What Accessibility Solutions for Different Types of Physical Disabilities?

What Accessibility Solutions for Different Types of Physical Disabilities?

A person using an electric wheelchair is getting around in the streets

What Accessibility Solutions for Different Types of Physical Disabilities?

 

Usually, when we think about physical disabilities, we visualize a wheelchair pictogram related to wheelchair users. But physical disabilities also concern people with reduced mobility and reduced dexterity. This means that a person using a walking cane and a person who struggles picking up a bottle of water both have physical impairments even though their situations are very different.

According to their capabilities, people with physical disabilities may find it difficult to wander in their city, use public transportation and go to a museum or a shopping mall. They need to count on accessibility and on a seamless mobility chain to be able to fully enjoy everything they want to. 

Fortunately, the solutions that meet the needs of people with physical disabilities can suit every of their profile. But first, let’s figure out what physical disabilities entail! 

What are the types of physical disabilities?

Basically, people with physical disabilities find it more difficult to get around or to perform manual tasks like walking, standing up, sitting, raising an arm and closing their fingers.

For some people, a physical impairment affects their legs or arms. For others, it will impact their whole body. Plus for others, it will manifest into a speech impairment without compromising their ability to understand.

Depending on the case, physical disabilities can be permanent, long-term or temporary. For example, if you go skiing in Aspen and unfortunately have an accident and end up with a broken leg then you may need to use crutches to walk while recovering. Even if this situation is just temporary, seeing that your bones need time to heal (unless you’re Harry Potter), this means you may struggle to get around, to go to work or to use public transportation.

This type of accident is frequent and can happen to anyone as we don’t need to go skiing to break a leg. The same holds true for very bad car accidents resulting in severe physical disabilities. But there are also a lot of genetic disorders and common diseases that result in physical disabilities:

Arthritis,

Heart diseases,

Respiratory disorders,

Epilepsy,

Multiple sclerosis,

Spinal cord injuries,

Spina bifida,

Cerebral palsy,

Carpal tunnel syndrome,

Parkinson’s disease…

As you can see, physical disabilities cover a multitude of diseases and genetic disorders. Another category worth mentioning that could turn into a series of articles is dwarfism. 

We will not linger on dwarfism here but we’ll simply tell you some basic facts:

The appropriate terms you can use are “people with dwarfism”, “Little People”, “LP”, “people of short stature” and “people with a form of dwarfism” but you can let them tell you what they prefer,

If you need to use the plural form of “dwarf”, you should choose “dwarfs” as “dwarves” makes a reference to the characters created in J.R.R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings,

There are around 200 types of dwarfism,

Dwarfism doesn’t link to intellectual disabilities.

Around 30,000 people have dwarfism in the USA. Although a lot of them think dwarfism is not a disability, they’re indeed protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

It’s to be noted that some genetic disorders cause physical and intellectual disabilities such as Angelman syndrome or Prader-Willi syndrome. Thus, people can have additional disabilities in some cases meaning that we need to take into account all of their needs.

If using a cane or a wheelchair to get around are signs that people have physical disabilities, there are situations where their disabilities are less visible and therefore less obvious. Check out our article: Invisible Disabilities: 80% of Disabled People Are Concerned!

After World War II, a lot of soldiers came back to the U.S. with mild or severe physical disabilities raising the issue of accessibility. The whole country had to adapt to meet the needs of war veterans and truly welcome them home.

What solutions enhance accessibility for people with physical disabilities?

Here, we’ll just focus on three main areas where accessibility for people with physical disabilities takes place: public highways, public transit systems and public venues. All of them are covered by the ADA preventing any form of discrimination against people with disabilities. 

Wherever people with physical disabilities go, they need to rely on a seamless mobility chain. That is to say that to go from point A to point C, point B needs to be accessible. All the links of the mobility chain need to be accessible for people with physical disabilities to have a smooth trip. Actually, this concerns everybody, not just people with disabilities.

Let’s see what solutions you can easily implement!

Accessible public highways

As urban planner or city maker, you need to make sure the city is safe and accessible to explore for people with physical disabilities:

Large sidewalks for wheelchair users,

Lowered curbs,

Parking spaces for people with reduced mobility (PRM),

Pushbuttons for traffic lights that are easy to use and accessible for wheelchair users,

Obstacle-free routes,

Secured stairs with handrails and contrasting non-slip stairs for people with reduced mobility,

Accessible street furniture like benches,

Clear and readable signage for wheelchair users.

You can know more about making the city more accessible to people with physical disabilities thanks to these articles:

Urban Mobility of the Most Vulnerable: 5 Minutes to Understand

How to Maintain Pedestrian Accessibility When Carrying Out Street Works?

If you’re concerned about the safety of your most vulnerable pedestrians, you may have an interest in the Vision Zero movement. It aims at reducing the number of people killed and seriously injured on the roads. 

Different measures can help you make sure pedestrians with physical disabilities remain safe:

Reducing speed limits,

Improving lighting at crossings,

Regulating the traffic of alternative modes such as electric scooters, skateboards…

Cities like New York and Chicago have already implemented them and have seen significant changes in road safety. 

Plus, working side by side with people with physical disabilities and associations advocating for them represents the best way for you to meet their needs. They’ll tell you exactly what you need to do to fully be ADA-compliant and to make the city more accessible and comfortable for them. 

Accessible public transit systems

Subways, bus stations, train stations…, how can your public transit system be accessible to passengers with physical disabilities? 

Access ramps,

Elevators,

Escalators,

Large doors,

Secured stairs,

Clear and readable signage for wheelchair users,

Real-time information that’s easily readable for wheelchair users,

Lowered counters for wheelchair users to buy a ticket,

Lowered vending machines,

Dedicated airlocks for wheelchair users to go through the turnstiles,

Lowered validity ticket control,

Contactless validation,

Indoor wayfinding app like Evelity for passengers with physical disabilities to easily find their bearings inside a complex station. Evelity is currently being tested at the Jay Street-MetroTech station at the New York City subway.

Accessible seatings aboard trains and buses,

Dedicated spaces for wheelchair users aboard trains and buses,

Lowered stop buttons for wheelchair users,

Visual and audio information about the stops so that riders with reduced mobility know when they need to prepare to get off the train or the bus.

But having an accessible public transportation system is much more than putting up accessible equipment or solutions. It also means focusing on trained personnel to deal with passengers with disabilities. Riders with physical disabilities may be more or less autonomous which means they may need to rely on your staff members for assistance. Your staff members have a key role to play in making sure users are safe and satisfied. If they’ve had a good experience, they’re more likely to come back and use your services again!

Check out our articles on accessibility in public transport:

Obstacles in Public Transport: What Solutions for Physical Disability?

How Can Multimodal Transit Centers Be Accessible for People with Disabilities?

How Innovation Promises to Revolutionize Accessibility in the New York City Subway

Accessible public venues

Whether you manage a small restaurant or a shopping mall, you need to make sure people with physical disabilities can access your building and all the services your place provides.

PRM parking spaces,

Access ramps,

Elevators,

Escalators,

Large doors,

Secured stairs,

Large aisles, 

Clear and readable signage for wheelchair users,

Lowered counters,

Accessible seating places,

Accessible restrooms,

Indoor wayfinding app like Evelity if your venue is complex.

You’ll find more detailed information in this article:

What You Need to Do to Ensure Accessibility for People with Physical Disabilities at Public Venues

Keep in mind that here you need to rely on your personnel to provide the perfect quality service to your customers with physical disabilities. A genuine smile can make all the difference! We recommend you and your staff to offer your help but be careful not to impose it. Simply ask your customers with physical disabilities if they need assistance. Some prefer to remain autonomous and others may need extra help but they’ll tell you how to best help them.

8 Tips to Welcome a Person with Physical Disability

Bringing comfort to people with physical and intellectual disabilities

As we saw earlier, some people may have both physical and intellectual disabilities. Even though in this article we mostly focus on physical disabilities, there are of course solutions that can help those who also have intellectual disabilities.

And you can easily set them up in the three areas mentioned above:

Universal pictograms,

Easy-to-read and easy-to-understand information,

Indoor wayfinding app like Evelity,

Secured stairs.

Once again, training your personnel in providing customers with physical and intellectual disabilities with the best possible service will add value to your establishment or transport network.

They just need to remain calm, be natural and speak using easy-to-understand words. Most of all, your personnel need to be patient and have empathy towards your customers. It’s not because they have disabilities that they should be infantilized. On the contrary, you should speak to them as you would anybody.

You and your personnel need to create a safe environment for them to be comfortable enough and feel welcomed.

9 Tips to Welcome a Person with an Intellectual Disability

Although there are a multitude of physical disabilities that cause people to have different needs and mobility issues, a lot of existing solutions help them have access to any place and any services. It’s up to you to implement these! 

Published on December 24th, 2021

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An employee ready to welcome customers with intellectual disabilities

Keep in mind that here you need to rely on your personnel to provide the perfect quality service to your customers with physical disabilities. A genuine smile can make all the difference!

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Carole Martinez

Carole Martinez

Content Manager

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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 Innovation Promises to Revolutionize Accessibility in the New York City Subway

How Innovation Promises to Revolutionize Accessibility in the New York City Subway

Riders on a platform are waiting for the train

How Innovation Promises to Revolutionize Accessibility in the New York City Subway

 

With more than 1.5 billion passengers per year, the New York City subway is one of the most used rapid transit systems in the Western world. And it’s also one of the oldest. It opened in 1904, much before accessibility for passengers with disabilities was a requirement. Despite the technical constraints relating to the construction of stations, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is committed to making the network accessible to all. It does not hesitate to involve technological innovation to achieve this objective. Let’s look at the strategy adopted by the MTA to offer a better passenger experience to all riders.

70 more accessible subway stations by 2024

The New York City subway system was built in the early 1900s, much before wheelchair access was a requirement under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). This partly explains that only 25% of the city’s 472 subway stations were accessible in 2018. The MTA is determined to dramatically increase this number by 2024. This is one of the goals of the Fast Forward plan, which was designed after New York governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency for mass transit in New York City in 2017. As part of the strategic upgrades, this plan includes adding accessibility facilities to 70 stations, which will improve the user experience for all riders. These 70 stations come in addition to the 100 priority stations already identified by the MTA, which have been or will be renovated according to ADA requirements. To select priority stations for ADA enhancements, the MTA relied on three criteria: high ridership, transfer points and service to major areas of activity.

Accessibility features in New York City subway stations

Fully accessible stations have facilities designed for all categories of people with disabilities throughout the travel chain:

To access down the station from the street level: elevators or access ramps, handrails and tactile indicators on ramps and stairs, accessible service entry gates,

To buy tickets: accessible MetroCard Vending Machines, accessible station booth windows with sills located no more than 36 inches (91 cm) above the ground,

To access transit information: audio and visual information systems, including Help Points or Public Address Customer Information Screens,

To facilitate orientation: large-print and tactile-Braille signs,

To access trains from the platform: platform gap modifications or bridge plates to reduce or eliminate the gap between trains and platforms where it is greater than 2 inches (5.1 cm) vertically or 4 inches (10 cm) horizontally,

And accessible services: telephones at an accessible height with volume control, and text telephones (TTYs), accessible restrooms at stations with restrooms, if a 24-hour public toilet is in operation.

Accessibility in the New York City subway over the long term

But accessibility for people with disabilities on the New York City subway has been a topic for a long time. In 1973, Section 504 of the Federal Rehabilitation Act made it mandatory to make all public transit systems accessible. The MTA refused, arguing that making the subway system accessible would cost more than $ 1.5 billion. The MTA advocated instead for a specialized transport service for people with disabilities. In 1984, after a decade of fighting between the associations and the MTA, an agreement was reached which amended New York State Transportation and Building Laws to require the MTA to install elevators at 54 stations. 

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law on July 26, 1990. It required all transit agencies to make their services and facilities fully accessible. They had to provide the list of priority stations to the Federal Transit Administration before July 26, 1992. This list was to be accompanied by the selection criteria used to designate priority stations and the work schedule. Transit agencies were granted a period of up to thirty years to make their stations accessible. The MTA’s plan provided for making 54 stations accessible by 2010. But in 1994, amendments were made to the New York State Transportation and Public Building Laws reinforced the obligations, increasing this number to 100 stations by 2020. The Capital Program 2020-2024 plans ADA-accessibility upgrades to 50 additional stations. This will allow disabled riders to always find themselves at most two stations from an accessible station.

In order to increase the number of elevators, the MTA endorsed the law “Zoning for Accessibility” in early 2021. This consists in pre-empting private land located near subway stations to build elevators. In exchange, the owner of the land obtains the right to increase the area of their buildings.

Between 2020 and 2021, there were 42% ADA-compliant stations in Manhattan, 21% in the Bronx, 21% in Brooklyn, and 30% in Queens. 

Information and communication with subway passengers

To coordinate the MTA’s accessibility plan and share with disabled riders, the MTA created the New York City Transit ADA Compliance Coordination Committee (CCC). The MTA attaches significant importance to the training of its staff. They should be able to handle specialized equipment and help riders with disabilities. But it also provides training for the riders themselves and their families, as well as for mobility specialists. The MTA trained 775 passengers between 1995 and 2019. These trainings allow them to use the subway system more independently and more safely.

The MTA is also working to improve information on the operating status of accessibility equipment. As early as 2007, it began to publish a list of broken-down escalators and elevators on its website. It has also allocated an annual budget of $ 1.3 million for their maintenance.

Innovation at the core of MTA’s strategy

The MTA is continuously innovating to improve the passenger experience on the New York City subway system. Jay Street-MetroTech station, located in Brooklyn, near the MetroTech Center, has served since the 1950s as a testing ground for many new developments: yellow raised safety disks as warning indicators at the edge of the platform, first automatic token dispensers, first fare cards, which became later the MetroCards, deployment of agents everywhere in the station, etc.

In 2019, this same station was used to evaluate new accessibility facilities. The MTA unveiled an accessible station lab. The lab comprised over a dozen features including Braille signs, tactile pads, wayfinding apps, diagrams of accessible routes, and floor stickers to guide passengers to the correct routes. 

The MTA is running in parallel the Transit Tech Lab with the Partnership for New York City. The Transit Tech Lab is an accelerator program for startups solving public transportation challenges. This initiative enables the MTA and other public transportation agencies to leverage innovative technology solutions to improve metropolitan area transit, with the aim to make New York the global leader in public transportation. Each year, the Transit Tech Lab launches a new startup competition to address top priority challenges. This initiative gives the selected companies the opportunity to pilot their solutions in real conditions and potentially deploy them. Accessibility was one of the challenges designated by the lab in 2020. Nine tech companies were selected to partner with NYC-area transit agencies. Among them was Okeenea Digital with its audio-based indoor navigation app Evelity. Evelity is a digital navigation system allowing people with all kinds of functional limitations to be guided, step by step, to the destination of their choice, according to their profiles and their abilities, within complex public transit networks. 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, user tests have been significantly delayed. The pilot is still underway at Jay Street-MetroTech station. One of the objectives of the pilot is to evaluate the service provided by Evelity for customers with disabilities, and to study the scalability of beacon-based technology.

Other indoor navigation solutions have already been tested by the MTA, e.g., the Navilens app, which is based on colorful QR codes. This technology is still being assessed to inform riders at bus stops and track bus arrivals. These pilots show that technology has the power to improve the transit experience for all riders.

All of the MTA’s initiatives show a real willingness to improve the quality of service on the subway system despite the age of the infrastructures. While the road is still long, the progress is evident. And experience shows that technological innovation can solve many challenges for the accessibility of the New York City subway!

Discover more articles about accessible public transit systems:

How to Help People with Disabilities Get a Better Experience on the Subway?

How Can Multimodal Transit Centers Be Accessible for People with Disabilities?

A World Tour of Best Practices for a Subway Truly Accessible to All | Summary of a French Study

Published on December 10th, 2021

media

An agent of the MTA on a train

The MTA attaches significant importance to the training of its staff. They should be able to handle specialized equipment and help riders with disabilities.

writer

Lise Wagner

Lise Wagner

Accessibility Expert

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Get the latest news about accessibility and the Smart City.

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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.