Everyone knows that life can change in the blink of an eye, but no one expects that it will happen to them.
Julie Sawchuk was a 41-year-old mother of two, wife, high school teacher and farmer of 10 acres near Blyth, ON when that moment happened to her. Just outside of Goderich she was struck from behind by a car while she was training for a triathlon. She was thrown 30 feet into the ditch where, on impact, she sustained multiple injuries including a t4 level spinal cord injury. The result was paralysis from the chest down, and a life changed forever.
Aer spending three months in Parkwood rehabilitation hospital, Julie went home to her family and a 110 year old home. Learning how to deal with a “new” body is not an easy transition, add to that the accessibility challenges of navigating an old farmhouse and you end up with multiple layers of exhaustion.
Analysing the prospects of renovation vs. moving revealed both a complete lack of accessible housing in the area and modication costs that would bring expenses up to almost the same level as constructing a new home on their property.
Aer a serious amount of research and planning Julie and her husband Theo nally came to agreement on the plans for their new home and they spent Christmas of 2018 moving in. What they learned along the way was intense — there is little to no information about building for wheelchair accessibility. Install a ramp and some ugly grab bars, right? Wrong.
Julie spent days driving to see the accessible homes of people she knew (or knew of), used their bathrooms, cooked in their kitchens, parked in their garage…all to learn what worked, what she liked and most importantly what she knew was not going to work. There are thousands of decisions to make when building a home — add the level of complexity that comes with understanding how to build for accessibility and you have enough information to ll a book.
And write a book is exactly what Julie did. Build YOUR Space — how to build an accessible home for you, your family and your future came from the realization that there were no helpful resources out there. Julie did not want all of her learning to just stay in her head; she wanted others to learn from her own experience, which in the end would save them time, money and a lot of frustration.
In Build YOUR Space , Julie shares stories about how they came to decisions about traditional accessibility features (like grab bars) but she also explains how “everyday house decisions”
like windows and doors can be seen through the lens of accessibility. Making those decisions right the rst time saves the need for making changes in the future — no one wants to have to x things because something was not designed or constructed with the end-user in mind. “I don’t know about you, but I like to be able to look out all of my windows.”
Julie has also written Roadmap to Recovery — nding your way forward aer spinal cord injury (available for free from Spinal Cord Injury Ontario) and in January 2021 she will publish Building Better Bathrooms — connecting real stories with the details you need for truly accessible results .
As an accessibility strategist, Julie helps everyone from individual homeowners to large businesses create the accessible spaces they need. “It’s not really a secret — you have to start with the end; what do you want to be able to do in your home?”
Julie’s books, accessible design & construction courses (Building Without Barriers) and blog (Living for Access) are all available on her website www.juliesawchuk.ca . Access Julie’s free Building Better Bathrooms “ultimate toilet checklist” at www.toiletchecklist.juliesawchuk.ca or contact her through email firstname.lastname@example.org .