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This project is supported by the Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences Undergraduate Research Award (2019) at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan Campus.


Understanding Bathrooms as Sensory Inclusive Public Spaces 

Public bathrooms are complicated spaces that deal with basic and private human functions and rights. While current research is rightly directed at creating gender neutral bathrooms to facilitate greater inclusion, there remains a substantial absence in research on the sensory accessibility of such deeply political spaces (Schmidt 2013; Schwartz 2018). In Canada, disability was first recognized under the Canadian Human Rights Act in 1977 and then in 1986 with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Galer 2015). Today, the Accessible Canada Act addresses situations that “hinder the full and equal participation in society of persons with a physical, mental, intellectual, learning, communication or sensory impairment or a functional limitation” (Government of Canada 2018). As leading anthropologists show, disability “is a fact of life at home and in the public sphere […] that demands anthropological attention as an essential form of human nature" (Ginsburg and Rapp 2013, 63). This Act will ensure that equal opportunity, autonomy, and meaningful involvement in public spaces are protected rights for Canadians of all abilities, including the 3.8 million Canadians who identify as living with a disability (Government of Canada 2018). This fourth-month sensory ethnography project focuses on underrepresented sensory impairments, such as Autism Spectrum Disorder. It captures how anthropology, community engaged, and qualitative social science research produces applied outcomes for sensory accessibility in public spaces today. 

This is a community based project in collaboration with the Okanagan Regional Library as well as the Collaborative and Experimental Ethnography Lab and the Institute for Community Engaged Research based at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan. This research project was conducted under the supervision of Dr. Fiona P. McDonald and Dr. Christine Schreyer from the Faculty of Community, Culture, and Global Studies at UBCO. 


Below you will find the multi-sensory, community engaged, and open access outputs from this project. Additional iterations from this research are currently in development.

Click on the image to open + download the open access community report.

The report below presents the original findings from the qualitative and quantitative data in this project and highlights three key recommendations for the Okanagan Regional Library in response to newly ratified and developing accessibility legislation. For the Province of British Columbia, these developments include responding to the federal Accessible Canada Act with proposed legislation Bill M219 Accessible Act. This provincial legislation plans to create a barrier-free province by 2024, which you can read about more by clicking this link. 

Click on the image above to open + download the pdf file of the comprehensive community report or click the link here.

Every effort has been taken to ensure this pdf is assistive technology friendly. 

Click on the video below to play the original ethnographic short film, A Symphony of Automation (2019).

This ethnographic film features the collaborative sound artwork by Madelaine Lekei and Fiona P. McDonald. It was influenced by the work of John Cage and the Fluxes movement. By using automatic features as instruments and collaborators, this film highlights the ways in which objects interact and influence our daily lives. It was created as a component in a multi-sensory installation and now accompanies public presentations of this research.

You are invited to perform this symphony in your own community. The original score is a performative duet to be conducted in public bathrooms using automatic fixtures:

  • One Door (open and close)

  • 2 Flushes

  • One Door (open and close)

  • 3 Pumps of the automatic soap dispenser

  • 4 Triggers of automatic facet —2 seconds each

  • Hand dryer 1 — 5 seconds

  • Hand dryer 2 — 5 seconds


A Symphony of Automation. 2019. Produced by Madelaine Lekei and Dr. Fiona P. McDonald. 


Content Note: The audio does not automatically play because some sounds in the film may be uncomfortable to those with sensory sensitivities. To turn sound on, navigate to the bottom right corner and click the white music symbol. Please use discretion when viewing.

Click on the video below to interact with Madelaine's presentation of this research at the 2019 Undergraduate Research Symposium at UBC Okanagan.

Please click here to open + download a pdf file of the transcript of this presentation. If sound does not automatically play with the video, navigate to the bottom right corner and click the white music symbol.

Click on the image below to open + download the poster of this research.

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Click on the image above to access a pdf file of the poster in the multi-sensory installation that Madelaine presented at the 2019 American Anthropological Association (AAA) and Canadian Anthropology Society (CASCA) joint annual conference in Vancouver, Canada or click the link here.