Local couple discovers big market for accessible renovations

Construction expertise is what you want when you hire a contractor for that bathroom renovation, but one Ottawa company brings yet another skillset to the table. 

BuildAble specializes in accessible renovations and its co-founder, Kyla Cullain, is a clinical nurse specialist as well as an entrepreneur. 

”The biggest difference from us and a regular construction company is we have far more knowledge regarding people who are living with disabilities, people who are living with chronic illness or who’ve had serious injuries like a car accident or something like that,” says Cullain’s life and business partner, Sean MacGinnis, president and co-founder of BuildAble.

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The company positions itself as a “nurse-managed” construction firm that brings a health-care perspective to renovations. This approach includes regular in-house health-related workshops for carpenters, as well as tailoring plans to a client’s needs. 

Cullain says her nursing expertise helps integrate care for people into a project because she is able to anticipate how a disease or condition may progress. 

“We can actually go, ‘Okay, this is where you’re at right now. We know that things may change. So, here’s what we can do in the meantime to make some plans for the long term,’” she explains. 

MacGinnis says specializing in accessibility felt risky at first, but the market turned out to be a big one. He notes that one in five people in Canada are living with a disability, visible or not.  

“We were sort of nervous going in, not quite sure what it was, how demand was going to unfold. We went in with two feet and decided that we’re only going to do accessibility and we really were received quite well by people living in Ottawa,” he says.

MacGinnis says 80 per cent of the firm’s clients are people aged 30 to 50 who have either been diagnosed with a disease that impacts mobility or have a child with mobility issues. Multiple sclerosis, which is common in Canada and usually diagnosed before age 50, is a common example. Although, MacGinnis adds, they did receive a lot of requests related to aging in place in the early days of the pandemic. 

Modifications to existing homes, especially bathrooms, are the firm’s most common renovation. Cullain says ensuring the new space feels like a home rather than a hospital or institution has been key to success. 

“There’s so many cool products on the market now that you would never know are actual support, like those designer grab bars and all these other types of designer supports that we have now that you would never know are mobility aids in the bathroom or elsewhere,” she says. 

Carpenter Dan Charette joined the company as a third business partner in 2016.

BuildAble currently has a staff of 17. 

Cullain won a WBN Business Woman of the Year Award in the emerging entrepreneur category in 2017 and an Alumni of Distinction Award Health Sciences from Algonquin College the following year. The firm was named a company to watch by the West Ottawa Board of Trade and recognized with an accessibility award from the City of Ottawa and Citizen Advocacy. 

MacGinnis, who previously worked as an elevator mechanic, says the business partnership with Cullain was a natural fit. 

“We actually had been looking to do a project together and this one really made the most sense. Obviously, the health-care perspective is pretty obvious, but even myself working in elevators, without sort of really realizing it, I’ve been involved in accessibility my whole career as an elevator mechanic,” he says. The couple has been working together for a decade.

“And it hasn’t resulted in divorce!” Cullain adds. 

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