For city dwellers with disabilities, getting around town can be a tricky undertaking — and one that isn’t helped by outdated public transit infrastructure.
But a number of Smart Cities are stepping up and making accessibility a priority. In Seattle, accessible buses and light rail lines allow people who use wheelchairs to travel seamlessly across the network, while Portland’s LIFT paratransit service offers an essential shared-ride public transportation service for riders who are less mobile.
Taxis are also going along for the ride. Chicago plans to double its fleet of wheelchair-accessible taxis by 2018, and NYC’s “Taxi of Tomorrow” is wheelchair-friendly and comes equipped with induction loop technology — which magnetically transmits sound to hearing aids and cochlear implants. After all, being able to get around town is the right of every urbanite.
ACCESSIBLE COMMUNITY SPACE
But accessibility isn’t just the domain of mass transit, and Smart Cities are working to make sidewalks and other shared spaces easier to navigate, too. Sydney, Australia is currently rolling out a network of Braille street signs accompanied by information pylons and digital technology — making it simpler for residents who are vision-impaired to navigate the city streets.
In Toronto, the StopGap Foundation has worked with its Community Ramp Project to make a number of businesses accessible for locals who are less mobile. With its range of brightly painted ramps that are easily seen, the organization has raised awareness and access in one fell swoop.
And in the Twin Cities, they’re making public spaces more accessible for children, too. The Madison’s Place Universal Access Playground specializes in adaptive play, providing 16,000 square feet of swings, ramps, and sensory play equipment for every child.
ACCESSIBLE CITY CULTURE
A key part of building accessible Smart Cities is making cultural institutions available to everyone. In New York, MoMA offers free programs, including guided touch tours and art-making workshops for visitors with disabilities. And The Metropolitan Museum of Art offers a monthly Seeing Through Drawing class for visitors who are blind or partially sighted, using a range of materials and verbal descriptions for creative inspiration.
Then there’s Frankfurt, which has also taken a creative approach to accessible tourism. Not only does the city host guided tours for travelers with disabilities, it also offers up landmarks like the Frankfurt Sensory Garden, which focuses on scent and touch.
ACCESSIBLE SMART APPS
Apps and Crowdsourced Services are making Smart Cities life simpler. Sesame is one genius app example: the hands-free smartphone is controlled by head movements, and gives users new freedom to reach out to friends, download apps, and otherwise take advantage of all the tools a smartphone offers. Wayfinding services that use crowd-sourcing like Wheelmap and Jaccede (the latter of which was a winner of the Google Impact Challenge) map thousands of locations in cities around the world and grade them on their wheelchair accessibility. Then there are apps like Assist-Mi, which offers real-time support for users with disabilities. Using location-based technology and two-way messaging, the app offers short notice cab bookings and other support features.
Accessible Smart Cities are the wave of the future— I’m looking forward to seeing more Smart Cities and municipalities invest in technology that allows all users — including users with disabilities — to plug into city services and benefits — and get it done!
Darren Bates is a lifelong champion of equality, inclusion, and social justice for people with disabilities and other historically marginalized populations. Darren is internationally recognized as a Visionary Leader in Global Inclusion and Smart City Radical Innovation.
Founder of Darren Bates LLC a boutique consulting firm and global resource that empowers Smart Cities, government, and private industry — at all stages of growth — to build accessible and inclusive digital societies that ensure no citizen is left behind.
In 2017, Darren Bates LLC launched the Smart Cities Library™a premier, online Smart City resource that includes breaking news, maturity models, best practices, roadmaps, e-books, and other Smart City solutions highly curated and cataloged from thousands of academic, public, and national libraries and periodicals around the world.
Darren offers accessibility and inclusion training, strategic consulting, and professional speaking services through Darren Bates, LLC.
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Special thanks to the Inventor’s Forum and Ziptopia’s “Future City” Blog contributions to this article.