How can Burnaby improve accessibility in public parks?
One resident says the city can start by simply listening to the issues raised by its residents.
This is a companion piece to Thursday’s feature story on who gets to make decisions on accessibility.
If you look at a parks and recreation facility in the city and don’t see people with disabilities, it’s not because there aren’t people with disabilities living in the area, according to a local resident.
“It’s because they’re not accessible,” said Dr. Jennifer Baumbusch, an associate professor of nursing at UBC who lives in Burnaby.
Baumbusch is hard of hearing and her daughter has physical and intellectual disabilities, and her research work focuses on seniors and people with disabilities.
“I think the first step for the city and parks and recreation is to be open to feedback from citizens. Because I have, on many occasions, given feedback and put in requests around accessibility, particularly around facilities and pool facilities, and really have not had a great response,” she said.
“Oftentimes, the response has been, ‘You’re the first person to ever ask about this.’”
That response, she said, is “absolutely invalidating” of her family’s experience.
“It also undermines your belief that this is inaccessible, right? ‘Well, if I’m the very first person, is it something wrong with me that I think this isn’t ok?’” Baumbusch said.
She pointed to the example of MacPherson pool, which is used by local schools’ PE classes in May and June but doesn’t have a lift to help disabled children get in and out of the pool.
“[That] means that a student who has physical disabilities and needs a lift, can’t participate in PE the same way as other students,” Baumbusch said.
“You just become invisible.”
Baumbusch’s child uses lifts to get in and out of pools, but Central Park is the only outdoor pool in Burnaby that has that kind of equipment. And she said the city has often simply suggested that she go to the outdoor pool that does have a lift.
“Well, that’s not my community outdoor pool. Why should we have such limited access to a public facility?” Baumbusch said. “And that’s sort of where it ends. Like, ‘We have 1 place; the lift works sometimes. You can go there.’ You feel very excluded from using the facilities.”
Distracting from local concerns
When the city was creating Willingdon Heights Park, Baumbusch said she and a number of other families gave feedback that it needs accessible washrooms. But when the park was finalized, there were no accessible washrooms.
“I was told, ‘Well, there are washrooms in Confed[eration] Park, and there’s washrooms at Brentwood, and this is now an urban trail, so it doesn’t require bathrooms,” Baumbusch said.
Baumbusch said she feels like the city now relying on the Rick Hansen Foundation’s certification program—requiring all bidders on requests for proposals related to parks facilities to have RHF training—doesn’t address the issues she and others have brought up.
And she said the city has a wealth of information that can be drawn from the local community.
“I feel like this is not getting at the underlying issues around how the city takes up accessibility in parks and recreation and that this is a distraction, to a certain extent, from the issues that have been raised by people who live here around accessibility issues in the existing facilities,” Baumbusch said.
“I’m concerned that if they say, ‘OK, well this particular certification is going to make it all OK,’ that [there] will be even less opportunities for citizens to have input down the road.”
The city did not respond to a request for comment.
Intersectionality is key
Accessibility needs to be intersectional, said Gabrielle Peters, a disabled writer and policy analyst, and that means including a wide variety of marginalized people in the process. It also means including community consultations as well as accessibility experts in developing enforceable standards.
It means working with women and men; children and seniors; Black, Indigenous and people of colour; people experiencing poverty; people who use drugs; unhoused people—put more simply, a wide variety of lived experiences need to be included in that process.
And while taking out the tape measure and looking at the height of the bed in a hotel room or measuring the gradient of a slope are important aspects of accessibility, Peters said the issue is largely one of mindsets.
And focusing on the spinal cord injury aspect of disabilities, as Peters and others who spoke to Burnaby Beacon said Rick Hansen Foundation does, creates another hierarchy of accessibility—only, instead of prioritizing only those without disabilities in built environment design, it also prioritizes wheelchair users.
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