Putting the very people who cannot access a space at the heart of the process to revitalize it: that was the bold and rewarding gamble by the administrators of the Alexis Nihon Complex in Montréal. Indeed, the aim of the RehabMALL renovation project was to transform a conventional mall into an example of inclusive design that inspires people around the world. And it consisted in much more than just a refresh.

Eva Kehayia, professor at the School of Physical & Occupational Therapy at McGill University, and Bonnie Swaine, director of the School of Rehabilitation at Université de Montréal, saw the renovations announced by FPI Cominar as an opportunity to lead a cutting-edge initiative to make the mall inclusive and accessible to everyone. In addition to inviting administrators, retail stores and customers to the table, the co-scientific directors of the Centre de recherche interdisciplinaire en réadaptation du Montréal métropolitain (CRIR) sought to consult the disabled individuals who couldn’t access the space.

“In some cases, they plan where to put the push buttons for the doors and that’s about it. At Alexis Nihon, there was a before, during and after. The approach enabled us to do something concrete that would be here to stay,” said projet contributor Isabelle Ducharme, chair of the board of directors of Kéroul, a non-profit organization that makes tourism and culture accessible to people with restricted physical ability.

More than 60 research projects were carried out in the Place Alexis Nihon living laboratory as part of the RehabMALL initiative. New access ramps, a family elevator and washrooms, surfaces to absorb noises that could disturb shoppers on the autism spectrum and less glare for people with visual impairments are among the enhancements that make Alexis Nihon an inclusive retail space. And all the hard work paid off since the research team noted a 6 to 23% increase in the number of users with reduced mobility.

Alexis Nihon : un centre commercial aménagé par la clientèle handicapée et des scientifiques – Québec Science (quebecscience.qc.ca)

Portrait du Laboratoire vivant en réadaptation au centre commercial