She has already reached out to the specialist high skills majors programs at local high schools, which is where she plans to start and hopefully expand her reach from there.
For more information on Sawchuk and her writings, visit juliesawchuk.ca.