Accessibility for All: Why Removing Barriers Benefits Us All

Accessibility for All: Why Removing Barriers Benefits Us All

View on a rotunda, a great example of accessibility for all

Accessibility for All: Why Removing Barriers Benefits Us All

For sure, accessibility for all isn’t something to take lightly. And neither is it something that can easily be discarded considering that over 1 billion people in the world have disabilities. We, as world’s citizens, all have a part to play in creating a safe and comfortable place for everybody.

Because that’s what accessibility for all aims at: improving everybody’s lives, starting with some of the most vulnerable populations. People with disabilities face a whole different world than the one “able” people live in.

But we share common points and situations where accessibility for all takes its full meaning and truly improves our lives whether we are shopping, commuting, using our phone, wandering in a museum or the streets…

Let’s see what accessibility can do for us all! And how we can design it to suit us! You’ll discover that some technologies we use every day come from accessible solutions!

What’s accessibility for all?

Accessibility for all suggests that we are all concerned about this concept, regardless of our profile. Thus, whether some of us are visually impaired or have motor issues or are simply older or have none of the above, accessibility represents a goal for all of us to reach.

A reminder of what accessibility entails: enabling everyone to have access to everything. It occurs when obstacles are removed. For example, when an elevator is installed instead or in addition to stairs in a building for wheelchair users or when adapted equipment is provided such as screen readers for visually impaired people to use their smartphones. 

Consequently, the goal of accessibility is to find accommodations so that people with disabilities can have the same experiences as any other person, whether they’re in a public venue or at home. 

Taking into account that accessibility is about making sure people with disabilities have the same chances and access as anybody else, can there be one solution to suit everybody? Especially since there are a lot of different disabilities and types. 

Well, that’s universal design’s take: one solution that meets everyone’s needs. Let’s take the example of a video. If it both has audio and captions, it can be as accessible for visually impaired people as it is for those with a hearing impairment. Plus, if the language used in the video is clear and easily understandable, people with an intellectual disability can also enjoy it. As for users with no disabilities, they can watch the video on the subway without bothering other riders simply by muting it and reading the subtitles.

Considering that in 2019, there were 3.97 billion Internet users in the World, a number constantly on the rise, digital accessibility for all is more than necessary. 

And it’s also mandatory as stated in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Making sure a video is captioned is just one task among others. Another useful tip we can all follow is providing alt text for online images. In that way, blind or visually impaired users aren’t excluded. They can easily access the same content as any other user.

For those who would like to know more on this field, check out our article: 

Digital Accessibility: Why? For Whom? How?

How to design for all?

Now that we all acknowledge that there are indeed solutions that can be accessible to everyone, only one question remains: how can we design for all?

What’s to keep in mind is that accessibility for all concerns and impacts all aspects of our lives: the college we study to, the shopping mall we do our Christmas shopping in, our place of work, the restaurant that serves our favourite meal, the museum that enlightens us, the public transit we use to commute every day… To sum up, the very city we live in.

For people with disabilities to get around freely and in complete autonomy, how can designers, architects and city makers conceive a city that’s accessible to them and ultimately to all?

By applying one simple rule: when it comes to designing a venue, a park or a subway station, always put yourselves at the shoes of users with disabilities. Show empathy and open mindedness to understand their needs and meet them. And also, think of accessibility at the earliest stage of your design process.

This means asking directly to those involved: associations representing people with disabilities. What are their needs? What can you do to make them heard? You’ll be sure to implement solutions that are truly useful and helpful for all. 

Focusing on a user-centered approach is one of the key components of inclusive design. A concept that provides accessibility for different groups of people. Inclusive design acts as in between accessibility and universal design. But what matters here is that there’s constant research and feedback from users with disabilities to make sure that the solution perfectly meets their needs.

And for the urban planners among you, designing for all can be a simple thing such as lowered sidewalks. They’re essential for wheelchair users and pedestrians with reduced mobility who use a walker or a cane to get around in the city without any difficulties. But lowered sidewalks are also useful for people carrying luggage or pushing a stroller or even for children.

Every little thing implemented counts, especially regarding accessibility for all. If you take the example of the European Union, since 2010 they’ve been rewarding the most accessible European cities with an access city award.

This award represents the perfect opportunity for candidate cities to shine and show how they’ve enhanced equal access and inclusion for all their inhabitants. From ensuring barrier-free accessibility in buildings, streets and natural spaces to providing accessible buses and metro networks and easy-to-understand information. 

Check out this year’s initiatives with this downloadable report on Examples of best practices in making EU cities more accessible!

It’s true that cities from all over the world are renewing themselves and are rethinking what they can provide their citizens with. New York City is living proof: the Big Apple happens to be a trailblazer in the latest innovations regarding inclusive mobility!

Indeed, New York City’s bold take on mobility issues has permitted it to implement an indoor navigation app designed especially for people with disabilities. The app Evelity, installed at Jay St-MetroTech subway station, provides step-by-step instructions according to the user profile. For blind and visually impaired users, Evelity gives audio instructions but for deaf and hearing impaired users, the app gives textual information. The optimized routes it offers enable wheelchair users to avoid being confronted to stairs. As for users with a mental impairment, Evelity gives easy-to-understand information to help them get around without having to depend on someone else.

This type of solution demonstrates exactly what accessibility for all means: a one-size-fits-all solution! Because if Evelity guides users with disabilities in a complex venue, it can also help any other type of users find their bearings in an unknown and maze-like facility.

Examples of solutions that were first invented to help disabled people but are now commonly used today

If the app Evelity isn’t currently being used in every major public transportation system of every large city, other solutions which were first designed for people with disabilities are now part of everyday lives. You’ll be surprised by some of them!

The remote control: we use it without even thinking. Can’t move because your cat is taking a nap on your knees but you want to change channels? That’s simple: just use your remote control. Thanks to it, we barely need to lift a finger to watch TV. And that’s what its sole purpose has been!

Indeed, the wireless remote control was first invented in 1955 for people with limited mobility by American engineer Eugene J. Polley! An invention that also improved the lives of the elderly and is now a convenience for all of us.

The typewriter: well, alright, we may not use it anymore but we can sure look at it as the computer’s ancestor. Francesco Rampazatto, an Italian inventor, created a typing instrument in 1575. The device was composed of cubic wooden embossed characters to help blind people communicate with others.

The telephone: we all know it was invented by Scottish engineer Alexander Graham Bell in 1876 (of course we all knew that). But what may be less known is that Alexander Graham Bell was strongly involved with the deaf community having a wife and a mother that were both deaf. He taught people with a hearing impairment and that’s his work with them that gave him the idea of “electronic speech” that turned into the telephone.  

The office scanner: another invention that emerged from meeting the needs of disabled people. In 1976, American engineer Ray Kurzweil invented a reading machine to transcribe written text to blind people after meeting a blind man who told me he’d like books to tell their stories. To do so, Ray Kurzweil had to conceive a flatbed scanner and a text-to-speech synthesizer, two technologies that were unheard of at the time. His invention evolved to turn into the office scanner many of us use every day. 

SMS text messages: even though the first SMS was sent in 1992 by one of the engineers who worked on developing this type of communication, British Neil Papworth, the idea of text messages actually emerged in 1984. Finnish engineer Matti Makkonen came up with it as a way to communicate with deaf people. Thanks to the work of both engineers, now billions of texts are sent each day worldwide!

For sure, without these groundbreaking innovations, our lives wouldn’t be what they are today. We use them on a daily basis and yet we probably take them for granted. But what an eye-opening experience to realize that these innovations emerged thanks to engineers who first focused on improving the lives of disabled people! 

We can only but wonder what other innovative solutions will see the day, solutions that benefit us all. Because it seems that inclusion was what guaranteed the success and the longevity of these major innovations from the two last centuries.

Why does accessibility for all matter?

Now, you’re starting to understand why accessibility for all is so important. And the key role of thinking in terms of inclusive solutions. 

As we’ve mentioned at the beginning of this article, over 1 billion people in the world have disabilities. That represents roughly the whole population of India! We need to remove accessibility barriers now!

Especially since there’s a growing aging population. According to the United Nations, by 2050 one in six people in the world will be over the age of 65. In 2019, it amounted to one in eleven. As you’ve realized, this type of population is concerned with accessibility issues and ultimately, accessible equipment: easy-grip handrails, contrasting and non-slippery stair nosing, universal pictograms… Seeing that we’re all getting older, we may need accessible solutions later on in our lives.

But it’s true that when we think of disabilities, wheelchair users are usually the ones that first come to mind. It’s simply due to the fact that people with motor disabilities have the most “obvious” disabilities, as in the most visible ones. The thing is that there is a whole range of disabilities and that most of them are invisible. It means that at first glance you can’t know if someone has a disability. It’s only when you see this person struggling at a task that you realize they might have a disability. For example, deafness doesn’t appear obvious when you pass strangers in the streets. 

Invisible Disabilities: 80% of Disabled People Are Concerned!

Disabled people and the elderly aren’t the only ones to be concerned by accessibility issues. Indeed, we can all at some point be in an incapacitating situation. How can you use the subway with a broken leg? How can you find your bearings in a venue when you can’t speak the language of the country you’re visiting? Or what does it happen when one of your relatives is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s? You may need to act as caregiver so what can you do to make the living conditions of your relative more suited to their needs?

That’s why accessibility for all matters… You never know what life has planned for you. Besides, it’s unfathomable to enjoy all the opportunities the world has to offer knowing that over 1 billion people experience difficulties accessing them! This way of thinking makes us grow, feel stronger as empaths and act to make the world accessible to all! We all benefit from accessible solutions, regardless of our profile. 

As Neil Armstrong would have put it, accessibility for all represents one small step for man and one giant leap for mankind. So are you ready to aim for the moon with us? Inclusion is within our reach!

Check out another area where disabilities inspire change and improvement:

Disability as an Innovation Driver for the Smart City

Published on October 15th, 2021

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A wheelchair user and a woman using a cane side by side

When it comes to designing a venue, a park or a subway station, always put yourselves at the shoes of users with disabilities. Show empathy and open mindedness to understand their needs and meet them. And also, think of accessibility at the earliest stage of your design process.

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Carole Martinez

Carole Martinez

Content Manager junior

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Accessibility for All: Why Removing Barriers Benefits Us All

Accessibility for All: Why Removing Barriers Benefits Us All

Accessibility for All: Why Removing Barriers Benefits Us AllFor sure, accessibility for all isn’t something to take lightly. And neither is it something that can easily be discarded considering that over 1 billion people in the world have disabilities. We, as world’s...

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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.

What You Need to Do to Ensure Accessibility for Customers with Intellectual Disabilities at Your Venue

What You Need to Do to Ensure Accessibility for Customers with Intellectual Disabilities at Your Venue

A crowded café that welcomes customers with intellectual disabilities

What You Need to Do to Ensure Accessibility for Customers with Intellectual Disabilities at Your Venue

Intellectual disabilities probably represent the less known impairment. What do they entail exactly? What are the needs of people having an intellectual impairment? By replying to these questions, you’ll be able to better understand your customers with intellectual disabilities. This will mark the first step in providing them with the best possible experience.

Of course we all know that word of mouth is still one of the most efficient ways to attract customers but quality service remains key to retain them. And for customers with intellectual disabilities, accessibility truly rimes with attractivity! It goes beyond complying to the ADA. Indeed, accessibility is the perfect opportunity for you to step up your game and enhance inclusion for all.

Ready to open your doors to everyone? Let’s see what you need to implement to welcome customers with intellectual disabilities!

What’s an intellectual disability?

First of all, it’s important to know precisely what we’re talking about. Having an intellectual disability means having difficulties learning and lacking adaptive behaviors. People with intellectual disabilities may struggle with problem-solving, reasoning, communicating and performing practical tasks in their everyday lives.

Some genetic disorders result in intellectual disabilities such as Down syndrome and fragile X syndrome. Down syndrome, also called trisomy 21, is the most known intellectual disability. Generally, people with Down syndrome have the mental ability of an eight-year-old child but of course it depends on the person. 

But intellectual disability isn’t to be confused with cognitive impairment nor psychiatric impairment. 

Cognitive disability: this diminishes intellectual functions but not as severely as an intellectual disability. People with cognitive disabilities have brain injuries or neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Actually, a lot of cognitive disabilities affect memory.

Psychiatric disability: this regards schizophrenic people, people with bipolar disorders or anxiety disorders. But psychiatric disability doesn’t affect their intellectual capabilities, this simply makes them more difficult to use under certain circumstances or emotional states. 

Keep in mind that it’s not always obvious that a person has an intellectual disability. Indeed, 80% of disabilities are invisible! That’s why it’s best to avoid any type of judgment. You never know what a person may go through…

How can your venue be accessible to customers with intellectual disabilities?

Now that we know what’s hiding behind the words “intellectual disabilities”, we can focus on helping your customers living with intellectual disabilities having the best possible experience at your venue.

Enforcing the ADA

If your business has been open for a while, you may already be familiar with the ADA. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 protects people with disabilities against all types of discrimination. 

This means that customers with intellectual disabilities need to receive the same welcome and have access to the same places and services as anybody else. Any type of public venues is concerned and needs to be ADA-compliant: newly constructed venues and existing ones. Obviously, making existing venues accessible can be challenging because of major works renovation, the historicity of the building or its topography.

What’s sure is that providing all your customers with easy access to your building is just the first step. It’s more complicated once your customers with intellectual disabilities need to reach a service or find their bearings within your venue… Indeed, you need to create a safe and reassuring environment for them to feel comfortable.

Providing easy-to-read and easy-to-understand information

Seeing that people with intellectual disabilities can struggle to think, conceptualize and make decisions, the best way to help them understand what your venue and your services have to offer them is to make your information the clearest and the simplest possible. 

How can you do it exactly? If your venue has a billboard to convey information to your customers, make sure to use easily understandable words. Make sentences that don’t have any particular idioms or expressions that could confuse your customers.

The same applies if you rely on videos or other types of mediums to welcome your customers. 

If your venue is particularly complex, a map at your information desk can truly be helpful. We’ll give you an extra tip: think of taking photos of the different areas and laying them out. That way, your customers can see what to expect and better recognize the area when they’ve arrived. 

Easy-to-read and easy-to-understand information is essential for customers with intellectual disabilities to explore in complete autonomy your venue. 

Establishing a clear navigation system within your venue

Another difficulty that your customers with intellectual disabilities may face is getting around and finding their bearings. Especially in a complex and large venue such as a hospital, a museum or a shopping mall.

Fortunately, you can set up easy solutions that will help them navigate their way by themselves, at their own pace. Plus, you’ll see all your customers will benefit from them!

Universal pictograms

They may represent the easiest and the simplest solution of all: pictograms. No need to explain anything at length, a colored icon will do the trick. 

A perfect way to let your customers know where they can find such and such services. Thanks to pictograms, they’ll be less likely to feel anxious, stressed or lost. 

Moreover, using universal pictograms will not only help customers with intellectual disabilities find the elevator or the restrooms but they’ll also be helpful for those who don’t speak the language or deaf people who rely on visual information to get around.

We’re all accustomed to universal pictograms. They speak the same language, that’s the beauty of it. In just a few seconds, everybody can understand what they signify and adjust their direction accordingly. This enables your customers and your employees to save time.

Navigation app to guide your customers with intellectual disabilities

You can rely on innovative technology to help your customers with intellectual disabilities find their bearings within your venue. More and more apps are dedicated to provide indoor navigation for people with disabilities. After all, 84% of them use a smartphone in their daily lives. It has become an essential tool for them to remain autonomous.

Let’s focus on a great navigation app you can easily implement at your venue:

Evelity: this app has been conceived to guide people with disabilities, regardless of their profiles and abilities, inside complex venues. For visually impaired users, the app provides audio instruction to guide them. For people with intellectual disabilities, the app provides easy-to-read instructions. Created by Okeenea Digital, a French startup company, Evelity now equips the entire Marseilles metro and the Luma Foundation, a museum in Arles. Both are located in the South of France. But this indoor wayfinding solution is crossing borders since it’s currently deployed at the JaySt-MetroTech subway station in New York City! 

Simply using an app, your customers with intellectual disabilities can freely get around and in complete autonomy. They don’t need to rely on your staff to locate a service.

Setting up a navigation app within your venue can be a great solution for you if you can’t undertake major renovation works to make it accessible. This can truly complete the current equipment you may already have.

Secured stairs

Depending on your venue, you may have implemented elevators or escalators even. But are you sure your stairs are accessible and safe? Can your customers with intellectual disabilities go up and down your stairs without any difficulties?

Here’s a recap of what your stairs need to be equipped with:

Easy-grip and continuous handrails,

Detectable warning surfaces at the top of each flight,

Contrasting and non-slippery stair nosing,

Contrasting risers on the first and last step of each flight,

Adequate lighting.

Once again, this type of equipment doesn’t only help people with intellectual disabilities safely get around within your venue. It actually serves different user profiles such as blind or visually impaired people or the elderly… Accessibility has enabled us to focus on bringing more safety for all.

Enhancing communication between your staff and your customers with intellectual disabilities

For people with intellectual disabilities, putting thoughts into words and understanding others can be difficult. What can you do to make communication with them easier?

Here, your staff has a key role: they need to do the utmost to provide the best possible service. And this actually holds true for any interaction with any customers. 

Providing your staff with the proper training to best assist customers with intellectual disabilities will enable you to create a safe and trustworthy environment for your customers. They would be more likely to come back to a place where their needs were heard, understood and met. All of that without being judged. 

Check out our 9 tips to best welcome people with intellectual disabilities! You’ll see that smiling, remaining calm and reassuring can make the difference. 

Besides, just as we saw earlier regarding access to information, make sure to use a clear, simplified language without any idioms or metaphors. This will help you and your employees better communicate with them.

You can also use different types of mediums to get your message across: make sure to always have some paper and a pencil nearby in case you need to draw something. No need to turn into Leonardo da Vinci, just do a clear and basic drawing if necessary.

Remaining patient and respectful will make your customers with intellectual disabilities get more comfortable and at ease. They may ask you or your staff a lot of questions and even be blunt. But it’s all just a casual conversation so stay yourself. 

Now, you know what challenges people with intellectual disabilities face and what you can implement to help them enjoy your venue! It’s up to you now!

Want to know more on intellectual disabilities? Read on these articles:

8 Clichés about Intellectual Disability

Public Transport: Accessibility Solutions, Also for the Intellectual Disability! 

7 Clichés About Psychiatric Disability

Published on October 1st, 2021

media

An employee ready to welcome customers with intellectual disabilities

Providing your staff with the proper training to best assist customers with intellectual disabilities will enable you to create a safe and trustworthy environment for your customers.

writer

Carole Martinez

Carole Martinez

Content Manager junior

stay updated

Get the latest news about accessibility and the Smart City.

other articles for you

follow us!

more articles

Accessibility for All: Why Removing Barriers Benefits Us All

Accessibility for All: Why Removing Barriers Benefits Us All

Accessibility for All: Why Removing Barriers Benefits Us AllFor sure, accessibility for all isn’t something to take lightly. And neither is it something that can easily be discarded considering that over 1 billion people in the world have disabilities. We, as world’s...

NEVER miss the latest news about the Smart City.

Sign up now for our newsletter.

Unsubscribe in one click. The information collected is confidential and kept safe.

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.