New committee looking to break town barriers, build up accessibility
This article was originally published in The Southwest Wire, a publication of the SaltWire Network. The Town of Yarmouth has been granted permission to republish.
Accessibility encompasses not just physical barriers but also other invisible ones preventing ready access to day-to-day activities and services.
Accessibility is a topic that towns across Nova Scotia are looking into more readily since the passing of Nova Scotia’s Accessibility Act. This include Yarmouth, where a newly appointed committee aims to identify barriers to accessibility and solutions to remove them.
The Town of Yarmouth Accessibility Advisory Committee chair Stephen Nicholl and co-ordinator Natalie Smith are part of the team that will work with the public to determine what can be done to make Yarmouth a more accessible town for everyone.
“We are looking at what barriers people in Yarmouth may face, be them citizens or tourists who visit. We want to make sure Yarmouth is as accessible and barrier-free as possible,” says Nicholl.
IDENTIFY AND ADAPT
Accessibility is an area that affects many Nova Scotians, with data from the 2017 Canadian Survey on Disability finding that 30 per cent of Nova Scotians ages 15 and older identify as having accessibility issues, compared to national average of 22 per cent.
With Nova Scotia enacting its Accessibility Act in 2017, Smith says it mandated public sector bodies to develop accessibility action plans using a toolkit established during the Wolfville town accessibility pilot project. She says the Yarmouth committee was formed as a result in November 2020.
Smith says the Yarmouth committee had its first meeting in January and, using this toolkit as its framework, is now calling on town residents to provide feedback on any barriers they consider happening.
“Our goals are to identify and adapt barriers that exist in Yarmouth, then develop an accessibility action plan,” she says.
Many members of the committee either have a disability or have worked with people who have disabilities. This includes Nicholl, who says his hearing impairment has made navigating COVID-19 health restrictions extremely difficult.
Nicholl and Smith say the committee is eager for town residents with personal experiences like Nicholl’s to engage with the accessibility action plan process and potentially help identify barriers needs to change and solutions that could work.
“Identifying barriers that are easily missed is what we want to hear about,” says Nicholl.
DEVELOPING A PLAN
Smith says first-hand knowledge is key to identifying barriers — especially any invisible ones — that the committee might otherwise not know of. She says this is already starting to happen with presentations from a Yarmouth mother regarding the barriers her autistic child faces.
“Awareness is number one, then education and problem solving. This is how continuous improvement happens,” says Smith.
Nicholl says the committee will look beyond just physical accessibility, into areas including information and communication, transportation, education, employment, built environment and how goods and services are delivered and received in Yarmouth, to ensure it identifies as many barriers as possible.
“We want to make sure that as much as possible, barriers are free from all aspects of Yarmouth, from sidewalks to customer service,” says Nicholl.
The committee’s ultimate goal is to develop and implement an action plan within the next year. To ensure this happens, Nicholl says the committee will focus on giving Yarmouth residents with any accessibility issue a voice so they can help ensure future town planning is more inclusive.
And he says the work has already started, with a new piece of sidewalk along Yarmouth’s Main Street that features a grid to aid visually impaired people use the crosswalk.
“We can do research and read articles, but until we engage with community and find out firsthand what they’re experiencing, we won’t know where to start. We need to find out what the people of Yarmouth are experiencing with regards to accessibility issues,” says Nicholl.