Over three remarkable days, we had the pleasure of learning from people with lived experience, park management and staff, and researchers with a shared passion for making parks more inclusive and accessible for people with disabilities and caregivers. The theme of this year’s conference was solutions for improving the accessibility of national and provincial parks. If you weren’t able to attend the conference, we encourage you to watch the conference recordings on our website pac2023.ca.
#10 Embracing Collaboration
Improving accessibility is not a solo endeavour. Through partnerships and the inclusion of individuals with disabilities with intersectional lived experiences, we can foster a dynamic exchange of knowledge. Kristen Habermehl’s captivating account of staff spaces assessment resonated with our team’s experiences during a recent park visit. As Craig Paulson stated, decisions we make alone in an office aren’t one thousandth as powerful as when we pick up the phone and collaborate.
#9 Starting with Accessibility in Mind
We have learned the importance of considering accessibility from the very beginning of any park project. Lawrence Gunther’s research station serves as a powerful example of how accessibility can be incorporated from the ground up. John Foster and his team from Ontario Parks also underlined the importance of public feedback in the early stages of developing two new parks. They serve as examples of positive change in the way we design parks and other nature spaces.
#8 The Power of Public Input
Highlighted by presenter Haley Flaro of Accessibility Standards Canada, public input is shaping accessibility standards for outdoor spaces like parks. Understanding that accessibility means different things to different people and gathering diverse perspectives is vital to create truly inclusive parks. Our policies will guide vital aspects of inclusion and contribute to long term social change in parks and more. To review and submit feedback on Accessibility Standards Canada’s Outdoor Spaces Standard, visit their website.
#7 A World of Adaptive Devices
The conference showcased an astonishing array of adaptive devices designed to enhance accessibility in outdoor spaces. Jamie McCullogh from Rocky Mountain Adaptive urged policymakers to consider revising existing policies to accommodate these devices, which could potentially become a significant recommendation in the new accessibility standard. These devices offer more opportunities to increase access and maintain trail diversity and natural landscape in the backcountry.
#6 Beyond the Standards
Not everything can be neatly defined by a standard. Kate’s journey with implementing “mobi mats” exemplifies how embracing an open and flexible mindset is essential in the pursuit of improved accessibility. When moving beyond standards, park programs can also work on creating inclusive programming such as that for neurodivergent park users, highlighted by Taylor Sands from Canucks Autism Network and Claire DeLong from Parks Canada.
#5 Illuminating Hidden Disabilities
The fifth takeaway challenges us to broaden our understanding of accessibility. Marie LeBlanc and Laura Brydges highlighted many often-overlooked disability communities. Beyond mobility-related disabilities, park experiences should include considerations of individuals with sensory disabilities, those experiencing pain, fatigue, chemical sensitivity, and many other hidden disabilities. Marie’s website provides more information on multiple chemical sensitivities. Laura’s website provides more information on Hidden Disabilities and the mentioned Hidden Disability Symbol.
#4 Shared Park Experiences
During the Day Two Panel, Carinna Kenigsberg and panelists emphasized the desire of people with disabilities to visit parks with friends, family, and caregivers. The ability to share park experiences with others is an important consideration for accessibility and how we design spaces and experiences in parks. Hans-Steffen Lindner on the other hand helped us conceptualize a virtual park experience, where people could enjoy remote nature from home through his drone footage. This showed us that park experiences can be shared in person and virtually.
#3 The Value of Trustworthy Information
Information emerged as a key theme, underscored by the importance of accuracy, reliability, and trustworthiness of the source. Gathering multiple perspectives on a park’s accessibility ensures a diverse set of information is available for park visitors. As discussed during the Campfire Chat Panel, to be inclusive, parks must foster trust over time with ongoing updates to park information online and in-person.
#2 The “F” Word- Funding
Haley Flaro addressed the elephant in the room: funding. Many practical accessibility solutions require financial support, making securing funding a priority for organizations dedicated to fostering inclusive parks. Innovative ways to gather funding for accessibility will allow parks to meet and surpass standards. For example, the province of BC funds their parks using the BC license plate program. Funding can support accessibility in parks and access to parks, for example, Ontario Parks’ library loans.
#1 The Impact of Stories
Our ultimate takeaway from our conference was the extraordinary strength of personal stories. Throughout the conference, we were moved by the compelling narratives shared by presenters, panelists, and attendees. Capturing these stories in video format as a tool for raising awareness, training park staff, and securing funding, sparked excitement, and inspiration within our team.
The 2023 Parks Accessibility Conference reminded us of the power of connection in driving positive change. The journey to create accessible parks is far from over, but with the insights gained from this event, we can continue to learn, grow, and build a future of truly inclusive outdoor spaces. For more information or to watch recordings of our conference, visit our website at pac2023.ca.