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Recreational access boosted through community collaboration

At left, Access BC’s Nancy Harris measuring pathway widths in the David Douglas Botanical Garden at UNBC with Dr. Mark Groulx, associate professor in the School of Environmental Planning, UNBC.

Exploring the beauty of outdoor destinations is something many British Columbians can sometimes take for granted. Several UNBC professors, with support from a SSHRC Partnership Engage grant, have been working to help more local residents be able to enjoy the B.C. outdoors through increased accessibility.

Working together with Spinal Cord Injury BC’s Access BC team, Drs. Mark Groulx, Shannon Freeman and Pamela Wright are supporting work to create more barrier-free destinations in the province.

“We live in a province, and a country, that has some of the most magnificent natural environments,” says Groulx, an associate professor in UNBC’s School of Environmental Planning. “The essence of this research really looks at whether or not all members of society have equitable access and opportunity to experience these amazing spaces.”

The larger project team included UNBC grad student Jacob Cameron and Dr. Chris Lemieux from Wilfred Laurier University, Spinal Cord Injury BC as well as numerous tourism and recreational partners that work with Access BC.

As part of the $24,000 research grant, visits were made to outdoor tourism and recreation sites around B.C. in conjunction with the ongoing work that Access BC already undertakes to collect data on accessibility needs.

“Access BC audits and measures where infrastructure, as well as environments, are accessible and where deficiencies might present barriers to those with mobility or visual limitations,” says Freeman, an associate professor, School of Nursing, UNBC. “As researchers, we are trying to use our tools to help further improve their processes and efficiencies, and hopefully help build capacity for them so that they can do more of the great work that they do.”

Audits consider a wide variety of potential barriers to accessibility that may exist at sites, such as the widths of paths, slopes of trails, gaps between grates, and heights of washroom sinks and toilets.

“We have to think about equity all the way through the experience a visitor might have, from the early stages of deciding what they want out of a trip to when they actually arrive and use things like pathways, buildings, washrooms, shorelines, docks and other infrastructure,” says Wright, an associate professor, Outdoor Recreation and Tourism Management, Ecosystem Science and Management Program, UNBC.

“Access BC also looks at ensuring that specific site information is easily found online and is accessible, so that even before a trip, visitors can determine if an environment will meet their needs.”

The research work has led to the development of a new digital tool that will help Access BC in further streamlining of processes and collation of data for reports that can be shared with recreational, municipal and tourism stakeholders as part of ongoing discussions around accessibility and potential planning for space upgrades.

“Participation in outdoor recreation is and has always been a high priority for Spinal Cord Injury BC’s members,” says Chris McBride, PhD, Executive Director, Spinal Cord Injury BC, “which is why our Access BC initiative is focusing its efforts on enhancing the accessibility of outdoor recreation spaces, particularly in the communities and parks of north central British Columbia.

“These efforts have been critically bolstered by our research partners at UNBC, who bring unique content expertise, skills and insights to the initiative. The new tools, evidence, and content developed through this partnership are serving to expedite our collective work to enhance access and inclusion of park spaces for all.”

“This project has been such a great example for me on how much positive benefit can be found in working more closely with community partners in research,” notes Groulx.  “Either in taking more direction from community regarding needs, for example, or walking hand in hand to identify problems and finding ways to addressing those issues. If we’re looking to have positive impact through our research, then this kind of collaboration seems to be a really worthwhile process in terms of time, effort and funding investment.”

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