Written by: Mahdi Dialden, News Writer

SFU gerontology researcher Dr. Atiya Mahmood and her team have been working on knowledge mobilization, a project that seeks to educate and address the needs of people with mobility disabilities in the Lower Mainland. 

The project has been split into two phases, the deMAND project (Enabling Mobility and Participation Among Those with Disabilities) and the MAP initiative (Mobility, Access, and Participation). 

The deMAND project partnered with North Vancouver, New Westminster, and Vancouver to audit the environment, and study whether mobility devices like wheelchairs and walkers were accessible. Surveys and multiple forms of observational strategies were used to compile a dataset of the accessibility in the cities.

The MAP project, which is set for the future, will focus on three aspects relevant to those with mobility disabilities. Firstly, looking at transportation —  whether it be TransLink or Uber — and if it’s accessible or not. Second, it will look at navigation and pedestrian environment accessibility, and access to neighbourhoods, sidewalks, parks, and shopping centres were studied to determine safety for those with mobility disabilities. The last focal point will explore how visuals influence social inclusivity. Mahmood explained, “Are there options for socialization there? Another thing that we don’t often think about, is it visually pleasing for people to be in those spaces? Is it inclusive? Do they feel they belong or they don’t?” 

The overall project included a user-led audit on the walkability and wheelability of the three cities. Auditors were asked to present their findings in two different ways — objectively, through a checklist that asks about the physical features of the area and subjectively, asking about the perception of the user to their surroundings. Five sections in the community were assessed: functionality, safety, appearance and maintenance, land use and supportive features, and social aspects.

Functionality focused on sidewalks and streets. For example, obstruction on the sidewalks and streets, both temporary and permanent (garbage bins, parked vehicles, trees, fire hydrants, etc.), that created “a break in the path, often needing excessive re-routing,” were recorded in all cities 50% of the time. 

The safety domain looked at traffic, weather, topography, and personal safety. This included items such as street and lighting conditions, drivers’ courtesy and cyclists, perceived personal safety, and the presence of negative elements. 

The findings showed that “the presence of public open spaces and well-maintained greenery, presence of street furniture and street lights all received average ratings of approximately 50%.” In terms of land use and supportive features certain areas in cities had, “a very limited number of [accessible] amenities and services”

In every single section, subjective input was higher reflecting the needs, preferences, and perspective of participants along with the objective features. “Subjective data complement objective findings by providing a more in-depth understanding of an individual’s interaction with their neighbourhood and the surrounding built environment.”

Mahmood explained that the ultimate goal is to use the findings to inform policy at different levels, ranging from provincial and federal levels. “Our team, the larger team, was affecting national policy that was going on for accessibility for persons with a disability,” Mahmood said. 

Finally, the educational aspect of the project aimed to inform the public on mobility issues and push for better accessibility. It entailed events hosted for the community, presenting the data in the form of an informational video, along with a photo exhibit and board game. The video’s intended purpose was to present in a captivating way, Mahmood explained, a “video speaks much more than showing a lot of bars, some charts, numbers, you know, it’s much more realistic to people.”

For more information on mobility issues, explore SFU’s Knowledge Mobilization Hub.