How Can Accessible Pedestrian Signals Become Responsive to COVID-19?

How Can Accessible Pedestrian Signals Become Responsive to COVID-19?

How Can Accessible Pedestrian Signals Become Responsive to COVID-19?

 

In a post-COVID world, great cities face new challenges: maintaining services to citizens while limiting the spread of the pandemic. Among the population, blind and visually impaired persons are particularly vulnerable. More than other people, they need to touch things to find their bearings. They need to push the pedestrian button at traffic signals every day to know when to cross streets safely. And these surfaces are potentially contaminated. How to protect them? What are the solutions that make accessible pedestrian signals (APS) covid-19 responsive? We are going to review the ones that already work in the world.

 

COVID-19 poses new challenges for the blind community

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, persons who are blind or have low vision face new risks and challenges. Visual impairment alone does not increase the risk to contract the disease. However, lifestyle requirements from being blind or visually impaired potentially increase exposure to the virus. 

First, they need to frequently touch surfaces to identify things, orient themselves and locate Controls for door openings, elevators, etc. Although they are essential for their safety, pushbuttons at accessible pedestrian signals also potentially transmit the disease. 

Because they cannot drive themselves, they frequently need to use public transportation which are crowded, or ride-sharing such as Uber or Lyft where sanitary practices are uncertain. While wearing a mask is okay for people with vision loss, other health measures are more difficult to follow, especially locating hand sanitizer stations in public venues or keeping physical distance from others. Moreover, they often need to be guided by holding someone’s elbow (elbows now used for sneezing and coughing).

It is important to mention that the biggest causes of blindness are old age, diabetes or other health conditions that make people at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

 

COVID-19 responsive solutions for accessible pedestrian signals

As you can see, coronavirus poses serious threats to people who live with a visual impairment. If you work for a public road authority, you will certainly be interested in technologies that allow you to activate accessible pedestrian signals (APS) touchless from a distance, without potentially spreading infections like COVID-19: 

In some European countries, such as France, Austria or the Czech Republic, there are remote control activation systems for accessible pedestrian signals. They consist in a handheld pushbutton which emits a radiofrequency to control the audible tone. The first advantage of this device is that pedestrians who are blind or have low vision can trigger the audible signal as they approach the intersection, without having to travel to the pushbutton location. It is particularly advantageous in unfamiliar places when they don’t know where the pushbutton is. They don’t have to deviate from their travel path, reducing the risk to lose their bearings.

In our post-COVID world, remote activation is even more interesting for cities. Radio frequency is the most widely used technology for this purpose today. However, it requires regulatory compliance certifications which vary from a country to another. Since it became popular in smartphones around the world, Bluetooth is now considered the best technology to activate accessible pedestrian signals. The use of Bluetooth allows companies to develop smartphone applications to replace or complement low-tech remote controls.

In Scotland, a former guide dog instructor created Neatebox as he realized how difficult it was for people with visual impairments to find and reach the pushbutton on the pole. It consists in a smartphone app that triggers the audible tone. A similar device begins to be tested in Canada with the company Key2Access.

But one of the most promising solutions come from the France-based company Okeenea. The manufacturer has more than 25 years of experience in accessible pedestrian systems with touchless on demand activation. With their new connected Accessible Pedestrian Signal aBeacon, Okeenea was the winner of the New York City’s Transportation Department’s Call for Innovation in 2018. This new generation of APS is installed in New York City and in testing now.

Automation of traffic signals to prevent COVID-19

Several municipalities have already made temporary changes to the way their pedestrian crossings work, reducing the need to touch the push-to-walk button at traffic lights. In normal conditions, pedestrians need to push the pedestrian button at traffic signals to tell the signals they are waiting to cross the road. Pedestrian buttons have been deactivated to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The traffic signals at these intersections have been reprogrammed to make pedestrian signals automatic. These measures taken in an exceptional context could prove the uselessness of these pushbuttons. 

However, many of them remain essential as they emit audible information about the status of the pedestrian signal when pressed. Audible indications cannot be automated because of noise pollution. If remote activation made sense before the pandemic, it makes even more sense now, when touching surfaces has been proven to transmit the coronavirus.

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Among the population, blind and visually impaired persons are particularly vulnerable. They need to push the pedestrian button at traffic signals every day to know when to cross streets safely. And these surfaces are potentially contaminated.

writer

Lise Wagner

Lise Wagner

Accessibility Expert

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7 Tips to Welcome a Person with Disabilities

7 Tips to Welcome a Person with Disabilities

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7 Tips to Welcome a Person with Disabilities

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7 Tips to Welcome a Person with Disabilities  Who hasn’t been uncomfortable dealing with a person with disabilities? We’ve all been afraid to drop a clanger, to be clumsy and to behave badly. It’s normal to feel disconcerted in a new situation when we don’t...

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The French leading company

on the accessibility market.

For more than 25 years, we have been developing architectural access solutions for buildings and streets. Everyday, we rethink today’s cities to transform them in smart cities accessible to everyone.

By creating solutions ever more tailored to the needs of people with disabilities, we push the limits, constantly improve the urban life and make the cities more enjoyable for the growing majority.

Smombies: the New Safety Challenge for Cities in the 21st Century

Smombies: the New Safety Challenge for Cities in the 21st Century

Smombies: the New Safety Challenge for Cities in the 21st Century

 

Never heard of smombies before? And yet you see them every day. Blending smartphone and zombie, this word describes a person who’s watching their phone while walking in the streets. The field of attention of a smartphone user being estimated at only 5% of a regular pedestrian’s, it’s easy to comprehend its dangers: falls, collisions with other pedestrians or vehicles can lead to potentially fatal accidents. In a world where 3.5 billion people own a smartphone, finding innovative solutions to solve this century’s challenge is now a priority for cities all over the world. Let’s have a look at this new issue! 

Smombies: a worrying phenomenon for road safety

Although smartphones are seen as helpful and useful by a lot of people including people with disabilities thanks to apps specifically designed to help them find their way such as Evelity, they can also cause damage for others such as smombies. Combining smartphone with zombie gives the perfect analogy to explain what smombies are. In this case, smartphones drain users of all their abilities and intelligence to turn them into brainless and potential living dead. Instead of being obsessed with eating brains like a proper zombie, smombies are obsessed with their phones. The digital era has impacted all of us and anybody can turn into a smombie. Walking in slow motion like a zombie set to attack his prey, the smombie keeps his head down to focus only on his smartphone. Other pedestrians or fellow smombies, impatient drivers, cyclists who keep weaving in and out of the traffic, excited dogs on a leash… don’t exist anymore and are not even included in their peripheral vision. Smombies only acknowledge what their smartphones tell them to. 

It’s a new form of self destruction that takes place, one that sets smombies in their own digital world and leaves them on the sides of the road (for those who are lucky enough to have survived crossing the road). 

Accidents due to smombies have become so frequent that some cities have decided to fine the trespassers. The city of Honolulu in Hawaii has drawn a fine of 35$ for first offenders and of 99$ for repeat offenders. 

Saving smombies

Cities work hard to make sure that pedestrians have a good and safe experience of their city but they constantly need to reinvent themselves in order to meet any problematic situation. Following the Vision Zero approach that focuses on reducing to nil the number of accidents and fatalities on the road, cities are rethinking road safety.

The city of Yamato in Japan has taken the radical decision to ban smombies. Pedestrians are not allowed to use their phones while walking. Even though no penalty is put in place, the city encourages people to use their common sense and to stop walking when they need to use their phones. 

Fortunately, solutions exist that enable to save smombies from themselves and let them be addicted to their phones at the same time. A few cities have decided to change the urban landscape accordingly implementing visible measures:

⊗ Chongqing and Hong Kong in China and Antwerp in Belgium introduced a sidewalk dedicated to phone users. Smombies have now their own special lane that separates them from regular pedestrians.

⊗ Seoul in South Korea installed warning signs on the pavement at dangerous intersections to prevent accidents.

⊗ Ilsan in South Korea used laser beams and flickering lights at crossings to make people look up before crossing.

⊗ Augsburg, Bodegraven and Cologne in Germany set up ground-level traffic lights directly embedded in the pavement to be seen by any distracted pedestrian.

Digital solutions are also being exploited and new patents are being filed. Innovative apps can detect obstacles and warn smombies of an immediate danger thanks to different types of alerts:

⊗ A screen that turns transparent.

⊗ A colored border on the screen.

⊗ A pop-up message.

⊗ Vibration.

⊗ Sound.

The app AMY created by French group RATP (the public transport company responsible for the Parisian region) can be downloaded on both Google Play and the Apple Store: thanks to a box installed at a crossing, an ultrasound is emitted that’s recognized by AMY. The app then alerts the pedestrian of a dangerous situation through vibration, sound and visual notification. The goal of these alerts is to make the phone user look up when there’s a potential danger. However, vibration and sound can function whether the user is looking at his phone or not and can alert any distracted pedestrian. It turns out that the device that endangers smombies is also the one that can save them. An ironic situation. 

The city of Mantes-la-Jolie in France (located to the west of Paris) combines the connected device aBeacon, developed by Okeenea Tech, and the app AMY to warn careless pedestrians before they cross the street. All the details of the solution can be found in this full article. A great approach of a city that guarantees the safety of all!

Smombies aren’t just for science fiction anymore

If smombies are now part of our century and our popular culture, there’s one person who has predicted their arrival as soon as the 1950s. Science fiction writer Ray Bradbury actually exploited the idea that technology could be misused in order to turn people into empty vessels and make them obedient  in his novel Fahrenheit 451.

Nowadays, the issue of smombies has become more and more important and pressing as it concerns every major city. Apps are currently being developed but will soon be used in smombies everyday lives. Whether cities implement solutions that change their urban landscape or invest in digital ones, smombies are now part of our society and our popular culture.

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The field of attention of a smartphone user being estimated at only 5% of a regular pedestrian’s, it’s easy to comprehend its dangers: falls, collisions with other pedestrians or vehicles can lead to potentially fatal accidents.

writer

Carole Martinez

Digital Content Manager Junior

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7 Tips to Welcome a Person with Disabilities

7 Tips to Welcome a Person with Disabilities

7 Tips to Welcome a Person with Disabilities  Who hasn’t been uncomfortable dealing with a person with disabilities? We’ve all been afraid to drop a clanger, to be clumsy and to behave badly. It’s normal to feel disconcerted in a new situation when we don’t...

7 Tips to Welcome a Person with Disabilities

7 Tips to Welcome a Person with Disabilities

7 Tips to Welcome a Person with Disabilities  Who hasn’t been uncomfortable dealing with a person with disabilities? We’ve all been afraid to drop a clanger, to be clumsy and to behave badly. It’s normal to feel disconcerted in a new situation when we don’t...

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powered by okeenea

The French leading company

on the accessibility market.

For more than 25 years, we have been developing architectural access solutions for buildings and streets. Everyday, we rethink today’s cities to transform them in smart cities accessible to everyone.

By creating solutions ever more tailored to the needs of people with disabilities, we push the limits, constantly improve the urban life and make the cities more enjoyable for the growing majority.

How Can Shopping Malls Be Accessible to People with Disabilities?

How Can Shopping Malls Be Accessible to People with Disabilities?

How Can Shopping Malls Be Accessible to People with Disabilities?

 

Over 116 000 shopping malls are spread in the United States of America and generate each year around 5 trillion dollars. But are they accessible for people with disabilities? 

Malls constitute the essence of shopping: there are a multitude of different shops in one place with cafés and restaurants too so that people can relax. Everybody can find what they need to at any budget. It’s the place you go to in a panic to buy the Christmas presents on Christmas Eve and where you spend hours with your friends to find the latest clothing trends, see a movie or grab a bite. In theory, every person who possesses a credit card is welcomed but there’s actually a clientele that’s not or barely exploited due to a lack of accessibility: people with disabilities. Representing around 20% of the population, they’re not a market that one should afford to discard. Consequently, all shopping malls should focus towards providing an accessibility for all in order to meet the needs of the totality of its potential customers. Customers with specific needs but who have the same value as any other. When a person has a disability, how can they easily and safely go to the mall? And find the shop where little Harry had found the perfect toy train set? How can a person with a disability calmly shop in a overheated, stuffed and oppressing mall? Depending on the handicap (physical, sensory, mental and psychological), the difficulties they can encounter are not the same so shopping malls need to adapt accordingly. 

Going to the Mall 

People with disabilities first have to carefully choose the shopping mall where they want to go. It may be best at first to avoid the largest malls such as American Dream in the Meadowlands Sports Complex in East Rutherford, New Jersey that has over 450 stores in 3 000 000 sq ft. For a valid person, going to the mall is the easiest thing to do. They either drive there or use public transportation and having several connections doesn’t bother them much apart from the fact that it may take a while. But people with disabilities need to prepare their route.

This means going online to do some research: do they need to take a cab that would accept a guide dog or one that’s adapted for wheelchairs? If they decide to use public transportation, is the subway station or the bus stop near the shopping mall? Of course, it’s best to ride a subway that’s accessible and has the appropriate signing system. The Fashion Centre at Pentagon City mall, for example, in Arlington, Virginia, contains more than 170 stores and restaurants and can easily be accessed by subway from Washington, D.C. It can even provide accomodations in case people need time for their shopping spree. If they struggle to get around once they’re inside the mall, they can use a complimentary wheelchair and keep shopping in all simplicity. By checking online the several entrances to the shopping mall beforehand, people with disabilities can easily plan which entrance to access according to the shops they want to go to. Some shopping malls are equipped with audio beacons that notify the visually impaired person where the points of interest are located (entrances, exits…) and give them some information such as opening hours. Some solutions exist that enable a person with disabilities to be autonomous and serene in their trips. 

Getting Around Inside the Mall

 

People with reduced mobility can easily get around shopping malls which are equipped with:

⊗ Elevators

⊗ Escalators

⊗ Ramps

Some shopping malls were designed vertically so that shoppers can move upwards and downwards with centrally located elevators and escalators to connect all the stories. Thus, people with restricted mobility can reach them as quickly as possible.

Navigating inside a shopping mall for a person who is blind or low vision can be tiring and stressing, especially with so many obstacles on their way: moms with strollers who act like Godzilla, toddlers running everywhere and bumping into you, the people who hate shopping malls and are in a hurry to leave… In top of all that, people with disabilities have to stay calm and find the right shop. Thanks to the use of a GPS indoor on their smartphone, a visually impaired person can find their bearings. The Macy’s Herald Square store in New York has been one of the first retail stores to implement a digital assistance with its audio-based indoor navigation system. With this type of technology, all the stores, restaurants and other facilities of a shopping mall can be mapped and easily located. Anyone who uses it can even be redirected if they took the wrong path. 

As in the subway, a good signage system is key to enable disabled customers to safely navigate inside the mall such as:

⊗ Accessible information points

⊗ Pictograms with flashy color

⊗ Bigger font sizes for signs 

⊗ Guide paths 

Installing a practical and efficient signage system contributes to provide accessibility for all in an indoor labyrinth. 

A very good example of a mall accessible for people in wheelchairs is the Mall of America, the second largest mall in the States in terms of total floor area, located in Bloomington, Minnesota. People in wheelchairs can easily access any store, eating at a restaurant and enjoying the many attractions that the mall offers. Everything is thought to attract people in wheelchairs and make them feel welcome like any customer. Even their accommodations are accessible. 

Communicating with the Staff 

Shopkeepers and sales assistants focus on helping the customers in the best way they can. (At least, that’s what they all should do but we’ve all had bad experiences.) Whether a customer knows what they want to buy or need advice, a staff that’s trained to deal with people with disabilities will be precious and extremely helpful. A proper training and an improved awareness of the needs of people with disabilities would not only be beneficial on a human level but on an economic one as well as they could turn into regular customers. 

A hearing impaired person can be provided with an amplifier (FM systems) to fully understand the advice of the sales assistant. Plus, some apps exist such as Ava which transcribes in live the words of a group of people. The sales assistant and the hearing impaired customer just have to download the app on each of their phones. The microphones enable the conversation to be transcribed. Thus, the hearing impaired customer will receive the same service as any customer and will be more likely to come back if they had a patient and helpful sales assistant to assist them. 

The same applies for a person in a wheelchair who would need a suitable fitting room to try the clothes, lower checkout counters and removable digital payment terminals. All customers are supposed to leave the mall feeling like they’ve had a good experience. Committed sales assistants are a big part of the customer experience. 

Mixing with Other Shoppers 

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the crowd and by the constant noise and loud conversations. Some autistic people are particularly intolerant to noise and wear noise-cancelling headphones or ear defenders in order to protect themselves from exterior noises. 

Every situation can be stressing for a person with disabilities in a confined and busy place. Shopping with a patient friend who knows best how to assist a person with disabilities can be reassuring and can turn into a fun careless day.

Accessibility for all is still a work in progress but some shopping malls are already leading the way. They understood that they could be more welcoming and inclusive to meet the needs of any type of public and attract more shoppers once their malls turned accessible, meaning more profits for them and happy shoppers who will have a great time doing something easy that everybody does.

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Navigating inside a shopping mall for a person who is blind or low vision can be tiring and stressing, especially with so many obstacles on their way. (…) Thanks to the use of a GPS indoor on their smartphone, a visually impaired person can find their bearings.

writer

Carole Martinez

Digital Content Manager Junior

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Get the latest news about accessibility and the Smart City.

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7 Tips to Welcome a Person with Disabilities

7 Tips to Welcome a Person with Disabilities

7 Tips to Welcome a Person with Disabilities  Who hasn’t been uncomfortable dealing with a person with disabilities? We’ve all been afraid to drop a clanger, to be clumsy and to behave badly. It’s normal to feel disconcerted in a new situation when we don’t...

7 Tips to Welcome a Person with Disabilities

7 Tips to Welcome a Person with Disabilities

7 Tips to Welcome a Person with Disabilities  Who hasn’t been uncomfortable dealing with a person with disabilities? We’ve all been afraid to drop a clanger, to be clumsy and to behave badly. It’s normal to feel disconcerted in a new situation when we don’t...

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powered by okeenea

The French leading company

on the accessibility market.

For more than 25 years, we have been developing architectural access solutions for buildings and streets. Everyday, we rethink today’s cities to transform them in smart cities accessible to everyone.

By creating solutions ever more tailored to the needs of people with disabilities, we push the limits, constantly improve the urban life and make the cities more enjoyable for the growing majority.