This year New West Pride has an increased focus on making its events accessible to the entire community and is hoping to lead the way in barrier-free events for the city.
An accessibility committee was formed by New West Pride late last year with a goal to remove barriers that might prevent all members of the community from taking part in the festivities. Committee head and Pride organizer Hayley Sinclair said the committee was founded after a number of issues with accessibility at last year’s Pride, including blocked curb ramps, where tables and fencing were placed, and limited promotion about American Sign Language were brought to the board’s attention.
“People had a lot of questions about what they could access and how they could access those spaces,” she said. “We are the New West festival with a human rights focus, so we knew we had to take this on. Our model is all about community involvement, so we designed the initiative to influence all the festivals that happen in New West.”
To meet their goals, the committee created an accessibility audit and distributed it to the organizers involved in Pride community events. Hosts then self-reported on a variety of accessibility factors for their venue and event, including wheelchair access, cost and availability of gender neutral bathrooms. According to Sinclair, organizers were more than happy to get on board.
“Everyone really embraced this idea,” she said.
At the Columbia Street Party, big headway has been made. There will be American Sign Language on stages, two fully-accessible bathrooms and gender-neutral bathrooms on the street party site, wheelchair and priority seating under a tent near the front of the main stage, curb ramp entrance by all tables and tents, and a shade tent at the food court. Accessibility volunteers will be present to ensure continued access and pathways through all outdoor pubs and food areas.
“It was a big team effort, and a lot of people were involved on different levels, and there are a lot of moving parts on this project,’’ said Sinclair. “We set a goal for this to be the most accessible festival that New West has ever seen and I think we surpassed it.”
A festival map highlighting accessibility features has been created using the information. The map will be made available online and handed out in print for the Street Party. Sinclair hopes by publicizing information and spreading the word, community members who may face barriers to participation will know they are welcome, will be able to plan ahead and make informed decisions.
“Too often we invite the community to an event and when members arrive, they aren’t able to enter or pee. We need to change this. We can’t just make assumptions that everyone’s body works the same,’’ said Sinclair.
The information from the individual venue audits will also be made available to The City of New Westminster, private businesses that hold community events and local organizers. New West Pride also offers gender neutral bathroom signage for private businesses on their website.
New West Pride’s community calendar, complete with accessibility information for all New West Pride events, is available at www.newwestpride.ca