Making a Brighter Future: SPARC BC Enthused Over The Accessible Community Bylaws Guide

Posted to site January 4, 2010

Do you ever wonder what your community will look like 25 years from now? This century has seen many changes with regards to accessibility awareness and city planning, and some of the biggest change has occurred in the past 10 years. There is growing interest around accessibility legislation, and in British Columbia, SPARC BC (Social Planning and Research Council of BC) has just released a guide to accessibility bylaws it hopes will be a hit with municipalities.

The Accessible Community Bylaws Guide is the first strong hint at accessibility legislation in BC. Where Ontario has the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), rules and standards around accessibility in BC are set by the BC Building Code, the BC Human Rights Code and, for the most committed municipalities, their own provisions under existing city bylaws. SPARC BC is optimisticthat this will change.

After two years of researching the AODA and other best practices around Canada and working with a BC-based advisory committee of elected officials, persons with disabilities, disability groups and engineers, the resulting Bylaws Guide is seen as a major step in the right direction for attracting attention to comprehensive, community accessibility planning.

The decision to focus on municipalities instead of aiming for provincial legislation came out of a desire to ensure municipalities could tailor legislation to their unique local needs. The decision to adopt all or some of the accessibility bylaws is also voluntary, recognizing that the educational aspect of the guide itself will make a significant impact.

The comprehensiveness of the BylawsGuide stands out as a major feature, offering municipalities nine model bylaws and one employment policy that are ready for adoption. However, in addition to being an easy tool for municipalities to use, the research and reasoning behind each of the nine bylaws, with their 128 detailed recommended standards, gives municipalities a deep look into what community-wide accessibility really means.

Ranging from well-known issues such as the exact degree of a safe curb ramp to new ideas such as density bonusing as a means to increase the availability of accessible housing stock, the guide will be helpful in demonstrating a new way to conceptualize an inclusive community. The decision to incorporate an employment policy encouraging municipalities to provide equitable employment opportunities to all of its citizens, including people with disabilities, is SPARC BC’s attempt at reinforcing the understanding that the social environment, the attitudes and beliefs we have, is a major factor in encouraging accessible thinking that leads to change.

“We’ve all seen how attitudes affect decisions that get made, whether it is about design of a building or something else,” says Emese Szücs, Manager of Accessibility Programs at SPARC BC. “Myths are overcome and new understandings are developed when people interact with other people.”

It’s no accident then that the first bylaw in the guide is about planning for accessibility and emphasizes community interaction through accessibility audits, strategy development, benchmarking, annual reporting, and creating an Accessibility Advisory Committee. The idea for a distinct accessibility plan comes from the AODA, but beyond the practical benefits of having an actionable plan, the true value is the process that goes into creating it. SPARC BC has helped many municipalities undertake accessibility audits and create plans, and has witnessed how the process opens people’s eyes and minds to accessibility in a radically different way.

The Accessible Community Bylaws Guide is one step in a much larger process of opening people’s minds to accessibility. Hopefully, 25 years from now, SPARC BC and the many organizations and individuals dedicated to increasing accessibility will be looking back over the years with satisfaction, reminiscing about the positive change they effected through projects like The Accessible Community Bylaws Guide, and celebrating their collective efforts to create accessible and inclusive communities. Things today look drastically different than they did 25 years ago; there is no reason why we can’t believe the same will be true for the future.

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