August 17th, 2019

Learning to cope with limited mobility and vision challenges

By Bobinec, Greg on March 12, 2019.

Lethbridge Herald reporter Greg Bobinec and CTV reporter Tyler Barrow navigate a washroom as media was invited to take part in a wheelchair and vision loss simulation Monday ahead of the Get Involved in a Community Conversation event at city hall. Herald photo by Ian Martens @IMartensHerald

Greg Bobinec

Lethbridge Herald

The City of Lethbridge is inviting the community and stakeholders to learn about the Mobility Accessibility Master Plan they have been developing for the last couple years, as well as taking part in a vision-loss and mobility simulation, to help put in perspective the challenges of living with mobility and visual disabilities.

Five years ago, the City started looking at ways it was handling mobility and accessibility issues and found it needed to develop a more strategic approach to rectifying these issues. The master plan received $350,000 to develop a plan by talking with user groups and find a course for the future on improving mobility throughout the city. Today, city hall will be hosting the Get Involved in a Community Conversation event for people to learn about and experience first-hand common mobility issues within the city.

“We are having a community engagement and some stakeholder meetings as part of the City’s Mobility Accessibility Master Plan Development,” says Jerome Lengkeek, Urban Matter social venture developer and project partner. “What we are doing is inviting the community to come out and meet with the City and also have a few experiences related to this master planning process.

“We will be doing some mobility and vision-loss simulation exercises. We will also have a table set up where people will be able to experience what some of the challenges would be when living with vision loss or blindness, in terms of identifying different objects. There will also be an opportunity to meet Bruce Gilmour and his guide dog Marly to learn about how Bruce, who is blind, navigates through the built environment using his white cane and by using a guide dog.”

The simulations take people through a built environment designed and maintained historically by middle-aged able-bodied men, and shows people how simple tasks such as washing your hands or opening a door can restrict your independence. The wheelchair exercise shows people certain design techniques that assist with mobility limitations, and the visual restricting exercise demonstrates the difficulty of navigation and identifying everyday objects.

While most of the population in Lethbridge is able-bodied, almost everyone eventually will end up with some sort of mobile disability at some point in their life. Objects obstructing walkways, small barriers of snow, time length in crosswalks, and inaccessible buildings can prevent anyone with a minor injury to a permanent disability from accessing services and completing simple tasks.

“One of the key takeaways for us since we started this plan was looking at the whole city from a broad perspective in that we are all temporary able bodies. We may not be living with an impairment right now, but at some point we will all be affected by this whether that is through a broken ankle, or a more permanent disability,” says Chris Witkowski, City Parks development manager and project lead for Mobility Accessibility Master Plan. “It is very important for people to come down and understand exactly what we are doing. For me personally when I started this project, I am not affected by mobility issues right now, but as I started to do the simulations and began to understand what people were going through, I realized this really does impact me and it impacts everybody.”

Since the beginning of the project, the City has made an effort to improve some services including the pedestrian crossing along 6 Avenue North, from people expressing the time was too short to cross in one cycle, as well as recently installing audio cues for stops in transit buses. The city is looking at ways to improve pedestrian crossings downtown and make improvements where they can.

The Mobility Accessibility Master Plan is set to be completed this summer with a list of recommendations for improvements to be presented. The improvements will depend on future budget and a priority list.

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