Making Cities Work for Every Body
I believe that we all have the potential to create social impact, and I’d like to share with the world the secret recipe to help unlock that potential in an effort to build cities that work for every body.
In 2011 I co-founded a charity called StopGap Foundation, an organization with a mission to help create a world where every person can access every space. Just over a year ago I put together a presentation on social entrepreneurship and social innovation and really dissected StopGap’s approach to how we run our accessibility awareness raising initiative. I started to discover a specific set of principles that I wrote down and organized into a whacky acronym… FAFMBEFP.
I’ve run it by all kinds of socially minded and purpose-driven organizations and learned that each word comprising the acronym resonates in each case. It began 16 years ago when my life changed in a split second and I was all of a sudden introduced to a world that’s not well suited for someone who uses a wheelchair.
I became increasingly frustrated encountering barriers that were preventing me from accessing spaces. I was also noticing that many other groups of people shared my frustration. Parents pushing strollers, delivery people, and the elderly. Frustration.
F for frustration. The first ingredient to building inclusive cities.
In designing cities that work for all, it’s important to tap into what frustrates a broad cross-section of people with diverse lived experiences. As we’ve discovered, there are similar flaws to our built environment that are recognized by many different groups of people. So, as a collective, we can harness those desires to see improvements, and use that as motivation for beneficial purposes. With the help of advocates, designers, and policy makers we can redirect that energy and steer it in the right direction.
Raising ‘A’wareness is the second ingredient.
We wanted people to start talking about a huge issue regarding accessibility; we wanted people to start thinking about great ideas that could help solve some big problems that really affect everyone. At some point in life we’re all going to encounter a shift in our ability to move around, so it’s in our collective best interest to build our environment to suit all levels of ability. We wanted store owners to realize the value of having a storefront that everyone can access, and we wanted to draw attention to our human right to equal access. What’s the platform and the broadcast channel? How is the message going to get out there in order to develop a critical mass of support?
‘F’ree is the third ingredient.
We thought, why don’t we build brightly painted simple plywood ramps and get business owners with single stepped entryways to participate. They’ll put them outside their storefronts like a welcome mat and not only attract attention to the issue but also help get people in the door.
When we first approached business owners about their interest in getting a ramp we were offering the them for a fee to cover some of our costs. But even at $50 most people weren’t interested. Some business owners told us that they don’t need a ramp because they don’t have any customers that use wheelchairs! Ha! So we had to figure out a different approach. We pulled together some volunteers, got some donated building materials, and went back with an offer of a free ramp.
We are being of service, and typically this doesn’t come with a price tag. In my opinion being of service is the most fulfilling experience we can have in life.
Creating inclusive spaces isn’t easy work, it requires many hands to stir the pot and effect change. From building a community of supporters on social media, to engaging groups of inspired volunteers to help achieve an end goal, having many hands on deck is key.
Speaking of stirring the pot, effective city building won’t happen without disturbing the status quo. As an evolutionary species our policies, built environment, and other frameworks need to evolve as well. From Henry Ford’s assembly line disrupting the automotive industry to Uber’s ride sharing technology and it’s disruption of the taxi industry, not to mention our brightly painted ramps in front of more than 1600 businesses in over 50 communities across Canada and the US disrupting building codes and bylaws and our own understanding of accessibility. Stand behind the message, and be prepared to shake things up.
E for education, a crucial ingredient.
What are the facts around the issue? What are the metrics? What are other people’s stories about the issue? What’s your story? What is the content that will go through the awareness raising channels and on the strategic platform(s). Without education there is no increase in awareness. Education leads to change.
Setting a lighter tone has proven to be instrumental in building a supportive network and helping shift perspectives. Raising awareness is tough, exhausting work so choosing to take it on with a fun tone is really important, so important that it has become one of our core values. Ramp Man embodies this core value of ours and whenever he is on the streets advocating for a barrier free society, he makes sure that he goes heavy on the fun.
‘P’eople first, this one’s a no brainer.
I believe that putting people first reminds us that we’re all here together as humans with unique and equally valuable lived experiences. We can remove barriers right now by using empowering language and symbolism that puts the person first.
FAFMBEFP… Got it?
StopGap Foundation is helping people shift their perspectives about the way they perceive things in their cities. Now, how are YOU going to use this whacky yet effective acronym to help make your city an EVEN better place?!
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