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Inclusion in products and services means equitable access

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As social enterprises and social impact organizations often have members, clients, supporters, or audiences that have different abilities and different capacities, we need to think a lot about how we make our products and services accessible to the people we’re aiming to support and serve.

And equitable access means different things in different contexts. Vancouver’s transit agency, Translink, is currently in the process of demonstrating exactly what inclusion doesn’t mean as they launch their faregate turnstile program called “Compass Card.” If you’re launching a social impact product or service, you need to make sure that it’s equally accessible to all.

Faregate access that isn’t fair?

The Compass Card issue is complex. Because the faregates bar access unless a transit rider taps their Compass Card onto a reader, the faregates can prevent people with mobility challenges from accessing public transit. Some transit riders may not be able to tap their cards against the reader, because that requires specific mobility. There’s a lot of concern about how people with mobility challenges will be able to access the system, at all, since there aren’t staff in all of the stations 100% of the time to provide access.

Yesterday, Translink announced their ‘solution’ to the faregate issue – transit riders who need assistance to open the faregates will need to phone someone for assistance, either before they start their trip or when they arrive at the station.

You should be able to immediately see how this isn’t really a solution: while people without mobility challenges will be able to freely enter and leave from the transit stations, people with mobility challenges will need to plan ahead, phone someone, and wait for them to arrive to grant them access to a public transit system.

This isn’t empowering. In fact, it’s disempowering. It means that there’s a second class of public transit riders – those with mobility challenges – and they can’t have access unless someone else assists them.

If you’re building a social enterprise, you can see why you don’t to build up programs or services that have these kinds of impacts. A social impact organization or a social enterprise is intended to help disadvantaged people, or help people grow. You don’t want to create barriers to that access that creates reliance on others to access support and growth.

Translink’s system isn’t fair, and it’s no example to follow.

Steps to another way of doing things

There are better ways to address these kinds of issues. I have one small example, from the University of British Columbia, and their public realm (physical landscape and building design) plan.

UBC has lots of old buildings – built in the 1920s or 1930s, with beautiful stone bricks and the like. When these buildings were built, they weren’t built with universal access in mind – there are ceremonial stairs at the front of buildings that can’t be easily climbed with a wheelchair.

As the University refits its buildings, they’ve made plans for “universal access,” to ensure that all campus community members can access buildings equally.

Importantly, UBC’s plans for universal access also call for dignified access – meaning that the design intentions are that people with mobility challenges can access the building the same way people without mobility challenges can, through main entrances, without needing to phone someone for assistance.

When UBC re-does landscaping, if there are stairs and a ramp into a building, they extend the stairs so that the ramp and the stairs take up the same amount of space – allowing someone in a wheelchair to travel with their walking colleagues up the same path into the building. No more entering through back doors, or a side ramp. Doors and handles on doors are set to the height of people in a wheelchair, instead of too high, or two sets.

This is dignified, equal, and inclusive. It’s a good way to do design.

Social enterprise and social impact should be dignified, equal, and inclusive

When you’re developing your social impact organization or social enterprise, make sure you’re being inclusive in a dignified manner. It’s an extension of your values, and it will increase your impact.

This can be hard to conceive of when you’re starting the idea phase of developing your project, so if you need some assistance, https://incipe.ca/services/free-consultation/ We’re here to help you succeed.

About Kevin Harding

Kevin Harding is a principal of the Incipe Cooperative, and is a volunteer board member of the Art for Impact Society. He has worked in the nonprofit, public, and cooperative sector for some time, and has a passion for working with coops, nonprofits, and advocacy groups that want to make a better world. A coop developer, he strongly believes that cooperatives can build a better world.

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