Metro and Portland disability community advocates hosted two community meetings last month – on May 3 and 5 – to discuss barriers to access at Metro-owned parks, public spaces and possible solutions to these issues.
People with disabilities were invited to participate in the meetings, where they were presented with information on Metro’s ongoing work to meet and surpass compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. After the presentation, participants engaged in small group discussions about their own experiences with and suggestions about accessibility services in Metro’s parks and nature facilities and Metro Regional Center. Discussions were facilitated and notated by Metro staff and disability community advocates.
Both events included three goals: providing information to the community members, facilitating discussion by the community members, and reporting by community members on access preferences and priorities.
Metro is looking for feedback to help shape and inform accessibility at the Metro Regional Center here.
In their small groups, people talked about welcoming and challenging experiences at Metro buildings and parks, were asked which retrofitting projects should be prioritized, and identified specific parks and nature facilities that needed the most work.
Participants identified a number of barriers to access in parks facilities, including: pathway and trail surfaces that are incompatible with many mobility devices, a lack of accessible restrooms, parking lot proximity to park assets, lighting and lettering issues on signs and maps, and previous accessibility assets that had fallen into disrepair.
Dan Saunders, whose son has an ambulatory disability, said that even small barriers that go unnoticed by able-bodied people can have a big impact on the experience of people with disabilities.
“Eliminating transitions between the grass and the play facilities, which are typically dropped by about six inches into a wood chip playground area,” he said. “My child has mobility issues – he can walk, but his ability to take larger steps and navigate a six-inch difference in height is challenging for him. So those if those barriers weren’t there, it would be a lot easier for him to navigate the parks.”
Community members pointed to some positive aspects of Metro parks as well. They said that they appreciated the number of accessible routes and connecting features to major park assets, the prevalence of benches and seating areas along trails and play areas, and the availability of aides that proactively help people with disabilities.
Patricia Kepler, who is a disability advocate and serves as a member of Metro’s Committee on Racial Equity, was a discussion facilitator at the May 3 meeting. She stressed the importance of making parks and nature facilities across the region accessible for people with disabilities.
“Portland is such a treasure,” she said. “We have so many beautiful parks and recreational facilities, and just a fraction of people are getting out there. Being part of the community is very important for overall health and attitude.”
Kepler said that people with limited mobility are more likely to acquire secondary disabilities like diabetes and heart conditions because of their tendency to be isolated. Improving access to outdoor spaces, she said, can decrease isolation and improve overall physical and mental health.
Metro, in conjunction with local disability community partners and advocates, is developing a plan to retrofit its parks and nature facilities and Metro Regional Center with features that will make them more accessible and comfortable for all their visitors.