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Creating a truly disabled-accessible city

Creating a truly disabled-accessible city
06/03/2018

Accessibility should be and is slowly becoming a concern all over the world, but cities have often been behind the times. Despite the idea of smart cities rising in popularity and many urban areas embracing technology to improve everything from user experience to safety, accessibility hasn’t had the same attention as these ‘glamorous’ innovations. Today, the world as we know it is changing, and cities will have no choice but to readdress their current accessibility or lack of it.

Why we need accessible cities Why do we need anything to be accessible? Aside from the moral reasons behind accessibility, the fact is our disabled population is growing and so are their needs. Working, socialising and tourism are the pillars of the world economy, and people with physical or learning disabilities have become a large and important part of it. In fact, in the UK alone the “purple pound” is worth £212bn and the accessible-tourism market is estimated at £12bn.

These changes are becoming even more apparent in cities, where it is expected there will be an estimated 940 million people living with a disability by 2050. That’s a huge 15% of the total 6.25 billion urban dwellers predicted. Unsurprisingly, the UN has identified accessibility as a major challenge with the current infrastructure of most cities simply not up to the task.

The cities that are falling short on accessibility In theory and on paper we should all be working towards a completely accessible future. From the UK’s Access and Equality Act 2010 to Australia’s Disability Discrimination Act, countries the world over have implemented and updated laws to specifically address the needs of people with disabilities. Many of these directly address the physical environment of residential, commercial and public buildings.

Unfortunately, these laws are often flouted or simply worked around. Ignoring or meeting the bare minimum of today’s accessibility standards isn’t working for the worlds disabled population and many continue to face everyday obstacles. Not only is this a physical barrier to their access, but can often create a sense of fear and anxiety that is a significant mental barrier as well.

Cities and urban areas are often the guilty parties and cite their own barriers to accessibility. Old and historical cities contend with strict heritage laws while others simply feel they can’t begin to change a huge area of established buildings and spaces. Today, people with all types of disabilities continue to face common and often easily solved obstacles.

Physical mobility disabilities – for wheelchair users and those with limited mobility, barriers can include no or blocked wheelchair ramps, no lifts, inaccessible toilets and shops without step-free access. Audio and visual disabilities – often no or very little operational visual and audio cues around key areas such as train stations and buses. Learning disabilities – those on the autistic spectrum can suffer from the clutter and noise that city areas present.

Creating cities that put accessibility first Fortunately, there are some cities starting to take the lead on accessibility. As technology has reshaped the lives of all of us, many are starting to see how it could also reshape the lives of those living with a disability. This in part due to increased awareness of accessibility failures, an increase in people living with disabilities and an ageing population that is resulting in the disabled population increasing even more for many countries.

Here are some of the best and most innovative solutions from cities around the world that are finally putting accessibility first.

Accessible maps While Google Maps has recently taken serious steps to address accessibility in their app, accessible specific directions and real-time information still fall far short of what’s needed.

Aiming to offer a better solution, The University of Washington’s Taskar Center for Accessible Technology have introduced AccessMap. The app aims to give more accessible routes to those with a physical disability and is currently being used in the hilly city of Seattle. Users can enter a destination and parameters such as limiting the slope grade of a road to get an accessible route.

The map is also now using other city transportation data and geological data along with crowdsourcing to populate their app with even more information. Together, this data can help users plan journeys with wider pavements, dropped kerbs, ramps, handrails and much more.

For more information on  Creating a truly disabled-accessible city  talk to  The Ramp People

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