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Metro Vancouver can boast of embracing accessibility, and rightly so. From one’s arrival at the Vancouver International Airport, with its universal design, fully accessible washrooms, a welcoming environment for certified service and guide dogs plus ready assistance from Green Coat volunteers, accessibility continue into and throughout its suburban cities.
SkyTrain and Ferries are easy to navigate and you will find bus drivers to be accommodating and polite. Ramps are lowered and drivers will wait patiently for passengers to settle down safely prior to driving off. Audiovisual notices for the sight and hearing impaired provide safe, helpful commutes. Also available if needed, are wheelchair accessible taxis, car rentals and even limousines. In many ways, Vancouver has embraced the concept of universal design supporting a diverse range of its population regardless of age, physical or health circumstances, ability or disability.
The City of Surrey, one of the municipalities of Metro Vancouver, has a higher than average number of people with disabilities, and one of the highest rates of autism in British Columbia. Karin Pasqua, Surrey’s Accessibility and Universal Design Specialist said, “friendly, sensory spaces have been created to support individuals and provide safe spaces that are calm and quiet,” she explained. Through a partnership with Canucks Autism Network (CAN), pre-COVID-19, when major events took place throughout the city, these sensory spaces, be it a room or tent, were on site to provide a reduced sensory environment from the overstimulating environment. Noise-cancelling headphones, backpacks with kits containing stress balls, fidget toys etc., are on site and are available to those who need it. Karin recalls a child being able to comfortably enjoy fireworks for the very first time thanks to wearing one of their noise-cancelling headphones! Post-pandemic, these sensory kits will be available in all recreation facilities in the city. “Recreation Centres in Surrey are continuously upgraded to make them more inclusive and so far, 5 of these have achieved the Rick Hansen Foundation Accessibility Gold Certification,” Karin shared.
A vast majority of people may not be aware of accessibility issues unless it impacts them personally, however, seamlessly integrated universal design ensures usability for everyone. According to Karin, “making information available in as plain language as possible; using fonts that are Sans Serif are easier for all to read; encouraging less noisy, public environments; decreasing the use of items like strobe lights in public spaces; having appropriate floor markers and barriers which a cane user will be able to detect, and overall, just implementing as many modalities as possible with the aim of being as supportive of as many people as possible,” should be the focus.
Ramps are obvious adaptations to accommodate wheelchair users, however other subtle enhancements are also utilized to create a more inclusive environment. Some of these are in place throughout Metro Vancouver, resulting in an array of accessible dining, outdoor adventures, transportation and accommodations in what is proudly one of the most accessible cities in the world.