Accessible City Design

By Eden Beschen 
Social Connectedness Fellow 2018

Every year, The Economist publishes a report ranking the ‘liveability’ of cities worldwide – assessing which locations around the world have the best and worst living conditions. Based on research undertaken by The Economist Intelligence Unit, The Global Liveability Report scores cities based on five indicators:

  1. Stability
  2. Healthcare
  3. Culture & Environment
  4. Education
  5. Infrastructure

Melbourne, Australia has held the number one spot for the past several years followed by Vienna, Vancouver, Toronto and Calgary and Adelaide who have tied for 5th place. After careful analysis, it became apparent that this seemingly diverse and in depth report does not take one critical factor into account: accessibility. As comprehensive as it may be, the report does not examine how livable cities may be for people with disabilities. What exactly has to transpire in order for the lives of people with disabilities to be considered alongside the lives of those without?

In 2016, the Canadian government consulted citizens across the country to aid in the creation of new accessibility legislation. Their findings resulted in identifying various barriers and challenges to fostering accessibility for all:

  • Negative attitudes or beliefs about what a person with a disability can or cannot do;
  • Buildings and spaces that cannot be accessed or are not easy to navigate;
  • Information that is difficult or impossible to access, read or understand either due to technology or the way it is presented;
  • Computers, equipment and web applications that are difficult or impossible to use; and
  • Rules and practices that leave individuals out.

Upon review of these barriers, it is clear these challenges are severely limiting an individual’s ability to connect with one another. Accessibility and social connectedness are deeply intertwined. Physical accessibility helps facilitate social connectedness. Negative attitudes, discriminating policies and practices surrounding people with disabilities may effectively exclude them from participation in various aspects of life, resulting in greater isolation.

However, individuals living with disabilities are taking matters into their own hands. Under the motto of ‘nothing about us without us’, changes are being made and led by the disability community. In the fight for physical accessibility, there are people like Luke Anderson, the founder of The StopGap Foundation, a non-profit in Toronto devoted to installing ramps for business owners to help foster barrier free spaces. After a spinal cord injury left him partially paralyzed, Luke found himself unable to access, by his estimates, about ⅔ of Toronto. With this new reality, Luke and the StopGab Foundation are aiming to “create a world where every person can access every space [as] a world free of barriers would help give everyone the opportunity to live a full life of independence, spontaneity, and ultimately fulfillment.

Also founded in Toronto by Maayan Ziv, an individual living with muscular dystrophy, AccessNow is an app that uses crowdsourcing to pinpoint accessible spaces worldwide by looking at different accessibility features. Being used in 35 countries, the app marks accessible spots with a green pin, partially accessible spots with a yellow pin, patio access only locations with an orange pin and those that are not accessible with a red pin, with 24,188 places having been identified with the above legend. In this video, Maayan speaks to her daily challenges of going out with friends; “is [the space] accessible?”. She discusses that you can literally find any other information about a place online besides the simple fact of it being accessible to all. Out of this need, she decided to create AccessNow with the mission of not only sharing accessibility information around the world but looking at ways to create access where there currently is none.   

Luke Anderson and Maayan Ziv are just two examples of people living with disabilities who are working towards amending a problem they and others face every day. Limited accessibility is resulting in isolation as people feel “othered” due to the physical world not being built for all types of individuals. Platforms like Access Now, global in reach and utilizing crowdsourced data, can not only help its users, but be integrated into research like the Global Liveability Report. In order to have a connected world we must work harder to ensure inclusion for all – not just those without disabilities.