Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Crowd-sourcing event to expand map on Ottawa’s level accessibility

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A 2023 study said 53 per cent of Ottawa locations surveyed were considered accessible. The Parliamentary precinct, however, was an exception, ranking below average.

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Planning a night on the town can be a chore for anyone. What restaurant? What movie? Where to park?

That’s especially true for couples like Sam Graham and Madeline Turriff, who must also consider whether Sam’s wheelchair can be accommodated.

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“Any time that Madeline and I are thinking of doing an activity, we can’t just pick up and go like some folks can,” said Graham, who has cerebral palsy and works as the disability co-ordinator at Carleton University, helping students with accommodation needs.

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“We usually have to phone ahead and ask what kind of accessibility features are available. There’s always more planning that has to go into it.”

That planning has been made easier thanks to a free app, AccessNow, that rates businesses and destinations on how well they accommodate people with accessibility needs. On Sunday, Graham and Turriff are leading a crowd-sourced “map mission” to expand AccessNow’s coverage in Ottawa.

The app puts accessibility information, literally, into the palm of their hands.

“Before I used AccessNow, I’d go on Google maps and use Streetview to look at the entrance and think, ‘Is that accessible?’” Turriff said. “It was a lot more work to do things. That’s why AccessNow is so good. People will post pictures on it of the entrance. They’ll post pictures of the washroom. We can look and say, ‘Yes, this looks doable for us.’”

Founded in Toronto in 2016, AccessNow has coverage in 35 countries. Ottawa was one of three Canadian cities, along with Calgary and Vancouver, highlighted in a 2023 study of accessibility. The national capital ranked first among the three with 53 per cent of the locations surveyed considered accessible. The Parliamentary precinct, however, was an exception, ranking below average.

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“I don’t think there’ll ever be a point where we can say, ‘We’re 100 per cent accessible,’” Graham said. “Accessibility is always changing, and it depends on the individual. It isn’t something you can put in a box and check off. Improvements always coming, and things like historic buildings can be tough to make accessible.”

Accessibility is more than just putting in wheelchair ramps. AccessNow users can also rate things like lighting, audio services for the deaf or hard-of-hearing, or Braille signage for the visually impaired.

Turriff lives with the “invisible disabilities” of ADHD and PTSD.

“With my disabilities, I find super-crowded spaces difficult,” she said. “You can rate that in the app. I prefer dim lighting. But it’s very subjective, so what works for me might not work for someone else. Bright lights might be better for someone with a visual impairment.”

It’s that lived experienced that AccessNow wants to tap into with Sunday’s map mission.

“The idea is for the community to come out and map together,” Graham said. “But you can also just download the app and go about your own community and map your favourite businesses. You can be in Barrhaven, Kanata or Orléans. You’re only expected to comment on your own personal experience. I can rate it on my experience as a wheelchair user with cerebral palsy. Use your own experience. Don’t try to comment on what you think someone else’s experience would be.”

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Business owners are generally receptive, and, because the app can be updated by anyone, new information can always be added, with improvement — or setbacks — noted.

“A lot of business owners want to hear the feedback on their business’s accessibility,” Graham said. “Whenever I hear someone comment on the cost of making something accessible, I say, for people with disabilities, our money spends the same way. It’s a good business decision to be as inclusive as possible.”

To join the AccessNow map mission — and all are welcome — meet outside the Horticultural Pavilion at Lansdowne Park at 11 a.m. on Sunday, March 24. The mission will run until 3 p.m. The AccessNow app is available for free from both Google and Apple.

“The best way to make a difference is to come out and map and be a part of it,” Graham said. “Be a part of the movement.”

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