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Burnaby’s Accessibility Plan enters community engagement phase

People with disabilities will soon be able to share their feedback on accessibility in the city

Burnaby’s Access Advisory Committee held its last meeting of 2023 on Nov. 29 during which discussions revolved around the upcoming Burnaby Accessibility Plan. Councillors Daniel Tetrault, Maita Santiago and Richard Lee were present as well as several community representatives and staff members. 

Wheelchair user using gym equipment. Photo: City of Burnaby.

Delegates from Urban Matters, a planning and design firm the city has commissioned to help develop Burnaby’s accessibility plan provided an update on the plan’s progress. Melissa Blair, communications consultant, and Sarah Manteuffel, a planner with lived experience with disability were part of the Urban Matters delegation. A second presentation—by Anita Dieter, the city’s marketing and communications strategy manager—discussed the city’s plan to gather feedback from community members with disabilities on the barriers and accessibility issues they experience in Burnaby on a daily basis.

Urban Matters will hold two engagement events as part of its process in creating the new accessibility plan. The first will be on Dec. 8, where a focus group is scheduled for local service providers, and the second will be on Dec. 12, with focus groups and workshops for people living with disabilities in Burnaby. 

The service providers in the first session will use their networks to find people to join the second session and offer feedback. Blair said Urban Matters will also reach out to people with disabilities through an online platform called Curiko, which Blair described as an “Airbnb experience platform” where people with disabilities can post their reviews and information about accessibility in their communities. 

Results will be collated and analyzed after the December workshops and focus groups. In January 2024, the Urban Matters team will develop a preliminary plan, finalize it, and share it with the committee. 

During the meeting, Blair and Manteuffel invited members of the committee to discuss how they feel the City of Burnaby is doing regarding accessibility, the most impactful ways Burnaby can reduce barriers and improve accessibility, the type of barriers the plan needs to address, and if they have seen any other communities outside of Burnaby do good work, engagement, public awareness, or events related to accessibility.

In response to the discussion, resident representative Rachel Goddyn, a family services consultant with the Burnaby Association for Community Inclusion, said Burnaby needs to create a disability-confident culture. She said that one way to promote this type of culture is by having staff with training in the best practices of welcoming people with developmental disabilities and support staff. 

Goddyn gave an example of the successful adoption of a disability-confident culture at Vancouver International Airport (YVR), where the team worked with an autism network to support people with developmental disabilities in Vancouver airports. She added that TransLink also has good training videos for bus drivers on how to welcome persons with developmental disabilities on transit buses. 

Resident representative Odette Brassard spoke next. According to Brossard, what the city does well is that it has been active for several years in improving accessibility and its general attitude is to listen to people and improve conditions based on feedback. In addition, she added that there are acceptable services and activities at community centres and city hall. 

“Where the city loses track of things is the details,” she said. 

Brossard gave an example of including a diaper-changing table in a wheelchair-accessible washroom. In an attempt to be more welcoming for families with small children, the washroom design creates obstacles for wheelchair users or others who cannot remove the diaper table out of their way in order to access the washroom. 

“That kind of level of detail gets lost often. So one of the things I would like to say to the city, for people responsible for architectural changes, is that don’t try to do too much with one space,” Brossard said. 

Brossard also mentioned the lack of outdoor activities for people with disabilities, adding that in Vancouver, she is able to go kayaking as there are options for people with disabilities, but not in Burnaby. She said that one of her pet peeves is the lack of accessible buses to take seniors with disabilities to events. 

“The city organizes fantastic senior citizen outings, but any senior citizen who is physically disabled cannot attend because there are no accessible buses. That’s offensive,” Brossard said.  

Resident representative Mario Gregorio expressed concerns about how Urban Matters intends to contact Burnaby residents to participate in the Dec. 12 focus groups. He mentioned that many people may not have access to Curiko or have disabilities that make it difficult for them to use the platform, or they may not have access to service providers. He asked them whether they could reach people through media or other means. 

The second presentation—by Dieter—discussed gathering community feedback regarding the accessibility plan. She said the city plans to include a dedicated email address and feedback form on its website where people with disabilities can add information about their experiences, areas of the city that have gaps in accessibility, and any barriers they encounter in their daily lives in the built environment. They will also add a dedicated phone number that people can call to let the city know about the barriers they face. 

The city will start seeking feedback on the accessibility plan and any obstacles in alignment with the Accessible British Columbia Act. The channels they will use to promote the email and contact form will be CityConnect eNews, social media, and a media release. 

They also plan to gather feedback through community organizations like the Burnaby Association for Community Inclusion. The forms, email address and phone number will soon be available on the city’s website.

This piece was made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.

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