Darby Lee Young knows about barriers. She also knows how to overcome them.
Born with mild cerebral palsy, she encounters barriers every day and has long been a champion for accessibility for people of all abilities.
A former member of Canada’s national para-alpine ski team, she is not one to let physical limitations define or stop her, but accessibility roadblocks can undermine the simplest daily tasks.
“The minute there’s a barrier, my independence is gone,” says Darby, voicing a sobering thought for anyone who breezes through their day with no sense of the many impediments people with disabilities face. But accessibility is about more than ramps and automatic doors, she says. It’s about creating spaces that everyone can use.
“Accessibility isn’t just for people who use wheelchairs; it’s for anyone who faces obstacles in their daily lives, whether it’s someone with hearing or vision loss, or even parents with strollers,” Darby says. “Disabilities are diverse and impact different people in different ways.”
A longtime volunteer with the Cerebral Palsy Association in addition to sports and community groups, her advocacy for accessibility runs deep, including a five-year stint on the City of Calgary’s Accessibility Committee, two of them as chair.
Her efforts mirror a deeper battle over inclusion. “I’m fighting to educate people and instill more understanding about inclusivity,” she says. “‘Disabled’ does not equal ‘second-class citizen.’”
Early in 2016 she launched Level Playing Field, a consulting firm that works with clients to incorporate universal design principles into their projects and buildings, to create spaces that are accessible to everyone in the community. And in July 2017, Darby’s was named to the Premier’s Council on the Status of Persons with Disabilities.
One of Level Playing Field’s clients is the Calgary itself, with City Council launching an initiative to make the city a national leader in accessibility.
“Our goal is literally to ‘level the playing field’ so that all spaces and places are accessible every day and everywhere to every single person, regardless of ability or disability.”