An new online tool is making it easier for people with disabilities to find accessible places.
The myCommunity BC map was launched at findsupportbc.com around a year ago with around 400 places tagged across the province, and now, there are nearly 1,000. For example, click on the pin for Chilliwack’s Cottonwood Four Cinemas and you’ll see it checking boxes for ‘accessibility’ and ‘welcoming diversity’ while also earning little green icons for ‘fun and lively spot’ and ‘a spot to meet new people.’
Visitors can click the ‘add a place’ button on the top right to do just that, giving Esther King and others a better sense of what awaits them when they leave the controlled environment of their own home.
King has a 17-year-old daughter, named Joudelie, who needs significant help wherever she goes. She has taken Joudelie to places that have ‘accessible washrooms’ according to the letter of the law, but in reality the bathroom stall isn’t wide enough for a bigger wheelchair, or the grab bars are in the wrong place.
“Someone needs a toilet when they’re out and they can’t get into the bathroom, that’s a pretty big problem,” King said. “When you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go, and what are you going to do? I have to lift Joudelie to help her transfer onto the toilet, and if I’m tired or my back is sore on a particular day and I’m not confident there will be enough space to do that, we just don’t go. She ends up not participating in things in the community that she has every right to participate in.”
When submitting a location to the map, there is a spot for users to type their thoughts on what was or wasn’t good about it. King said having reports ‘from the field’ makes her more confident going to a particular venue, and that could be beneficial for businesses who pay attention.
“When I have a really good experience I tell businesses and thank them for it,” King said. “This map can be a big part of sharing that, and what I’d eventually like to see is stickers on the windows of businesses that are truly accessible.”
Phillip Retief is a student at the University of the Fraser Valley and said the tool is great because it allows people with disabilities to gain independence.
“It’s terrible when you get to a place you were excited to go to, but you get there and realize it’s not accessible,” said Retief, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair to get around. “You really want to be a part of something, but you can’t.”
Retief remembers a trip to play mini-golf at Castle Fun Park in Abbotsford.
“When you go onto the pitch, there is a step going down, and I can’t do that with my wheelchair,” he said. “I need someone to pick me up and bring me down. It is sad when friends are down there enjoying mini-golfing and there is no access for me to join them. It feels uncomfortable and unfair, and it’s awkward because everyone knows you’re the one person who can’t do what they’re doing.”
The myCommunity BC map is based on the BC Community Asset mapping network, and icons come from Green Map, an international non-profit actively mapping assets in 65 countries around the world. More help comes from the Family Support Institute and Community Living BC.
Retief said it has the potential to make discussion about accessibility “fun and engaging,” and maybe create real progress.
“Accessibility is a work in the progress. People need feedback to learn and grow and better the services that they make available,” he said. “It opens up communication and awareness and opens up the conversation about inclusiveness.”
“With this map, it will just be nice to be confident knowing that if someone says a place accessible, it truly is.”