The City of Yellowknife is assessing the accessibility of trails in the territorial capital, a project the NWT Disabilities Council wishes would go further.
According to the city, evaluations of the Frame Lake, Niven Lake and Range Lake trails systems are a partnership with the Trans Canada Trail and online accessibility resource AccessNow.
Last year, AccessNow launched a system that allows users to document accessibility issues on segments of the Trans Canada Trail. Earlier this year, the group said the initiative was expanding to all provinces and territories.
In Yellowknife, the loop around Frame Lake is an example of terrain switching dramatically from paved or fine gravel surfaces on the lake’s east side to a rough, rocky western section.
Yellowknife resident Riley Oldford, who has cerebral palsy, is working with AccessNow and the city to evaluate the trails.
“It’s pretty-much done now. We just have one half of Frame Lake left,” he told Cabin Radio last week, adding the city seemed “pretty interested and engaged” in the process.
AccessNow, Oldford said, “has an app and for every change in terrain, every crack in a path or anything, we mark it and take pictures of it.” The resulting guide to the trail then becomes public through the app.
“The Frame Lake trail is really good from the legislature to the hospital, but then there’s a second half and that wasn’t great at all, it’s pretty-much just rock,” Oldford continued, describing his experience so far.
“The Niven trail was surprisingly pretty good because it’s all packed gravel, although that depends on the strength of someone in a wheelchair. But if you lost control, it’s a ditch that’s several feet deep.
“The hardest trail was the Range Lake one. There were a lot of stairs.“
Construction, he said, was one of the biggest issues.
“Every time I’ve been on the trail on the past three years, there has been some part of it under construction,” said Olford. “You have to stop and turn around.”
‘Much broader issue’
The NWT Disabilities Council said that while it welcomed efforts to document trail accessibility, the city’s description of the work suggested more could be done.
“In looking at the partners and the citizen involved, it is apparent that the focus will be primarily ‘mobility’ driven and from a narrow perspective,” Denise McKee, the disabilities council’s executive director, said by email.
“It is important to acknowledge that this is a much broader issue and requires a larger scope of review. In auditing the trails and spaces, both visible and non-visible disabilities need to be considered.
“Mobility, hard of hearing and deaf, visually impaired and blind, neurodiversity, sensory and pan disabilities must have equal weight in consideration. An audit that does not consider the vast spectrum of disability is ultimately driven from an ableism perspective.”
Oldford acknowledged difficulties on Yellowknife trails extend well beyond mobility.
“There are a few signs but nothing in braille, it’s mainly maps and words,” he said, using visual impairment as an example. “And even if you simply spoke a different language, I’d say 95 percent of it is in English.”
Addressing the disabilities council’s criticism, a City of Yellowknife spokesperson sought to distance the city from the project’s terms of reference.
“This initiative was a request from both Trans Canada Trail and AccessNow,” spokesperson Richard McIntosh wrote.
“The coordinators from AccessNow contacted the Oldford family directly to ask Riley to participate. A City of Yellowknife staff member is participating by recording – with GPS locations and 360-degree camera – areas along the Frame Lake, Niven Lake and Range Lake trail that Riley identifies as being a challenge for him to navigate.”
McIntosh said the city had spent the past five years completing an accessibility audit and implementation plan and adopting an accessibility policy. He pointed to the inclusive playground that will be formally opened later this week, a year after children began using it.
“As part of our commitment to becoming a more accessible community, we are currently reviewing training options for city staff,” he wrote.
The city is also creating an accessibility advisory committee, which McIntosh said the NWT Disabilities Council had applied to join.
McKee, who said she was attending a national park accessibility conference at the time of her response, wrote that the city’s committee needed to be formed “in a timely manner” and should, as part of its remit, “engage with experts regarding parks accessibility.”
“The outdoors and trails are part of the allure of the North. Making these spaces equally accessible to all citizens is the foundation of true inclusion,” she wrote.
“This will also require training and education of staff to understand underlying biases regarding disability, in order to better serve the population in both design and customer service.”