“walking is a subversive detour, the scenic route through a half-abandoned landscape of ideas and experiences.” Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust, p. 12
By David Paquette
On September 23, 2010, I attended the launch of two related projects, the Together for Women’s Safety Report and the Universal Accessibility exposition. The event, which took place at UQAM, gathered a large group of volunteers, project organizers, participants and journalists. It was organized by Women in Cities International (WICI), Conscience urbaine, Audiotopie, and Action des femmes handicapées (Montréal).
Together for Women’s Safety was a three-year project funded by Status of Women Canada. It took place in four Canadian cities (Regina, Gatineau, Peel and Montreal). Its objective was to create “safer communities for marginalised women and everyone”. The methodology employed in each location was similar. Organizers first targeted particular groups; in each location, women took part in intensive training on the design and production of women’s safety audits. Then, interviews about accessibility and safety were realised with coordinators and members of various organisations, such as the Centre des aînés in Gatineau, or the Action des femmes handicapées in Montreal. A total of 41 interviews were done throughout the four locations. Based on these, exploratory walks were organized, in which groups of women walked through targeted locations and discussed problems and potential solutions to allow better accessibility and safety for users. The process allowed both for the individual empowerment of participants and the recognition of their experience in the elaboration of local solutions. Questions of walking and accessibility are discussed by Rachel Thomas in her book Les Trajectoires de l’Accessibilité (La Croisée 2005).
In the second part of the event, the Universal Accessibility exposition was introduced, and we had a chance to experience the photographic tour with audioguide produced by Audiotopie in collaboration with Conscience urbaine and Action des femmes handicapées (Montréal). The tour, which lasts around 30 minutes, is framed by a series of pictures of women with disabilities who participated in the project. Each picture, posted prominently at various locations around UQAM, signals the beginning of a new account of how the various struggles each of them encounter during their daily commutes. These nine accounts, narrated in French by Pascale Bussières, are particularly revealing, thanks to the embodied experience of the walk and the eye-opening rediscovering of familiar places that reveal the limits of their accessibility. The confusing sounds of traffic lights (when they happen to make sound), the steps of restaurants and other buildings that limit the access with a wheelchair, the difficulty of finding a city bus that is a adapted to wheelchairs or motorized chairs, or to find adapted entrances that are often relegated to alleys and side streets, all become tangible difficulties that we can experience, for a moment. I would have liked to hear the voices of participants, be it simply for short introductions; we see them on pictures, but they remain silent, or rather their voices are replaced by that of a unique narrator. The indications are always clear, the timing of visual and spatial clues is particularly well-done, and the narration is quite effective.
The tour can be done by anyone by using an mp3 player and headphones. The mp3 file of the narration can be downloaded from the Audiotopie website.
More information on the two projects can be found on these websites: