Approximately one out of every seven Canadians over the age of 15 years (3.4 million people) has some level of disability. The increasing prevalence of disability in our aging society is commonly accepted as fact with both disability and the severity of disability gradually increasing with age (Statistics Canada, 2001). Recognizing that persons with disabilities often face "barriers" to full participation in society, some provinces have enacted human rights or accessibility planning legislation to remove these barriers.
This study examines the process of accessibility planning for persons with disabilities within Canadian municipalities with a population of between 50,000 - 500,000, otherwise referred to as mid-size cities (MSC). The underlying assumption of this research is that mid-size Canadian municipalities are carrying out some form of accessibility planning using planning instruments [or other tools] to remove barriers and improve accessibility for persons with disabilities. The purpose of this study is to determine: first, what planning instruments are being used in the design of open space and built environments in MSCs to remove physical barriers, and what other tools are available to attain greater accessibility for persons with disabilities living in mid-size urban settings. Secondly, to consider who is involved in the implementation and use of planning instruments and other tools, and to determine what are their respective roles. Third, to discover the conditions under which planning instruments and other tools are being applied, to learn what financial or other resources are being allocated and how are they being allocated in the short and long term.
This study concludes that planning instruments are being used to improve accessibility for persons with disabilities in mid-size Canadian municipalities. Planning tools are not the only way to remove barriers to persons with disabilities. Furthermore, the effectiveness of those tools is clearly contingent upon available human and financial resources. Nevertheless, the study finds that municipal planners and others are using these essential planning tools in a variety of ways to remove physical barriers to accessibility. Inherent in all efforts to remove barriers is the active involvement of persons with disabilities. Thus, involving persons with disabilities in the development and application of planning instruments and other tools has the potential to build the foundation of successful accessibility planning efforts in Canadian mid-size communities. These conclusions have implications for research in the area of accessibility planning and recommendations for Canadian planning practice.