Breanne Harder just wrapped up her 6-month internship in Colima, Mexico, where her work focused on urban planning and public space.
During my internship at IPCo, my project ‘Accessible Colima’ focused on understanding accessibility in Colima’s public spaces, predominantly for people with disabilities. Colima, like many cities, lacks accessible infrastructure limiting inclusivity in the city and reducing mobility for many individuals.
One aspect of the project included understanding the perception of accessibility, disability and universal design in Colima. I developed an interactive public event to be held in various public gardens throughout the historic city centre. Armed with only a box of coloured chalk, myself and, a local architecture student interning at IPCo, headed off to gardens in Colima to attempt to better understand how accessibility, disability, and universal design are perceived. Participants of all ages were encouraged to complete a phrase written on cement in the gardens using sidewalk chalk.
- A disability is not “___”
- For me, accessibility in the city is “___”
- A space with universal design has “___”
- A person with a disability I know is “___”
- Universal design is “___”
Almost 200 children, youth and adults participated, including the current mayor, Ignacio Peralta Sánchez. Though this process, a number of conclusions were established:
1. Participants of all ages see the need for accessible public spaces in Colima. Approximately 97% of people surveyed through an informal chalk tally believed that Colima needs gardens and parks that everyone can enjoy.
2. Generally, participants perceived people with disabilities in a positive light. Responses to the phrase a disability is not… included: a disability is not… “a reason to make fun”, a disability is not… “an impediment to achieve your dreams”, a disability is not… “a means to feel worse about yourself”, a disability is not… “a reason to not live”. At the same time, however, there were still a small number of negative responses that demonstrates the ongoing need for programming that promotes an inclusive and accessible city regardless of an individual’s physical or mental disabilities.
3. The term ‘universal design’ was a virtually unknown concept for participants. As it is a technical term this is understandable, however when I explained what universal design or accessible infrastructure entailed and then ask participants for an example of infrastructure that could be implemented in Colima’s public spaces, almost all of the participants said, ‘ramps’. This is not surprising as ramps are already a staple on street corners throughout the city. Apart from ramps however, it was difficult for participants to think of another piece of infrastructure or design technique that would enhance accessibility in public spaces.
So what does this mean for Colima? Participants recognize the importance of inclusive and accessible spaces in Colima, but many do not understand what infrastructure is needed to create these spaces.
During the next phase of Accessible Colima, Alejandra Perdomo, one of the new Sustainable Cities interns, will be hosting visionary workshops that will engage youth and people with disabilities to imagine an accessible future for Colima’s public spaces.
My hope is that one aspect of the workshops will be an educational component, allowing participants to better understand universal design and its guiding principles. Some would argue that this is not true public participation, as IPCo is attempting to educate participants to see things in a certain light. I believe, however, that participants who fully understand the concepts of accessibility and universal design will be able to create a more holistic vision for an accessible Colima that extends beyond constructing ramps and includes individuals with all types of physical and mental disabilities.
With this deeper understanding of the perception of accessibility, disability, and universal design, IPCo can begin to develop a strategy for increasing accessibility in Colima’s public spaces.