A welcome sign on K-68 entering Ottawa from the east says “We’re building an inclusive community.” Inclusiveness can be interpreted a number of ways with many people first thinking of racial inclusiveness — though it also can include age, ethnic, sexual orientation, religion or even physical and mental capabilities.
Ottawa doesn’t have much diversity in many of those areas, but it is attempting to be inclusive by respecting the needs of all of its community members. Evidence of that desired inclusiveness is the City of Ottawa’s recent initiative to establish an Accessibility Advisory Board. This nine-member board would make recommendations to the city commission on matters related to accessibility from both a public and private perspective. Its members also would serve as advocates for residents with disabilities. The premise is that the community needs to be accessible to everyone.
With an estimated 400 intersections and 1,600 corners in the city, that kind of accessibility comes at a cost. So it makes sense to prioritize public buildings, intersections and other locales, with the heaviest used upgraded first. It has been decades since Americans with Disabilities Act rules mandated sidewalk ramps be built where street or sidewalk improvements occurred. About 75 intersections have been upgraded in Ottawa since the act went into effect in the 1990s.
The original act required curb ramps between sidewalks and streets, on transit platforms and other areas needing detectable warning systems. The mandates required that, where feasible, separate curb ramps be installed at each corner of an intersection as well as mid-block on all newly constructed and altered roadway and sidewalk projects. Preference was to have a curb ramp go each direction rather than just one into the street to maintain crosswalk orientation for visually impaired people. Ottawa’s initial ramps were thrifty with just one curb cut angled toward the center of traffic intersections.
Of course, the curb cuts aid more than just the visually impaired. Bicyclists and people using wheelchairs and strollers, as well as those using walkers, hand carts, crutches and those who had difficulty stepping up and down, all benefited from the first round of sidewalk changes.
Today, the act requires sidewalk curb ramps have a visual cue that visually impaired pedestrians and others who are nearing the edge of the sidewalk and entering a street can detect in multiple ways. The new “visual cues” sometimes referred to as “Braille for the feet” usually take one of three forms: rubber mats/tiles, stamped concrete or truncated dome detectable warning pavers. The City of Ottawa has opted for truncated dome pavers as the most cost-effective method to meet this requirement.
Though this initiative is aimed at assisting sight-impaired people, those without physical visual impairments, particularly those distracted by texting while walking, also have benefited from the ground surface change to alert them to oncoming traffic. This is an inclusive step that definitely puts out the welcome mat in Ottawa.
— Jeanny Sharp,
editor and publisher