Pedestrian navigation app unlocks more downtown Calgary spaces

Pedesting app co-founder Nabeel Ramji speaks at the Calgary Telus Convention Centre on Nov. 2, 2023. Global News

A made-in-Calgary app is making it easier for citizens with mobility challenges to get around with dignity.

On Thursday, Pedesting announced it was adding the interior layout and accessibility-friendly entrances for four more downtown buildings: the Calgary Telus Convention Centre, Stephen Avenue Place, Life Plaza and Bow Valley College.

When added to the original three – the Downtown Central Library, Arts Commons and Brookfield Place – seven well-travelled buildings in the city’s core will be easier to get in, through and around.

Telus Convention Centre president and CEO Kurby Court said it makes sense to make it easier to get into, out of and around the 325,000-square foot building.

“Using real time feedback from Pedesting, the users allow us, the convention centre, to make informed decisions on further modifications that will increase the accessibility of the centre,” he said. “So it’s not only for the user, but it’s actually for the venue to improve their operations, and how they can ensure they’re inclusive and accessible in all things they do.”

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Click to play video: 'App launched to help pedestrians find accessible, barrier-free routes downtown Calgary'
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The app helps pedestrians find the easiest, safest and most accessible indoor and outdoor routes across the city.

The co-founder said it helps people like him enjoy a more normal life.

“Like everyone else, sometimes I want to try a new restaurant, but if the entrance is not accessible, I will turn back home,” Nabeel Ramji, a wheelchair user, said.

“Even more recently I went to the main entrance of a building only to find out I would have to go to the back of the building. and in these cases it takes time to go to a different side of a building especially when there is snow or ice in the way.

“Over 100,000 Calgarians will have a physical disability of some kind and have the same anxiety and fear of getting around. It can just be easier to stay home and feel isolated.”

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Mayor Jyoti Gondek met Ramji in 2015, while she was a member of the Calgary Planning Commission and worked for the University of Calgary.

When they met for coffee, he explained to her why his suggested coffee shop would allow him in, and not the one she suggested.

“We took this little weird route and he navigated it perfectly — there was a lot of snow, but he knew that he could get to this building and get to the location where we could actually sit together and have coffee as people with different levels, different levels of accessibility,” Gondek said.

“And it taught me a lot that very day. It taught me a lot about how we have designed a city that is incredibly ableist, how we design the city over time that does not often recognize what happens when someone has a disability or an injury, or an aging parent with them, or a child in a stroller.”

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The president and CEO of Bow Valley College called Pedesting a “bold, innovative app” that will open doors for the college community.

“We are proud to be the first post-secondary institution to collaborate with Pedesting, removing barriers and creating a more accessible and welcoming campus,” Dr. Misheck Mwaba said in a statement.

Pedesting co-founder and architect Erin Shilliday said they set out to create more than just a tool that could help anyone get around the city in a mobility-friendly way.

“Let’s create a tool that can get everybody out and about and be seen. And then I think things will change because you can’t unsee what you see,” Shilliday said.

“I never stop thinking about accessibility as someone who uses a wheelchair every single day,” Ramji said.

Pedesting was launched in September and is available for download in app stores.

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