14 November 2018

Access for Everyone, Everywhere All the Time

City of Lethbridge Creating New Masterplan for Inclusive Design

It was an unusual sight: Lethbridge city officials and consultants wandering around outside city hall, some blindfolded and holding canes, some in wheelchairs, all struggling. A local reporter who just happened to be nearby ran over to ask: “What are you all protesting?”

But the group wasn’t protesting—they were trying to experience what it’s like to try to navigate the urban environment with a mobility challenge. The simulation was part of information gathering being done as part of the creation of the city’s new Mobility Accessibility Master Plan (MAMP), one of the first of its kind.

Lethbridge recently put out an RFP for help with their new master plan, which will be used as a guide for the next 5-20 years. The vision is that with help from the plan, Lethbridge can be a city where everyone can participate—a place where physical, sensory or cognitive disabilities aren’t a barrier to being part of the community.

Urban Matters, in close collaboration with Urban Systems and Universal Access Design (UAD), submitted the winning RFP. Leighton Ginther, an Urban Designer at Urban Systems and Project Lead says work has already begun and to date has been very rewarding.

“Lethbridge is being very progressive here— they are one of the first municipalities, as far as we know, to consider how to improve accessibility across the city, not just within the facilities they control. We feel privileged to have the opportunity to think this through with them and put a strategy in place. This plan is ultimately about people. It’s about giving everyone access to employment, social functions and recreation—things we might sometimes take for granted.”

“A broader people-first approach means asking questions like who are the residents of Lethbridge? What are their needs, and how do they get around? How can we make things easier to navigate? Once we’re clear on the intent, designers architects and engineers have the flexibility to implement improvements that really work for people.”

Where it Began

Two years ago, Lethbridge looked at addressing public spaces that were difficult for people in wheelchairs to navigate. Officials realized during that process that there was a lot more that could be done to make the city more accessible.

Stan Leyenhorst, lead design consultant with Universal Access Design, a partner on the project, brings lived experience to his role in creating the masterplan. A diving accident severed Stan’s spinal cord and he now navigates the world in a wheelchair. He says he’s passionate about helping create places everyone can access. “I want to see environments without barriers. It’s great to see that Lethbridge is being so proactive in providing access for everyone to participate in community,” says Stan.

Moving Forward

The creation of the MAMP began in early July 2018 with a variety of information gathering sessions with city business units where Leighton says motivation for change was high and city officials were willing to “get into the weeds” and really think about things from all angles. City walk throughs with individuals with challenges have already happened—for example, Bruce Gilmore, one of the partners on the project who is completely blind tested out an intersection the city had already improved, and quickly demonstrated that with no delineation (little bump) on the edge of the pavement, he could have walked into traffic unknowingly.

“These exercises are so helpful and not critical of the city in any way,” explains Leighton. “Every city has areas that need improvement and the reality is that many places are built thinking just of strollers, walkers or wheelchairs, not, for example someone completely blind or partially sighted. Now we’re thinking off creating a little bump on the edge of curbs going into traffic so people with vision loss would know to stop.”

In the fall, the team will be going out to talk with more people with lived experience—those with vision, cognitive and mobility challenges. There will also be community meetings to increase awareness and build momentum and credibility. Once common themes and challenges are sifted out, the team will review feedback from business units and prepare a framework for the masterplan. A draft plan will then be reviewed with the city and with stakeholders and the public for further input. The City hopes to have a completed Mobility Accessibility Master Plan ready to submit to council by next summer.

“This touches so much of the community we live in. With an aging population and people with challenges everywhere, it’s real life, not just a design exercise. We’ve been using the expression access for everyone, everywhere all the time, and I think that really fits. We want to make sure people of all abilities can fully contribute to their community in Lethbridge. This plan provides the rationale and means to help the City achieve this over time.”

Watch the Global News story showcasing the City of Lethbridge accessibility training session

Post image courtesy of Global News.