Healthy Living in the North

The journey to 100% mobile-friendly sites at Northern Health

Northern Health's Indigenous Health site displayed on a variety of devices.

Northern Health’s sites – all mobile-friendly on all the devices!

In 2016, which feels like an eternity ago, the Northern Health web team embarked on what became a three-year journey of enlightenment as we moved all the external websites over to a new and mobile-friendly platform called Drupal.

The entire project actually began several years before when it became obvious that we needed to make some big changes to our public-facing websites. They weren’t keeping up to the rapidly growing mobile world and didn’t work very well on mobile devices.

Drupal has been around since 2001, but our team had never worked with it. To familiarize ourselves with this framework and technology, we set out a pilot project: developing indigenoushealthnh.ca on Drupal 8.

After the successful launch of the pilot in early 2017, we moved ahead with the daunting task of bringing all our existing websites over to the new platform. After dedicating many hours and conquering steep learning curves, we launched the first two sites, northernhealth.ca and careers.northernhealth.ca, in the summer of 2018. Physicians.northernhealth.ca and nhconnections.ca followed soon after in early 2019.

Accessibility

The old websites were not accessible to visitors with disabilities, especially our aging population. A website is accessible when its content is available to everyone, regardless of any visual, auditory, cognitive or motor impairment. BC is expected to introduce legislation on accessibility in 2024. We’ve been proactive, working towards having completely accessible websites when the legislation comes in to place.

Some of the changes we’ve made to make the sites more accessible are:

  • Larger font sizes.
  • Colour combinations that work for colour-blind visitors or visitors with aging eyesight.
  • Coding in the backend that lets blind or visually impaired users listen to the page using a screen reader.
  • Making sure someone can navigate the site with just a keyboard.

Mobile-friendly

All of the new websites are fully responsive, meaning whatever device you’re viewing it on, the content will flow and adapt to fit the screen. On a desktop computer the display may have three columns across the page where on a mobile phone the display will flow into one column.

We now proudly have more visitors accessing northernhealth.ca on a mobile phone or tablet than we do on a desktop computer. For example, in May of this year, 116,390 people visited northernhealth.ca: 85,871 of those visits came from mobile phones and only 21,030 from desktop computers, with the remaining 9,224 visits coming from tablets.­

A table and pie chart display the number of visitors to Northern Health sites by device type (mobile - 85,871 (73.95%), desktop - 21,030 (18.11%), tablet - 9,224 (7.94%)).

The number of visitors to Northern Health sites by device type for May 2019.

While we celebrated and embraced these mobile-friendly, ascendible “new arrivals” like loving parents, we secretly knew the real work was just about to begin!

A collage of four updated Northern Health sites.

Northern Health’s updated and mobile-friendly sites have similar templates for familiar user experiences.

Improved experience

Another important reason for making these changes was to update aging site content, much of which was out-of-date, hard to navigate, and not focused on what our visitors or patients required.

We needed to create an easier way for visitors to find the information they require. We dedicated a lot of time to simplify the menus and make information easy and intuitive to find. All of our facilities are now available from the “Locations” tab on the main navigation menu.

The NH Communications team also worked with the Patient Voices Network in the areas of Mental Health and Substance Use, Home and Community Care, Chronic Diseases, and Primary and Community Care to find out what information patients want to see on our website and how they can find it easily. We have endeavoured to make sure this information has been presented in the best way possible.

We’re also working to ensure the content on our sites has been written in plain language, which makes it easy to read and understand.

If you have any questions or feedback about the new sites, please don’t hesitate to contact me or Rosemary Dolman, Regional Manager, Web Services.

Darren Smit

About Darren Smit

Darren is the NH Web Specialist on the Communications team. He is a creative at heart, with passion for photography, graphic design, typography, and more. During the past 17 years, he has traveled to over 80 countries worldwide, and he lives in Prince George with his wife and son.

Share

Partnering to make nature more accessible

Northern Health’s IMAGINE Community Grants provide funding to a variety of groups with projects that make northern communities healthier. Our hope is that these innovative projects inspire healthy community actions where you live! Check out the story below and read more IMAGINE Community Grant stories.


People on nature trail

Access North Days encouraged seniors, residents, tourists, and the general public – particularly those with mobility issues – to come out and experience universally accessible outdoor recreation opportunities such as parks, trails, and regional attractions.

This past July, I had the pleasure of attending the grand opening of the expanded Great-West Life Mobility Trail, located at the Tabor Mountain Recreation Society (TMRS) Dougherty Creek Trail, just south of Prince George. The event was hosted by the Tabor Mountain Recreation Society and Spinal Cord Injury BC to coincide with Spinal Cord Injury BC’s Access North Day. The IMAGINE grants program has partnered with both of these groups doing great things to support universal access to outdoor recreation in our region.

During the grand opening event, there were a number of people in wheelchairs or with walking supports who were able to enjoy the trail with their family and friends. They could access all parts of the trail without any obstacles. It was great to see everyone enjoying nature on such a beautiful trail!

Who’s involved?

  • TMRS is a not-for-profit organization made up of volunteers who are dedicated to the maintenance and growth of Tabor Mountain as a recreational facility for everyone to enjoy. Eight local and provincial recreational clubs are also society members. They are users of the trails and have a vested interest in the protection and maintenance of the area. TMRS received an IMAGINE Legacy grant in 2015 to support the purchase of marketing and promotion supplies to promote the amazing outdoor trail network and opportunities that this group of volunteers have been working on.

“The Great-West Life Mobility Nature Trail was created for seniors and mobility challenged individuals to experience the great outdoors in a safe and friendly environment … The exposure to the community and visitors to the community through our strategy of using your grant (IMAGINE) for marketing has created results beyond our expectations.” -Randy Ellenchuk, President, Tabor Mountain Recreation Society.

  • Spinal Cord Injury BC (SCI BC) helps people with spinal cord injury and related physical disabilities adjust, adapt, and thrive as they deal with a new injury or struggle with the ongoing challenges of living and aging with a disability. SCI BC received an IMAGINE grant this past spring to support Access North Day celebrations taking place throughout the north. The purpose of the events was to encourage seniors, residents, tourists, and the general public – particularly those with mobility issues – to come out and experience universally accessible outdoor recreation opportunities such as parks, trails, and regional attractions. Another focus of the project was to build capacity through networking and sharing knowledge about universal design and accessibility, which is why the partnership with Tabor Mountain Recreation Society proved to be an excellent match!

A trail accessible for everyone

Fast forward to our recent Thanksgiving long weekend and I took the opportunity to visit the Dougherty Creek Trail again.

This time, I brought my mom and our dogs for the walk and it was just as great as the first time I had visited! For my mom, who has a chronic disease and cannot walk trails that have even minor elevation changes, this one is perfect for her. The walking paths are very smooth and flat, and there are a number of benches, picnic tables, and gazebos along the way. It really is accessible for everyone and it’s a bonus that it can accommodate our furry friends.

I should also mention that a fun feature to the trail is the many little figures and gnomes that are hidden along the trail paths to find. We actually went around twice and noticed different items each time!

As Northern Health’s lead for community granting, being invited to attend community events or visit project locations is one of the best parts of my role. Seeing the impact of the IMAGINE funds at the community level and watching project ideas grow into these great initiatives really makes me happy to be part of this work. I feel like this story is especially wonderful to share because it shows what can be done through the power of community partnerships and when groups are committed to work together to achieve common goals that will improve the health of the community.

Keep your eye on both of these organizations – I bet they have more ideas planned for our region!

What can you do to improve the health of your community and who can you partner with to make it happen?


IMAGINE Community Grants provide funding to community organizations, service agencies, First Nations bands and organizations, schools, municipalities, regional districts, not-for-profits, and other partners with projects that make northern communities healthier. We are looking for applications that will support our efforts to prevent chronic disease and injury, and improve overall well-being in our communities. The deadline for the next cycle of IMAGINE Community Grants is October 31, 2016.

Mandy Levesque

About Mandy Levesque

Mandy Levesque is Northern Health’s Lead, Healthy Community Development, Integrated Community Granting. Born and raised in northern Manitoba, Mandy and her family moved to Prince George in 2013. Mandy has a background in public health and health promotion and is a graduate of the University of Saskatchewan. She is passionate about innovation and quality, empowering northern populations, and promoting health and wellness across communities. In her spare time, Mandy enjoys spending time with her family and stays active by taking in the exciting activities, trails, and events northern B.C. has to offer.

Share

Building spaces where everyone can play

Playground

Healthy community projects don’t happen overnight. Quesnel’s first accessible playground – with a grand opening scheduled for September 15, 2016 – provides a blueprint for success.

Brooke and MacKenzie are twin sisters who cannot play together at Quesnel’s playgrounds. While MacKenzie scampers up and down stairs and slides, Brooke’s chase stops the moment her wheelchair gets stuck in the pea gravel. To help the girls play together, Brooke’s parents carry her around the playground.

Brooke and MacKenzie’s situation is hardly unique, and neither is the fact that Quesnel didn’t, until recently, have any accessible playgrounds. Chances are the playground closest to you has pea gravel, steps, ladders, and other features that make it difficult for kids and adults alike to enjoy. Because it’s not just Brooke and MacKenzie who can’t play together. It’s the family with the baby stroller that can’t roll through the gravel to watch their toddler go down the slide; it’s the grandparents with walkers who are left watching grandkids from afar when a ledge gets in the way; it’s the children with leg braces who can only look on as their friends race over traditionally uneven surfaces.

But this is all about to change in Quesnel and, as it turns out, the answer to the question, “how can Brooke and MacKenzie play together?” provides a valuable blueprint of how a healthy community project can take shape in your town.

Two people assembling playground equipment.

The Quesnel Accessible Playground was a project four years in the making for Sandy Meidlinger (right), who was involved in the project team that made it happen.

Fresh from the excitement of a long-awaited playground build event on May 28, 2016, I chatted with Sandy Meidlinger with the Quesnel & District Child Development Centre, who tells the story from here:

This project started in 2012 when Brooke and MacKenzie’s mom came to me and asked for help to get an accessible playground built in Quesnel. I’m a member of the Parent Child Resource Team (a group of service providers and parents) and we agreed this would be a valuable long-term project for us to take on. Having a team was crucial! Our committee included parents, health care professionals, local agencies, government and school district representatives, and others.

When we asked community members for letters of support for this project, the response was overwhelming! Why? Until now, there was no playground in Quesnel accessible to people with mobility needs. I’m talking baby strollers, walkers, leg braces, scooters, and more. In Quesnel alone, there are over 100 children who, because of complex developmental profiles, can’t participate in many play activities on typical playgrounds. These kids are cut off from a typical family activity of playing at the park. An accessible playground increases physical activity levels for everyone, promotes inclusive family enjoyment, and helps children with mobility issues develop independence.

Volunteers assembling playground

On the day of the build, 25 volunteers and professionals came together to assemble the park.

Our first step was to present to the City of Quesnel and Cariboo Regional District joint planning committee. Both groups agreed in principle to support the idea. Connecting with government early was key to getting support for things later in the process like ongoing playground inspection and maintenance. There’s a wonderful legacy component to this project, too, as the city has committed to incorporating accessible aspects into all future park updates.

With government support in place, we looked for a location. The Quesnel & District Arts & Recreation Centre had an old playground in disrepair so we asked about making this the site of the new playground. The Centre and their governing bodies were on board! This location was ideal because it’s central and on a bus route; the Centre will be using the playground daily for inclusive programs; and they offer accessible parking, doors, and washrooms.

Levelling rubber surface.

The recycled rubber surface replaced pea gravel, which is difficult to use for those with mobility needs.

The next step was to research playground developers. We settled on Habitat Systems. They took our ideas and created a design. We then asked therapists, play specialists, parents, and children about the plan; Habitat tweaked the design. The final proposal was about more than just mobility – there are sensory toys, considerations for visual impairments, and other equipment for integrated, inclusive play.

We then started the long and sometimes frustrating work of fundraising. We wrote lots of grant proposals; I presented to local agencies; we wrote letters to local businesses; and we all chatted with anyone interested in accessibility. Our generous community really stepped up! We managed to fundraise over $200,000!

We finally got to the day of the build. About 25 volunteers and professionals spent 13 hours assembling the park. The recycled rubber surface was poured the following week. The park is open for use this summer and our grand opening is scheduled for September 15!

It’s hard to believe that it took four years but MacKenzie and Brooke – and hundreds of other Quesnel residents – are now able to play together! We now have a space where everyone can play.


The Quesnel Accessible Playground is still fundraising for its last few pieces. To support this project with a tax-deductible donation, contact Sandy Meidlinger at the Quesnel & District Child Development Centre: 250-992-2481, SandyM@QuesnelCDC.com

For project photos and a list of donors, visit the Quesnel Accessible Playground on Facebook.


This article first appeared in Healthier You magazine. Find the original story and lots of other information about accessibility in the Fall 2016 issue:

 

Vince Terstappen

About Vince Terstappen

Vince Terstappen is a Project Assistant with the health promotions team at Northern Health. He has an undergraduate and graduate degree in the area of community health and is passionate about upstream population health issues. Born and raised in Calgary, Vince lived, studied, and worked in Saskatoon, Victoria, and Vancouver before moving to Vanderhoof in 2012. When not cooking or baking, he enjoys speedskating, gardening, playing soccer, attending local community events, and Skyping with his old community health classmates who are scattered across the world. Vince works with Northern Health program areas to share healthy living stories and tips through the blog and moderates all comments for the Northern Health Matters blog. (Vince no longer works with Northern Health, we wish him all the best.)

Share