Physical Access to Community Spaces

We asked 17-year-old wheelchair user and advocate, Erin Novakowski to share what she thinks is most important to create accessible, inclusive communities. Click here to read the full post. Here’s an excerpt on how to identify and tackle the issue of physical barriers in a community space.

The first things that often come to mind when we hear the word accessibility are things like ramps, automatic doors, and larger bathroom stalls. This is because physical inaccessibility is one of the most obvious forms of exclusion, and it’s something that both disabled and non-disabled individuals can recognize easily. It does not take much to understand that if a building has stairs, individuals who use wheelchairs cannot enter. This goes for all types of disabilities, and even though it may seem simple, it’s also important to realize that a ramp does not automatically mean a building is accessible. Things like insufficient or dim lighting, excessive use of flashing or strobe lighting, or signage without braille can make spaces inaccessible to large groups of people.

The reason this is such an important cause to fight for is because if disabled people cannot physically enter a space, they are being entirely left out of everything that goes on there. Whether a business, an event, or a public centre, the owners of that building are effectively sending a message that they don’t value disabled peoples’ participation.

This also creates a massive hassle for disabled people. Constantly having to adjust plans, being limited in where we can shop or eat, and being unable to comfortably participate in events can take a huge toll on our livelihoods.

What can you do to help?

  • Be aware of the accessibility of your surroundings. Have a mental checklist of barriers to access, and think of a disabled friend or relative. Would they be able to enter that space? Would they be able to safely and independently navigate the building? If not, take note of that.
  • If you are able bodied, use the privilege you have being able to enter that space, and mention to a manager or send an email kindly explaining your concerns with the establishment’s inaccessibility.
  • If you’re disabled, make your voice heard. Explain how the inaccessibility affects you, and how it feels to not be able to access that space. When we all work together and make it clear that accessibility is necessary, others will be forced to listen.