City accessibility policy needs awareness and enforcement, advocates say

· The Pulse

The city has not taken sufficient action to enforce the accessibility policy council passed in 2019, nor has it educated Edmontonians about it enough, say two members of Edmonton's accessibility advisory committee.

"There's a sense of not being able to enjoy your city as much as the next person," said Zachary Weeks, a disability advocate and accessibility consultant who was involved in the creation of Policy C602.

Fellow committee member Crystal Jones agrees. "A lot of work went into this policy. A lot of people, especially disabled people, were consulted on this. But this policy is not being enforced," she tweeted after a committee meeting in February.

Weeks and Jones said snow removal, parking, and events in city-owned buildings are just a few examples of where they'd like to see improvements. They suggest an awareness campaign as a good start. Weeks would also be open to fines for violations of the policy in the future, including having the city place levies on businesses that do not have accessible entrances, for example.

"It's going to cost more money to fix later on because they're not doing anything about it right now," Jones told Taproot.

It's not just about improving the city for those with disabilities, Weeks added. People with mobility challenges, whether it be seniors, pregnant people, or anyone else, would benefit from a more accessible city. "What does this mean for moving the needle for full inclusion of all citizens?" he said.

Coun. Keren Tang said she's heard committee members' frustration about "seemingly little progress made in the implementation of this policy and nothing to report back to the community they represent." She said the infrastructure team has committed to reporting back on how the policy is implemented with new builds, as well as investigating what happened to the committee's past advice (including on the Stanley A. Milner Library downtown). But that's just the start.

"We still have a long way to go in terms of socializing and raising awareness about this policy across the corporation," Tang said. "It took many years of training and awareness raising within the corporation and with the public ... for Gender-Based Analysis Plus (GBA+) to really take hold. We need to learn from this experience, so we can cut down on the amount of time and raise the profile and importance of C602 to the same level."

A red crosswalk blocked by snow and ice

"The city just doesn't get it," tweeted one Edmontonian about a snow-blocked crosswalk. (@oldman_boy/Twitter)

There is supposed to be accountability through council's committee structure, Tang said. As a further measure, she has offered to introduce an inquiry at the council level.

Since the policy was passed in 2019, seven departments have created actions to improve accessibility for staff and the public, said Suzanne Young, the city's director of open spaces planning and design. Those actions are rolled into the three-year corporate accessibility plan, which was presented to city council as part of its orientation and onboarding meetings last fall. Young added that administration recently met with the accessibility advisory committee to review progress.

But Weeks and Jones want to see more action from the city, as it "seems like there may be some disconnect on the departments even knowing this exists," Weeks said.

Overall, they'd like the policy to be at the top of all councillors' minds, whether it's a question of bike lanes and snow removal or new programs and services at recreation centres.

A step beyond that is increasing transparency, so that Edmontonians can keep track of what projects the policy has impacted.

"We've spent years crafting this policy to make the city better, and now we just have a dead policy that nobody looks at. It's shoved in the back of the closet as a 'just in case'," Weeks said.

"(I want to make) sure that this policy was worth its weight in gold."

An update on the city's vehicle for hire program this week did prompt councillors to ask administration to explore mandatory accessibility training for taxis and ride-sharing services, after requests for action from the accessibility advisory committee and the Women's Advocacy Voice of Edmonton (WAVE).