There is a new pedestrian overpass near where I live. It provides easier access to the grocery store (and other stores that have popped up in the past decade+ since they promised to build it) for people living on the north side of the railway tracks. It probably shaves at least 15 minutes off the walk each way.
I rode by it the other day, and was hoping to use it to travel home by bicycle. I remember seeing an elevator when it was being built. But when I got there, the elevator was not working.
Which got me thinking about the many ways we attempt to make things accessible, but they are not really accessible.
Access – all the time, and for all
As I looked at the overpass, I noticed that the structure is all concrete and the stairs are built in a circular formation. I’m not an engineer, but I wondered why this structure couldn’t have been designed to have a gently sloping ramp instead of stairs. That could make it truly accessible … for those who are walking, for those who walk but have knee pain, and for those on wheels of various kinds – wheels for accessibility (wheelchairs, scooters), ease (strollers) or recreation (skateboards, bicycles). A ramp would make this overpass something anyone could use, all the time. Without depending on technology or repair.
Bias plays a role, of course
Since I’m not an engineer, there is likely something I’m missing about this decision from a structural perspective. Which is another example of bias. But from where I was standing that day, looking at a no access sign, it seems simple.
To find out if it is simple, I would have to ask someone who knows how to build something like this.
Just like to make something truly accessible, it would be helpful to ask someone who is currently experiencing barriers – whether those are physical or some other kind of barrier to access.
Sometimes in our Diversity & Inclusion efforts we miss simple steps to make things more equitable that can benefit everyone. Adding a word, removing a requirement, creating a system….
If we create a process where we can hear from folx about their needs, and hear people’s ideas, and then use those ideas, it means we can move forward in a way that really supports inclusion – both in outcome and also in process. And to me, how we do something is as important as what we do.
(c) Annemarie Shrouder 2021