Access Denied!

by Roxanne Leblanc

When was the last time you, or maybe someone you knew, couldn’t get into a building, or a room, or computer files for that matter?  Did you feel frustrated?  Discouraged? Angry perhaps?

Now imagine living day in and day out not being able to get somewhere, or do something.  A switch or button just out of reach.  A step in the way of getting onto a sidewalk, or into a door.  A pole, tree or garbage bin part way across a path.

For many people, including children, seniors and the disabled, access to the world at large, and sometimes even simply to their local neighborhoods, isn’t always easy.  But it isn’t something most of us notice.   Unless someone’s shown us specific examples,  these barriers are invisible to the ‘average’ person.

An “accessibility audit” can be helpful; a fancy word for checking out a building, a street, trains etc. to see how easy it is for any and ALL people to use them.

Since the Active Neighborhoods Project began 4 years ago, the project team has been doing design work with some communities to make them more walkable and bikeable.   Then we thought it would be useful to look at how easy it is for people in wheelchairs, walkers or strollers, to get around.  So we asked  an individual who’s had lots of experience doing accessibility audits, and also happens to be a wheel chair user, to tour a community and point out some problem areas.  We also brought along a camera, as sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words.

Following are a few examples of what we found.  We even had the chance to talk to a local resident who uses a scooter who had a few suggestions.

#1.      Timing of lights, particularly at intersections on major roads, needs to be long enough to allow people who walk slowly, including children, to get across safely.

#2.      Fences everywhere, many which did not really seem necessary.  Rather than being able to walk across a large area, fences mean pedestrians have to make long detours.

#3.      “Right on red” turns – really dangerous since drivers are often so busy watching for traffic coming from the left they don’t think to check if anyone is walking on the right side of their car.

#4.     Grey on grey curb-cuts, which create problems for individuals with poor vision or people walking at dusk.  Where is that curb cut?

For those of you who prefer visuals, here are a few photos of  a few ‘invisible’ obstacles you’ve probably seen but never really thought about.