There was a recent twitter flurry about able-bodied planners and engineers using wheelchairs for a few hours on their city streets to comprehend what it is like to use a wheelchair daily. Some disability advocates balked at this, pointing out that being able bodied in a wheelchair for a few hours on a well-lit and intersectioned street does not replicate the actual experience of those who are truly disabled, and should not be used as a substitute to involving, talking with, and understanding the issues of disabled users themselves. The disability advocates’ point is very valid-in order for universally accessible environments, we need to actively involve and listen to all users, no matter their ability. It just makes sense, and people in wheelchairs should also have the same access to public spaces and a range of housing types.
The American Disabilities Act (ADA) estimates that 70 per cent of Americans will have a temporary or permanent disability in their lifetime. They also estimate that 21 per cent of people over 15 and half of people over 65 years of age have some type of mobility disability. We just are not yet designing our urban spaces to accommodate and understand these specialized needs.
The Vancouver Courier and Jessica Kerr report on a simple but elegantly universal concept-while the Vancouver Park Board has beach wheelchairs for wheelers, these need to be reserved in advance and are not motorized. Recognizing that disabled folks may not be able to transfer to these chairs or may actually prefer their own, a large beach mat will be installed with platforms on English Bay by August. This mat would enable people with strollers, canes and walkers to go down to the high tide line using their own mobility aids. One disability advocate Gabrielle Peters notes:“It means we can go out there with our friends,” she said. “It means we can participate. It means we have access to that very special part of Vancouver… This is a wonderful thing. It’s literally opening up a space that hasn’t been accessible in any shape or form. Being at the beach is so much a part of being in Vancouver.”
And this article from Australia’s Gold Coast contains a short video of the installation on weekends of a similar mat that allows disabled users to go to the shallows of the ocean. Costing $20,000, the plan is for more of these mats to be installed on Australian beaches to allow more wheelers and those with mobility devices beach access, a universal right for any citizen living in a city on the water’s edge.