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New Westminster ramps up for its biggest Pride week yet

New emphasis on accessibility is expected to bolster attendance growth for 2016

The New West Pride Society is working to ensure Pride week is accessible and inviting for all. Credit: Courtesy Belle Ancell

Pride month on the West Coast is usually recognized through Vancouver’s wildly colourful festivities. But a quick hop on the SkyTrain over to New Westminster and you’ll see revelries just as celebratory, and which are expected to be even better this year with a new emphasis on inclusiveness for everyone.

Since its launch five years ago  in 2010, the Royal City Pride Society (now the New West Pride Society) has seen annual attendance at New West Pride swell to over 25,000 people.

The crowds have grown dramatically each year, as people from other urban areas became more aware of New West Pride. This year organizers anticipate a turnout of 40,000 for events including the famous Street Party.

Soon, the streets of New Westminster will be flooded with people, and as attendees try to move from one event to the next, accessibility has been a major focus for the society’s volunteers and board. Hence, the acccessibility initiative was conceived to ensure everyone feels welcomed and included at this year’s festivities.

Whether attendees have mobility issues, are blind or limited in vision, are gender non-conforming, or lack financial resources, New West Pride has put into motion help for all people to go where they want, and experience what they wish.

“The main focus of this committee that was formed this year is to gather and publish information that will assist and encourage the participation of event attendees,” says Mike Tiney, president of the New West Pride Society.  

To get the word out, accessibility audits of each business holding an event during Pride week have been made public. “Not only does this let potential attendees know before they go if they are able to attend a specific event, it also brings to light issues of accessibility to each venue to make them aware of things that can be improved and or changed to make their space accessible to everyone,” Tiney says.

To further ensure no stone is left unturned, the audit of Columbia Street (where the festival will be hosted) will also be made public to the city of New Westminster and any other group wishing to hold an event along Columbia Street.

Covering all bases this year, New West Pride hopes to address issues raised last year such as blocked curbs due to booths or fencing, no wheelchair access to outdoor pubs, bathroom signage, and narrow pathways. The accessibility audit and entire initiative demonstrates how New West Pride has heard what the community needs, and is responding accordingly.

“We all have big dreams of holding a huge festival but still keeping it small enough to have a community feel. Our city is very big on community, and extremely supportive of our society,” Tiney says.

“Of course, having a community feel means that everyone should feel like they are seen and heard. And the information under this initiative — readily available to anyone who requires it — does just this to increase participation and enhance experiences. If that doesn’t sound like efforts to creating a stronger, tightly knitted community, then we don’t know what does.”