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Major Canadian cities lacking in accessibility for people with disabilities: study

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CALGARY -

New research suggests Canadian cities are either inaccessible or partially inaccessible to people with disabilities -- and Calgary is leading in the race to the bottom. 

The University of Calgary-led “Mapping our Cities for All” project looked at urban and rural public places in its research. 

It found nearly 60 per cent of public spaces in Calgary, Vancouver and Ottawa are at least partially inaccessible. 

And the numbers get worse when zooming in on Calgary alone. 

Of the three cities, the research found the Alberta municipality finished last with 35 per cent of the buildings it mapped deemed accessible.

That's compared to 48 per cent in Vancouver and 53 per cent in Ottawa.

The study used geographic data and insights from people with first-hand experience with disability.

Factors taken into consideration include the ability to get into parking spots, building entrances and washrooms, as well as general categories such as lighting, the height of tables, spaciousness, digital menus and customer service.

"It's everybody doing the bare minimum and trying to get away with the least amount of effort," accessibility advocate Darby Young said. "Until they've lived it, they don't get it."

"(Construction) can be intimidating, it can be dangerous and it can be just really challenging and make it difficult to be independent," CNIB's Taylor Bauer added. 

The project is aimed at helping the federal government meet its goals under the Accessible Canada Act, which wants to remove barriers for people with disabilities by 2040.

“There hasn't been a clear understanding in Canada as to what barriers people with disabilities face,” said Victoria Fast, an associate professor in the Department of Geography at the University of Calgary.

“When the government of Canada enacted this legislation, they acknowledged 'we need a better understanding.' It's our job to help them understand and support them in their goals.”

Young believes positive improvements will only happen with a more intense effort on multiple fronts. 

"It's going to take a lot of work," she told CTV News. "It's going to take city officials, the contractors, the architects -- all of us -- to band together to realize what needs to change."

"Until we stop looking at dollar signs, we're not going to get anywhere."

The report was released by AccessNow in collaboration with the University of Calgary and Spinal Cord Injury Canada.

AccessNow provides a free crowdsourcing mobile app that collects and shares accessibility information for cities across Canada.

“Only once we measure access, can we improve it,” said Maayan Ziv, founder and CEO of AccessNow.

“By using the collective experiences and perspectives of people with all forms of disabilities, we can drive meaningful progress towards a more inclusive Canada.”

Fast and Ziv are encouraging other Canadian cities to join the mapping efforts.

The 2017 Canadian Survey on Disability found more than six million Canadians age 15 and over - 22 per cent of the population - identify as having a disability.

-with files from The Canadian Press

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