After more than two years in the works, the City of Lethbridge’s mobility/accessibility master plan was presented to members of city council on Monday at the community issues committee meeting.
The long-term strategy aims at making the city universally accessible and easier to navigate for people who struggle with mobility.
The document — which is available on the city’s website — states that the plan’s vision is to “guide the optimization of our physical infrastructure to allow for equal access to programs and services for all people, including those with physical, sensory and cognitive challenges.”
Chris Witkowski, the plan’s project lead, said the emphasis is on accessibility.
“We are trying to get accessibility to the forefront of thinking as we do projects,” Witkowski said.
“Accessibility right now in this city is dealt with on a business unit by business unit basis, and we want it to be more of a corporate mandate.”
Witkowski says Alberta does not currently have an accessibility mandate, so it’s up to municipalities to make it a priority.
“Compared to where we were just five to seven years ago, we’ve come a long way,” he said. “We do have a ways to go, especially with the backlog of some deficient infrastructure.”
The executive director of the Southern Alberta Individualized Planning Association (SAIPA) says that the city’s willingness to listen and make changes on behalf of those with disabilities has been impressive.
“People definitely appreciate being included,” said Mark Davids, “and this is one great example of how the city can apply this to a lot of different things.”
Davids works with adults with developmental disabilities and helps them become self-advocates through workshops, advocacy, networking and resources with SAIPA.
“This master plan has definitely been an example of how people’s consideration for others has continued to expand,” he said.
“We’re looking forward and actually considering the needs of everyone in our community. I think it would definitely be fair to say that older plans and buildings didn’t take that into account.”
Davids has gone to the community engagement sessions hosting by the Mobility/Accessibility Working Group (MAWG) and says he has appreciated the city’s willingness to listen.
“It’s been a good process, being able to attend them and being able to talk to city officials has been one of the greatest things — that direct line of contact — because then you actually feel like you’re being heard,” he said.
The master plan is slated to be back before city council next month, and Coun. Jeff Coffman said he hopes it is accepted by his colleagues.
Coffman spoke briefly of his own connection to the accessibility initiative. He has a son who navigates the world in a wheelchair.
“The experiences of living with somebody who has mobility challenges definitely opens your eyes to the way that the world is designed,” Coffman said.
“This has definitely been a group that’s been overlooked. And it’s not conscious, it’s just that we design based on the ability of walking around on two feet.”
Coffman said he believes it is council’s responsibility to advocate for all groups in the city.
“When we sit at council, we have to look at the world through a number of different lenses, and this is another one,” he said.
The mobility/accessibility master plan will reportedly be on the agenda at the July 13 meeting of city council.