What is an Equity and Inclusion Lens?
According to the city of Ottawa’s own promotional material, the equity and inclusion lens is like a pair of glasses that helps policy makers ‘see’ issues from other people’s perspectives.
The best example I can give is to encourage people to see the world through the eyes of a person with a mobility disability. Want to go to your favourite café? I’ll bet you never noticed that you have to step up to get in. Where are the bathrooms? Down a narrow hallway? Up stairs? Once inside, can a person sitting in a wheelchair reach the soap?
As able-bodied people, it’s easy to be oblivious to barriers.
At the Transit Commission meeting on February 20th, I heard John Manconi claim that OC Transpo had applied this ‘equity and inclusion lens’ to their decisions on route changes.
I was skeptical so I asked for documentation and received the following paragraphs:
Service Planning reviews proposed service changes through the City’s Equity and Inclusion Lens. We look at each of the groups identified by the Lens and would confirm that each group has been considered in the final recommendation of the service change. This was an approved recommendation by Transit Commission back in July 2013. Our approach has been to review how any of the identified groups in the Lens have been impacted by using spatial data – are there significant pockets of groups along a route that have been impacted by a proposed change.
While there is not a spatial identification of women across the City, women are a significant part of other equity groups for which we do have spatial data. For example, we do have spatial data for seniors, Aboriginal, racialized groups, recently immigrated, people with disabilities and low-income groups. Transit improvements affecting each of these equity groups also would represent gains for women.
Besides the frustrating bureaucratic language, it’s obvious that OC Transpo failed to understand the purpose of the equity and inclusion lens.
Here’s what they should have done.
Step one, identify the specific groups of people MOST affected by route changes. In the case of transit, they are:
- people with disabilities
- elderly people
- low income people
- people with cognitive impairment
- people without cars
Step two, identify HOW people will be affected:
- people will be unable to get to where they want to go
- they may be forced into unsafe /uncomfortable situations (crossing unsafe streets, waiting for long periods of time in unheated shelters)
- due to frequent transfers, they may spend more time travelling, may risk missing appointments / commitments
- may affect their ability to keep a job
- may be unable to handle multiple transfers so their mobility and freedom is further curtailed
Step three, mitigate any unintended harmful consequences:
- … ?
No government or service provider should advance changes to their programs that negatively affect people, especially vulnerable people. OC Transpo is a service provider funded by tax payers of the city of Ottawa and users of transit. Whenever changes are proposed, some people may benefit, some people may not, but it is the responsibility of OC Transpo planners to identify any unintended consequences and mitigate the harm.
I see no evidence that OC Transpo made any effort to understand who was harmed by the route changes in September 2018, nor have they made any effort to repair the harm.
And that's something we should worry about.