The Community Living Ontario co-design session was held on September 26th at OCAD University at 49 McCaul Street. The event started at 10:00 am and ended at noon. The event was attended by 23 participants, with 14 participants who attended in person (from the Toronto area), and 9 who participated remotely (from Hamilton, North Bay, Essex County, Simcoe, and London). The participants included members of Community Living Ontario, and participants who represented lived experience of developmental disabilities. The event was facilitated by three members of the Inclusive Design and Research Centre (IDRC) at OCAD University. One representative from Community Living Ontario also helped co-facilitate the event.
The co-design activity was developed in collaboration with members of the Community Living Ontario communication team to tailor the activity to the interests and needs of their members. The activity was broken down into two parts: small group discussions, and a large group discussion. The day started with introductions, and a short warm-up activity in which all participants had a chance to introduce themselves and share one word that they associated with the word “neighbourhood”.
Objective: Discuss and brainstorm ways to improve the city for their community
Duration: 1.5 hour
Following the warm-up activity, participants in the room divided into 3 groups of 4 or 5 people, and the nine remote participants joined one group. The participants were given 1.5 hours to complete steps one to four of the activity. The activity questions were designed to initiate group discussion around people’s positive and negative experiences navigating their neighbourhoods, and to brainstorm ways in which neighbourhoods can be designed to better include people of all abilities. The following questions were included in the co-design activity:
Each of the facilitators joined a group to facilitate the conversation and help taking notes.
Objective: Share and discuss ideas with other groups
Duration: 30 minutes
Following the small group discussions, each group shared their ideas from steps three and four with the larger group. The groups were encouraged to ask questions, and to share their thoughts on ideas presented.
Several groups were concerned that meeting accessibility standards does not necessarily translate into accessibility for people with varying needs. For example, having access to pedestrian signals on traffic lights doesn’t make them more accessible. For many people, those buttons are hard to find (inconsistent placement) and difficult to press, and they don’t provide proper multimodal feedback. They also talked about inconsistent curb cuts and congested sidewalks with street furniture that make navigation more difficult.
As one of the groups discussed, when people with lived experiences of disability are not directly involved in the design and development process, the final outcome does not meet their needs. For example, they utilize interactive directories and wayfinding systems that are not presented multi-modally and are not perceivable or understandable for many groups (e.g. fast changing screens, confusing signage).
Groups also mentioned that construction, accidents, and public events usually disrupt traffic flow and most often people are not informed of those disruptions ahead of time and do not know about alternative routes.
Public event planners’ lack of awareness about how the ground surface (grass, brick, cobble stones) can impact people who are using mobility devices, or have difficulty keeping their balance, forces users to avoid such events. One of the groups also mentioned the lack of community building and the focus on privacy in new housing developments. Thus, neighbours do not know each other, and they are less aware of each other’s needs. The same group also talked about our current reliance on technology in our homes and how lost we feel when we do not have access to the same technology outside of home. Another group also added the recent technology based services, such as Uber are designed in a way that prevents individuals with developmental disabilities to use them independently.
Several groups mentioned people with developmental disabilities may not be able to advocate for themselves and ask for help. Thus, others may not notice that they require assistance. Groups talked about different passive and active solutions that help mitigate this issue. An example of a passive technology mentioned by a group is an intersection in Toronto that is equipped with beacons and provides information about each store as a person passes by them. An example of an active solution are buttons that are used in England. They notify others in public transit that someone needs a seat.
All groups also emphasized the importance of community and shared spaces for the wellbeing of persons with developmental disabilities. Shared backyards, public squares, farmers’ markets, community parks, shared rooftops, etc. help bring people together and make them more aware of each others’ needs. For instance, in London, Ontario there is a community program “Snow Angels” organized by the citizens that helps neighbours assist each other shovelling the snow in winter.
When discussing strategies for educating the city about community needs, many groups talked about developing relationships with city councillors by organizing 1-on-1 meetings, social media interactions, or community events to discuss the accessibility needs of the community. The participants also mentioned organizing public education events to allow residents to educate other residents, local businesses, store owners, developers, and city councillors on their community’s accessibility needs and to create opportunities for collaborative design of the neighbourhood. Other ways of providing public education included pop-up booths on public transit that are easily accessible, educating drivers about the needs of mobility device users to ensure a safe commute for all pedestrians. They also discussed creating more representation of people with different abilities through YouTube channels that highlight the skills and importance of accessibility for these individuals.
Group discussions also included developing communication and partnership with community leaders to advocate for community related issues that are being neglected by the city. The groups suggested that the government develop an accessibility committee that could provide feedback on accessibility issues experienced by different communities. They also suggested conducting city wide surveys to capture people’s concerns, and their needs within their communities, that can be used to develop solutions.
Other ideas that emerged during group discussions included creating a sense of community through community events that allow individuals to provide suggestions through a “Suggestion Box” for incorporating accessibility in future events and incorporating tools like “Find a friend” to ensure that all members are integrated in the community and not excluded from those events.
Groups discussed ideas of how design and technology can create communities where all users can thrive and equally participate in activities. The ideas discussed by a majority of the groups included different ways to make travelling throughout the city more accessible for all people. These ideas included smart street lights that recognize a person’s needs and enable easier and safer crossing. Also, technology (special glasses or mobile apps) that can verbally describe the indoor/outdoor physical space to individuals with visual impairments. This technology can also provide a visual schedule/route and provide real-time data on traffic and construction and provide alternative routes to allow for a quick and easy commute. Augmented reality can also be integrated into this technology and connected with smart phones to provide object description and navigation information to individuals with visual impairments. The groups also discussed the importance of easy to read signage with pictures, countdowns, recognizable landmarks, and audio signals at crosswalks to ensure safe and easy navigation of streets for people of all abilities.
Other ideas for making communities more accessible included having public amenities (e.g. grocery stores) in walking distance from residential areas to encourage people to walk around in the community and interact with others, making wheelchair ramps available to all businesses in the community, and ensuring protection from encroachment fines to provide incentives for this inclusion. The participants also suggested making it easy to access vehicles that can accomodate larger wheelchairs for transport, and also building wider sidewalks to allow easy access for wheelchairs. Lastly, a mobile app will assist the individual by reading out the items on their shopping list, and guiding the user to the appropriate store aisle.
Some groups also discussed creating a sense of community in housing units for adults with developmental disabilities by creating options for 2-3 bedroom units to foster safety and prevent isolation. One group talked about how in the past there were people in each neighbourhood that were considered to be the guardians of the community and we have lost those roles in our neighbourhood over time. They suggested marking “Safe Houses” or “Safe Spaces” in the neighbourhood to assist individuals who are lost to find a safe refuge until their caregivers arrive.