Accessibility audit recommends $4.9M in city upgrades

by Avery Zingel - July 19, 2018

Yellowknifers living with disabilities don’t enjoy the same access to city lands and facilities as able-bodied residents, according to a recent audit on the city’s accessibility.

Accessibility challenges can be “dehumanizing” for people with disabilities, says Yellowknifer Jake Flanagan.
Avery Zingel/NNSL photo

However, the total cost to retrofit and improve accessibility in the city comes in at around $4.9-million, states the the audit.

It studied environmental factors and provided detailed cost recommendations on removing barriers over time including better paved paths in public parks, assisted listening devices, larger print signs at lower heights and planned renovations to adapt to new standards of accessibility, said Ann Peters, a planning consultant with Dillon Consulting.

The audit provides constructive advice on short-term repairs to improve accessibility, and recommends a long-term vision as the city upgrades and builds new infrastructure.

“Buildings are typically upgraded when they reach the end of their service life, including when building codes are adapted to new standards of accessibility,” she said.

“All these renovations need to be planned out. It’s not something we can do quickly,” said Peters.

Being up to current code doesn’t necessarily mean a building will be accessible or meet the prevailing expectations of accessibility, she said.

Across the NWT, there are more than 3,000 people living with disabilities – roughly seven per cent of the population – stated NWT Disabilities Council finance officer Jennifer Canning in an e-mail.

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Disabilities, cognitive, sensory or otherwise, diminish ones ability to access facilities and services that are available to people without disabilities.

For Yellowknifer Jake Flanagan, accessibility barriers in the city can mean people with disabilities are prevented from visiting facilities and private enterprises entirely.

Flanagan, who uses a wheelchair, rated city businesses several months ago, discovering it wasn’t even possible to get past the door threshold.

Flanagan said that was “dehumanizing.”

Flanagan’s rating project was inspired by Access Now, a website dedicated to pinpointing the status of accessibility for locations across the world.

“Everyone’s needs are going to be different. Being able to access a business is a basic human right and Yellowknife is way behind,” said Flanagan.

This forces people with disabilities to micromanage many aspects of mobility and day-to-day life that others are never forced to reckon with, they said.

At city hall, people with physical disabilities are able to enter the building from the basement, but not before navigating physical obstacles blocking the hallways, said Flanagan.

“It’s pretty shocking to see just how inaccessible even city hall is,” said Coun. Adrian Bell. “I feel a bit of an apology is owed to Yellowknifers with accessibility challenges. We’re now in a position to act on (the report).”

The city’s barrier removal action plan highlights infrastructure improvements that will make the city more accessible. photo courtesy of City of Yellowknife

The city’s accessibility audit was restricted exclusively to city properties, with city hall flagged as one location that doesn’t meet modern standards and requires upgrades.

Almost all of Yellowknife’s playgrounds have ledges and sand fill, leaving no easily navigable ground level surfaces for people using mobility devices.

Glossy floors in athletic facilities create visual disturbances for people with sensory disabilities and trail signs have small print with no indication of expected trail conditions, said Peters.

The key to boosting accessibility is funding for renovations: $2.4-million for indoor facilities, one million dollars for playgrounds, $213,000 and 196,000 for sports courts and fields respectively, and $206,000 for trails.

The audit recommends every possible improvement to city infrastructure, acknowledging that not every single improvement will come to fruition immediately.

Some of the short-term improvements are costly because they’re retrofits, said Coun. Shauna Morgan.

“It reinforces the needs that we should be designing all buildings with accessibility concerns at the forefront so that we don’t have to do renovations,” said Morgan.

The city is missing out on “low hanging fruit” like snow removal, which could greatly boost accessibility, said Coun. Julian Morse.

“One of the biggest changes the city could make in terms of accessibility would be snow removal on our sidewalks. For people with mobility aids and wheelchairs (the city) becomes quite inaccessible,” he said of the winter months.

Further, the city should work towards sidewalk and accessibility standards that go beyond city facilities to ensure people can travel to the accessible buildings in the first place, said Morse.

Design standards are on administration’s radar, said senior administrative officer Sheila Bassi-Kellett.

“Building to standard doesn’t necessarily make something accessible,” said Bassi-Kellett, stating that accessibility “should not be subject to the opinion of residents.”

The city will have jurisdictional challenges where city property is shared with private owners, including the mall and public library, said Coun. Rebecca Alty, adding that the city has the ability to apply for ongoing federal funding for accessibility projects.

The city will work with building maintainers to ensure all pathways in the mall are accessible, said Bassi-Kellett.
City council will vote on the audit recommendations next week.