As part of our continued efforts to include diverse perspectives in creation of inclusive cities, IDRC partnered with Dream Team and organized an embedded co-design session at their Bloor Street location. The session included eleven participants with lived experience of a mental illness or drug abuse/addiction who engaged in various activities over two separate sessions. Both sessions were facilitated by the Dream Team coordinator who received prior instruction and a facilitation guide from the IDRC team.
The co-design activity was developed in collaboration with the Dream Team coordinator and members. It was based on previous experience working with the Dream Team members to ensure the activity was tailored to the interests and needs of the members. The activity had three parts: individual journey maps, group brainstorming activity, and a large group discussion.
Objective: Reflect on most and least welcoming places they have visited in the city.
Participants were given a journey map to identify three places they have visited in the past week, and then to identify other places they may have visited in between those three destinations (e.g. walk past the homeless shelter on your way to work). The participants then identified the most and least welcoming places of the places they had previously identified, and reflected on the following questions:
As a large group, the participants discussed the following questions:
Objective: Discuss and brainstorm ways to improve the city for their community
The participants selected a best-case scenario for how they want to see change in the city and brainstormed ideas to make the best-case scenario a reality. The groups then critically analysed their ideas based on the following questions and revised their original ideas based on their discussions.
The groups then revised their ideas based on the feedback they received from other groups.
Participants reported places they had visited in the past week and reflected on which of these places were most welcoming or least welcoming to them. The places listed as welcoming included library, local coffee shops, church, places previously or currently employed, a friend’s home, community centres/buildings and the local mall. The participants identified certain places to be welcoming because they created a sense of belonging, were welcoming to these individuals and appreciated their contributions in that space. Some of the spaces included work offices, or restaurants that the participants delivered packages for and received a lot of praise, and found themselves to be in the company of like minded peers and colleagues. Other places, such as the local library or the shopping mall provided access to desired services, and provided a friendly environment for them to engage in. Many participants also identified their local church as a welcoming place because it brought together committed believers, and created a spiritual environment with seasoned music. One participant also mentioned a friend’s home which provided a safe, warm and supportive environment for them with lots of music and flowers which they appreciated.
On the other hand, places listed as least welcoming included hospitals/clinics, local parks, subway stations, a local shelter, department stores, restaurants and Oshawa city. Some of the spaces that were identified to be least welcoming include outdoor spaces that were neglected or were littered with garbage, the management approaches were environmentally unfriendly and disrespectful towards the environment. Other spaces identified were indoor shopping and or dining spaces, and subway stations that were disorganized, caused discomfort (too hot/cold, broken elevators), had too much noise pollution or staff that were not friendly or sensitive to the customer’s needs. Some indoor spaces were identified to be inaccessible and posed a safety hazard due to clutter and door entrances that were a falls risk. One participant also mentioned feeling unsafe navigating the area in Oshawa city and felt that better signage should be incorporated for bus routes and street identifiers and also incorporate better elevator announcement systems for all users.
The groups discussed the idea of “community building” where people with accessibility needs can be integrated into the larger community and be empowered to provide direct input on buildings’ accessibility features (e.g. wayfinding landmarks). This initiative will also address the issue of NIMBYISM (not in my backyard) which in this case referred to residents opposing the integration of certain groups into the community, for example people with disabilities or the homeless population. This can be done through public education and community events that provide opportunities for interaction between different groups. The groups also discussed establishing information posts, and officers in busy public spaces to direct people who feel overwhelmed in these busy areas (people with disabilities etc.).
The group discussions emphasized the need for efficiency in the services being provided by the city (public transit, traffic signals, parking, etc.), being mindful of their customers’ time, and communicating timelines in a respectful and civil manner. According to the participants, the realization of this best-case scenario will require the city officials, service providers and users of services to establish a compromise in their transactions, and being realistic with their expectations for each other as consumers and providers. The groups suggested that achieving this scenario will decrease mental health issues as it will reduce stress in both consumers and providers, increase the quality of life, increase productivity, and empower businesses, health care and security services. Some of the challenges that one may encounter in making this a reality included resistance from the professionals in powerful positions. Another barrier that may prevent those with cognitive impairments to be fully integrated in the workforce is the requirement for high degree of training for all staff members, and the pressure to increase productivity among city employees.
The groups also discussed developing a community where all members have equal access to all spaces, such as different modes of transportation, residences, and other public amenities in the community. The group reported that this approach will ensure the inclusion of populations that are otherwise marginalized, such as individuals with physical disabilities, especially those using a mobility device. This approach will also increase a community’s workforce by providing employment opportunities for people with various different abilities and backgrounds. According to group discussions, some challenges may be encountered in the financial capacity of institutions, independent businesses or the government in achieving this large scale accessibility of physical spaces and services in the city. This limitation may impact the type of accessible technology that may be integrated in this project. Also, allocating funds to this project may redirect money from other equally important services, and add to the cost of building new accessible infrastructures or retrofitting the existing ones. Further, public stigma towards the homeless population or religious/ethnic minorities may create barriers for achieving accessibility of spaces for all.
The groups discussed incorporating respect in all interactions between citizens and the government, and collectively developing solutions for issues like lack of housing. This approach will accomodate everyone, and inspire citizens to be respectful to each other, and being civil when encountering challenges (housing crisis).