Last month I had the opportunity to speak about visually accessible cities to an audience of municipal elected officials at the High Ground for All Forum hosted by the Centre for Civic Governance. This was my first time presenting the subject to an audience of elected representatives. The session was delivered in collaboration with Amy Lubik from the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) who introduced the broader subject of social inclusion / exclusion. People facing accessibility barriers often face broader challenges of social inclusion so we found the topics to be very complementary and helped to open up the subject to a wider audience.
Like most conference sessions we each opened the 1.15 hour session with concise presentations to introduce the topic, challenges and opportunities for civic leaders to respond. More importantly the presentations were followed by an interactive table top exercise intended to take participants on a virtual walk. This was my first attempt in moving the topic of visual accessibility into an interactive format. I thought I would share a bit about that workshop exercise in particular as it proved to be a valuable tool.
Walking at Tables
Thirty minutes were allotted for the table top exercise. First up was to divide the room into table groups: two tables with 12 people per table along with Amy and I as facilitators. Table participants were provided with a handout detailing the three stage virtual walk and some prepared descriptions of characters who could face different accessibility or inclusion barriers. Readers can find a copy of the handout attached to this post. Along with the virtual walk and character description, table facilitators had at their disposal a set of 16 large cards with photos of an accessibility barrier or good practice along with a laminated print map from a real city illustrating the fictitious walking route. Both tools enabled the facilitator to illustrate the experience.
Participants reacted positively to the virtual walk! Each section of the walk provided a description of the surrounding along with possible barriers for each of the characters. Flash cards with photos of barriers matching the description along with some examples of good practices were introduced. Examples revealed real life experiences from their own communities that enabled people spoke to barriers in their own communities. In several cases people spoke to ways they had actively engaged with a group of people like those with mobility limitations or the elderly to test their experience in navigating their city. Throughout the discussion policy solutions were explored to obstacles encountered along the walk. In particular participants observed the policy conflicts, lack of enforcement and permitting issues that were contributing to the accessibility obstacles.
Where to Next?
Urban design and accessibility are both issues that are best appreciated through interaction and experience. Bringing people out into a real world situation will provide the riches experience however that is not always possible. Interactive exercises, games and tools to create the experience through visual aids and guides can be a practical alternative. Expect to hear more about interactive tools to advance visually accessible cities!
Trained in town planning, an avid traveler and legally blind myself I write on issues and opportunities is see along my travels that could improve our cities from a visual perspective.