Regent Park is a challenge for people with disabilities. A new partnership tries to change that

As someone who uses a wheelchair, Saleh Sheihk says new buildings in his Regent Park neighborhood are mostly accessible, but others need improvements that aren’t always obvious to non-disabled people. .

“When you go to a place, you don’t know what’s missing,” Sheikh said.

“Every place should be accessible to everyone.”

That’s why he joined a group of local volunteers on Wednesday to review and rank the accessibility of public spaces and businesses in Regent Park. The data they collect will help AccessNow, an accessibility crowdsourcing company, and The Daniels Corporation, a developer, map the neighborhood to help people with disabilities better navigate it.

While AccessNow has hosted many initiatives like this, this is the first time the tech app has worked with a developer who is used to shaping a community.

“Daniels is obviously responsible for a lot of the infrastructure, and now we’re engaging with people who live in the neighborhood to comment on how they navigate the spaces,” said Maayan Ziv, Founder and CEO of AccessNow. .

“It really creates a dialogue between builders, property managers and citizens.”

A beginning of partnership

Regent Park, which was built in the 1940s, was the first social housing project. For half a century it had few amenities and its narrow streets closed it off from the rest of the city. For decades, activist tenants have pushed for change, saying poor urban design, an aging housing stock and a lack of investment kept the community poor and isolated. Finally, in 2005, the city reacted by initiating the long process of redesigning the district.

The Daniels Corporation shaped the first three phases of the Regent Park revitalization project. When the fifth and final phase is complete, the neighborhood will be home to new services and community centers, and potentially 3,000 new residential units offered at market rates, affordable and income-appropriate.

Jacob Cohen, COO of Daniels Corporation, says accessibility has traditionally been a priority inside buildings, not outside. Now, he says, it’s important to start looking at how communities operate as a whole.

“By doing so, we may have a better chance of getting people in and out and being able to move around the community more easily,” Cohen said.

Anthony Frisina, spokesperson for the Ontario Disability Coalition, says he wants to see these kinds of partnerships more often and in a way that involves people with disabilities early in the planning, not after.

“Disability can happen to anyone at any time – temporary, permanent or even catastrophic,” Frisina said.

“Having this type of initiative and rolling it out more widely, more aggressively…would be a benefit not just to the disability community, but to the community as a whole.”

To look forward

Next month, Daniels and AccessNow will share the data they have collected with users on the AccessNow app.

Ziv sees the partnership as a way to approach accessible planning with a thoughtful and responsible perspective for planners and businesses alike.

“Our goal is not to shame businesses that are not accessible, but simply to create transparency about the barriers that still exist,” she told CBC Toronto.

“We hope this information can somehow motivate and push people to think about how to break down these barriers,” Ziv added.

“But it starts with just acknowledging that they exist in the community.”

Lance B. Holton