The importance of walkable and rollable neighborhoods


Obstacles and facilities for mobility

Since the built environment affects the walkability and navigability of the neighborhood, poorly maintained and built neighborhoods can create barriers that prevent community access and eliminate opportunities to participate in local activities.

These obstacles – such as the condition of roads, sidewalks, and zebra crossings – can affect anyone, but often affect people with disabilities. Research has shown that people with severe mobility impairments are four times more likely to report difficulty walking than people who live in “good” neighborhoods (neighborhoods with no cracks in sidewalks or potholes). Even a small improvement in road quality could help people access and stay in their communities.

Neighborhood areas built during the pandemic, such as pop-up terraces, have created barriers to accessibility. (Photo by Atiya Mahmood)

Simple measures, such as the involvement of people with disabilities in research and planning, are intended to create targeted solutions for barriers and improve the accessibility of neighborhoods.

In the past, people with disabilities had limited opportunities to express their opinions. However, with the recent emergence of participatory research methods, they are increasingly working as “co-researchers”. This helps create opportunities for collaboration with local government officials and local service providers.

The shift towards participatory research moves us away from only researchers collecting data. Innovative data collection methods such as user-guided environmental assessment tools support this change. They help to capture the user’s perspective and provide a more holistic understanding of the environmental features that affect walkability and drivability.

Overlooked accessibility and Covid-19

Neighborhood environments create barriers to inclusion, which the pandemic has exacerbated.

Additional challenges that have emerged in response to the pandemic may include communication difficulties for deaf and hard of hearing people due to Plexiglas shields and masks, the inaccessibility of hand hygiene products for mobility device users because they are too high and increased navigation barriers such as Pop’s -up terraces.

As the pandemic progressed, it became blatantly clear that people with disabilities are overly affected. By and large, these strategies should help us, but they put our usual pattern of overlooking accessibility and not consulting those with lived experience at the center.

A historic opportunity to advocate change

Canada is at a historic crossroads in becoming accessible. The recent introduction of accessibility laws at both federal and provincial levels creates the necessary infrastructure to enforce the creation of accessible built environments and the equitable inclusion of people with disabilities.

Pandemic recovery provides an opportunity to create accessible environments as barriers have been exposed and the need to involve experienced people in developing solutions has increased.

The alignment of research, public and political will and the realization that radical and rapid social change is possible creates the perfect conditions in the pandemic era to create a Canada that is accessible for all.

Alison F. Chung is a research fellow at Simon Fraser University and co-author of this article. She is working with the authors on a project entitled: Towards Barrier-Free Communities: A Partnership for Improving Mobility, Access and Participation (MAP) Among People with Disabilities.

This article was republished by The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

PhD student, Simon Fraser University.

Associate Professor, Gerontology Department, Simon Fraser University.

Research Associate at Simon Fraser University.

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