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City needs to address disability stigma, attitudinal, physical barriers: public engagement shows

The surveys, focus groups, and workshops by consulting firm Urban Matters revealed barriers throughout the city

At the city’s Access Advisory Committee’s meeting on May 30, Urban Matters communications consultant Melissa Blair presented the results of the firm’s various engagement efforts earlier this year. The results identified barriers and accessibility issues in six key areas: built environment, information and communication, programs and services, procurement and customer service, transportation, and employment. 

Consulting firm Urban Matters is currently developing Burnaby’s accessibility plan. In January, the firm organized several engagement events with members the public and disability service providers to identify barriers within the city. It will use the results of these conversations in developing the draft plan, which will come back to council later this summer. 

The City of Burnaby’s Access Advisory Committee. Back row L-R: Coun. Maita Santiago, Coun. Daniel Tetrault, Coun. Richard T. Lee. Front row L-R: Rod Bitz, Karim Danani, Marco Gregorio, Rachel Goddyn, Odette Brassard. Photo: City of Burnaby

As part of its engagement efforts, Urban Matters distributed a survey to city staff regarding existing accessibility projects and barriers. The consulting firm received 12 responses to the survey. They also hosted three focus groups. The first focus group was with disability service providers in Burnaby, with eight participants. The consultants also held two focus groups with 19 participants with disabilities. In addition, Urban Matters interviewed two members of the Access Advisory Committee. The consultants also held one workshop with seven City of Burnaby staff members to discuss accessibility solutions, and they received some responses from staff by email as well.

“There’s a need for disability and accessibility education, awareness and training. There’s a need for increased access to resources, standards, guidelines, and policies. There needs to be consistency of standards across the city,” Blair said. “We also found that supporting the diversity of disability, addressing ableism and attitudinal barriers, these came up quite a bit. There’s still such a large stigma. Prioritizing accessibility in budgets and funding and at the upfront stages of buildings and development and ensuring long-life disability support that encourages independence.” 

In the first category, the built environment, the public engagement results show the city disproportionately prioritizes design for physical mobility issues, but other accessibility needs are often overlooked. In information and communication, the city’s accessibility efforts frequently involve the assumption that everyone has the access and ability to use technology. 

“Some of the barriers that came up from our research was that there’s a high reliance on technology and assumptions of access and sometimes information is only found online,” Blair said. “There definitely needs to be more variety in communications at events, including ASL interpretation.” 

Transportation was another area where the research identified a long list of transportation woes for people with disabilities in Burnaby. The barriers participants identified include physical barriers at bus stops, short crossing times at crosswalks, and difficulties with wayfinding, especially for people who are blind. 

Regarding city programming and services, participants spoke about limited space and programs filling up almost as soon as registration opened. 

“There’s still so much stigma and attitudinal barriers to disability participation. There’s a lack of staff education and awareness; there’s limited space in programming and facilities. There’s the absence of dedicated spaces and initiatives,” Blair said. 

The results also showed that the city needs to work on its employment practices, ensuring it hires more equitably and is more welcoming to people with disabilities. 

“There’s a lack of disability representation within city staff and not enough awareness or recruitment for job availability or opportunities,” Blair said. 

Urban Matters will use the results of its public engagement efforts to develop a draft accessibility plan for the city, which will return to the committee later this summer. The consultants will then finalize the plan and present it to council, after which the city can start rolling out some of the recommended accessibility modifications. 

This piece was made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.

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