The 2022 Parks Accessibility Conference was an amazing multi-day virtual event that brought together people with disabilities, caregivers, researchers and organisations that all share a vision of making Canada’s national and provincial parks more accessible to people with disabilities. Our speakers shared their expertise, lived experiences, research and work with us through rich storytelling and compelling research. We encourage you to check out the records now available on our website and YouTube channel.
But in summary, here are our Top 10 Take Aways from the conference!
Different people have different needs.We need to ensure that the plans and improvements that we advocate for at parks include an awareness around personalized solutions. For instance, the group from EcoWisdom shared an innovative idea for forest bathing pods and Carinna talked about parks creating a Quiet Hour. These are opportunities for people to experience parks in peaceful or calm environments that might otherwise be hectic or busy with tourists and other park goers.
Role models are important. As Meenu noted in her talk, sharing examples of people like Lawrence Gunther going to parks will encourage others - including those who are new to Canada to try it out for themselves.
Information is power! Parks can improve access by providing more specific information about accessibility, as opposed to a general “Accessible” label, whether it’s on a website or over the phone. Ease of access to specific information came across as a critical need for planning from a number of presenters.
Culture shift. Many presenters highlighted the need for a cultural shift. People don’t know what they don’t know. So we need to provide better training and education for staff and volunteers working in the park. This might include opportunities to help staff and volunteers understand what terms like inclusion and accessibility mean even though many of us use them interchangeably.
Accessibility is a moving target. A few people brought up the idea that there is always room for improvement. Mahadeo provided a nice framework of thinking about an organization’s accessibility as a continuum across a number of stages where we need to keep pushing until we get to Stage 4.
Nothing about us without us - co-design is critical. We need to include more people with disabilities earlier in the design process to ensure that new Park initiatives are being designed from the start with inclusion and access in mind. Novel research approaches like the use of geo-narratives that Mike Prescott described could be helpful.
We need better washrooms. Lucy, Julie and Megan all spoke about the need for improved washrooms that should include change tables and lifts. If there are inadequate washroom facilities it creates an insurmountable barrier for many people living with a disability.
Accessibility and affordability. It’s impossible to talk about accessibility without also talking about affordability. Affordability of transportation, adaptive equipment, park entry and more. The US model provides an attractive option where people with disabilities are eligible for a free lifetime national park entrance pass. However, in order to get to the Parks we need to be thinking about affordable and accessible public and private transportation options.
Thinking about families. People want to go to Parks and do things together with their friends and families. We often hear about the percentage of the population that has a disability themselves, as if that number captures the impact of the issue. But that percentage does not capture the impact of inaccessibility on families and friends of individuals with disabilities. Matthew and Lucy both spoke about this issue.
Optimism. Despite the challenges, optimism was a reoccurring theme throughout the conference. As our opening keynote Maayan so eloquently put it, there is good reason for us to be optimistic - things are changing. Each of us can help make things change.