Creating an Accessible and Barrier-Free Society through Inclusive Design: a Constant Renewal

Creating an Accessible and Barrier-Free Society through Inclusive Design: a Constant Renewal

Creating an Accessible and Barrier-Free Society through Inclusive Design: a Constant Renewal

 

Inclusive design has a major role in enhancing accessibility. Though both concepts don’t exactly encompass the same ideas, they are undeniably linked together because of their complementarity. Accessibility consists in removing the present obstacles whereas inclusive design consists in creating solutions that from the beginning are perfectly tailored to the needs of several profiles of people: a person with reduced mobility for whom it’ll be easier to use an elevator in a shopping mall or a person with a visual impairment who needs a contrasted signage in a subway station for their getting around in complete autonomy for example.

Therefore accessibility can be achieved through an inclusive design with a human-centered approach. Putting people first and focusing on their needs permits to respond adequately and to favor their inclusion in society.

What’s better than a society which caters to the needs of all its citizens? Inclusive design offers a wide range of possibilities for cities to help them create an accessible and barrier-free society in several areas whether it concerns the services they provide such as public transportation but also in their architecture with buildings and parks. In addition, culture happens to be one of the first fields to have considered inclusive design and is showing the way to others. 

The sky’s the limit as the following examples of accessibility achieved through inclusive design will demonstrate!

 

Inclusive design, universal design and accessibility: an inevitable triptych 

In order to perfectly comprehend what inclusive design embraces, let’s focus at first on its definition and those of universal design and accessibility since the three are often intertwined together.

⊗ Inclusive design: making a product or service easily accessible to several categories of users. It strongly focuses on the user experience to make sure the needs of the targeted categories are met and consequently acknowledges the diversity of the population. Meaning that for different groups of users, inclusive design explores different solutions. It also takes into account different cultures so that solutions can also apply to foreign tourists who don’t speak the language of the country they’re visiting. 

⊗ Universal design or Design for all: it consists in providing one solution to tailor the needs of everybody. Universal design thus focuses on the entire population rather than just a few groups of people to make accessible products. But usually, universal design only accomplishes to meet the needs of the majority so there are still a few people whose needs aren’t answered. 

⊗ Accessibility: removing obstacles and adapting solutions or equipment so that users with disabilities can have the same experience as any user such as screen readers for people with a visual impairment. Accessibility is all about accommodations. 

As you can see, there are slight differences to know concerning these concepts. However, when dealing with inclusive design, it’s obvious that it has to be linked with accessibility. One goes with the other. After all, they share a common goal even though their methods and solutions differ: enabling people with disabilities to be included in society and to enjoy the same services as anybody. 

Consequently, a simple thing like a wide building entrance constitutes a perfect combination of inclusive design and accessibility! It can prove to be extremely useful for wheelchair users and is the first step to make a place accessible for them. 

This type of equipment can be found in different places such as city halls, universities and colleges or even airports. For shopping malls for example, in addition to a wide entrance with automatic doors, you can find elevators, escalators and ramps so that people with reduced mobility can easily get around and do their shopping. Although elevators may seem to be the obvious choice for easy access for people with reduced mobility, stairs are still relevant since they can help the elderly exercise without them realizing it. Plus people with a visual impairment don’t have to worry about finding the right button on the elevator. They all can simply use accessible stairs equipped with continuous handrails and visual contrasting non-slip stair nosings: an easy equipment to implement!

Inclusive design and accessibility truly are complementary since they serve the same purpose. 

 

Inclusive design with a human-centered approach

People with disabilities are at the heart of inclusive design since it focuses on meeting their needs in the best possible way. Thinking of installing a wide building entrance for wheelchair users is just the beginning for architects and designers. To make a place accessible, it needs to be well thought out with the different profiles in mind. And for that, it means working closely with groups of people with disabilities.

Their participation and involvement is key to make sure architects, city planners, engineers create the perfect environment for their needs. Human-centered design, used in ISO standards, consists at first in researching what the problem is, analyzing the data and then in conceptualizing it in order to implement the appropriate solution. Various stages take place:

⊗ Observing the user groups;

⊗ Analyzing the research;

⊗ Communicating with the user groups on the issue;

⊗ Offering a solution or a prototype;

⊗ Feedback from the groups;

⊗ Fixing the potential problems of the solution raised by the user groups until it’s perfected. Thus, there can be several back-and-forths between the groups and the designers.

Throughout this whole process of analyzing the issue of user groups, empathy remains key. After all, architects, city planners and engineers design for humans. They need to put themselves in the shoes of those who are usually unseen and unheard: people with disabilities. 

The Institute of Human Centered Design (IHCD) in Boston focuses on both inclusive and universal design in order to foster projects that meet the needs of a wide range of people comprising the elderly who may have difficulties to get around or to use their hands due to arthritis, people with learning and attention disabilities, people on the autistic spectrum or any profile of disabilities. Indeed, the IHCD provides their expertise in accessibility from the start of a design project (cities, parks, public transit systems) to ensure all categories of people can have access to a barrier-free society applying a philosophy where people are listened to and valued. People with disabilities as other types of profiles can thus regain some self-esteem. They properly feel they’re part of society. 

Moreover, what’s useful for one group can also be for another one. For example, using simple and clear pictograms to give basic information such as the location of the elevators or the bathroom to people with a cognitive impairment is also efficient for the elderly or children. After all, the goal is to convene universal information through a signage system. 

The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in East London represents a huge success in terms of inclusive design with a human-centered approach. Created specially for the Olympic and Paralympic Games of 2012, it had the ambition to be home to “the most accessible Games ever” by the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC). It definitely was the case at the time and today it’s still being put to use to welcome the general public. The LLDC issued last year its updated inclusive design standards describing the implementations that took place within the Park, its venues and its surrounding areas. From accessible toilets for wheelchair users to guide paths for the orientation of people with a visual impairment, shared spaces that are easy to navigate and comfort zones for pedestrians but also facilities for assistance dogs, the Park provides a safe and attractive place for a wide range of people of all ages. A sense of community and belonging is thus reinforced. Let’s just hope that the Park inspires others to implement the same inclusive design standards!

On a larger scale, London keeps considering inclusive design as the city is planning to make the Square Mile, the financial district, an accessible environment for its citizens with disabilities and its elderly. London is set on removing all the barriers to create an inclusive society! As we’ve previously explained in our article Disability as an Innovation Driver for the Smart City, accessibility and inclusion represent a challenge to face for all cities that want to be able to claim they’re Smart Cities.  

Innovating while focusing on a human-centered approach can result in surprising creations. The whole world has had to adapt to the ongoing pandemic and wearing masks happens to be essential for all of us to protect ourselves and others. However, this has isolated a lot of people including deaf and hard of hearing people who have been struggling to communicate with others. Seeing that their conversation partner has to wear a mask to cover their face, deaf or hard of hearing people can’t read on their lips anymore or see their facial expressions to help them understand them and the situation. Thankfully, companies or just regular citizens stood up to make transparent masks. A simple inclusive solution that enables deaf people to lip-read and communicate!

Another example of innovation that meets the needs of groups of people is the creation of sensory rooms: a dedicated space for people with cognitive disabilities, autism or even dementia. They can find there a quiet and safe environment away from any potential stressful situations. Once again, the city of London is a fine example of inclusion with the sensory room at the Heathrow airport. Researchers established a guideline showing the therapeutic benefits of a sensory room on patients with dementia with the use of gentle stimulation through senses. Sensory rooms can also provide a sound-protected environment for people on the autistic spectrum who can be sensitive to noise and need a calm place to relax. This happens to be the case at the one in the U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis as previously seen in our article The Guidelines for Stadium Accessibility: Offering People with Disabilities a Good Experience. Designing a room with low lighting, different types of spaces to provide calm for people or even fun with the use of soft toys demands a perfect analysis of the categories of people that are to be welcomed there. 

Focusing on the needs of several groups of people is a huge part of inclusive design. It helps improve solutions to create a barrier-free environment for all whatever this environment may be, that’s the beauty of inclusive design!

 

Resolving the challenge of mobility: an inclusive society one foot at a time 

Mobility represents an important challenge to face for people with disabilities in their everyday lives. In our article How Do the Blind Safely Cross the Road?, we had already focused on the importance of the mobility of people with a visual impairment. 

Accessible Pedestrian Signals (APS) remain the best solution for them to safely cross the road. However, COVID-19 has highlighted their limitations: the use of the pushbutton in the United States and in other countries can endanger the lives of its blind citizens. Indeed, they need to touch the pushbutton to activate the APS and then cross the street but unfortunately it has been proven that the virus could also be found on surfaces making it difficult and unsafe for blind or visually impaired people to easily get around. Our article How Can Accessible Pedestrian Signals Become COVID-19 Responsive? had greatly focused on this issue and had introduced the connected device aBeacon as an adequate solution.  

This innovative APS can be activated on demand with a remote control or with a smartphone which means that the user doesn’t have to touch the pole. The device aBeacon, designed by Okeenea, can easily be installed on traffic lights to provide audible information creating a sound corridor to guide the user. A perfect example of inclusive design at the service of  groups of people! An inclusive society leaves no one behind! 

And French company Okeenea keeps innovating to make sure people with a visual impairment can locate a building or a subway entrance thanks to its audio beacons NAVIGUEO+ HIFI. When activated, their message enables people to find their way to the exact location of the point of interest. Same as aBeacon, these audio beacons also are on demand activated with a remote control or a smartphone so that the users have the same devices for two different solutions. Two well thought solutions focusing on the needs of their users to make their lives easier!

Of course, finding a building entrance is the first step but accessibility within is also important. We’ve seen earlier that buildings like shopping malls can have different types of equipment but usually, people with disabilities need to apprehend their trips beforehand and prepare them as best as they can so that to avoid any possible difficulties. What can be done to enable them to get around spontaneously and explore a new venue? There’s a simple yet original solution with Evelity: an indoor wayfinding app specifically designed for people with disabilities. More and more apps are created for people with physical disabilities, blind or visually impaired people or deaf or hard of hearing people…, to help them in their everyday lives. 

Evelity truly is an ingenious app that can help people with a visual impairment to find their bearings thanks to audio instructions with VoiceOver or TalkBack or people with a physical impairment with optimized routes. It’s up to the user to set up the app according to their profile. Evelity can guide users at any sorts of locations: shopping malls, universities and colleges, hospitals, transport networks such as subways and train stations, offices, museums and much more. 

In order to have a solution that was perfectly tailored to the needs of its different users, Evelity’s design team worked closely with test groups since its beginning according to the stages previously explained. It has always been one of the major principles of the team as service designer Marie-Charlotte Moret explained in her interview: Adopting a Design Approach to Put People at the Heart of New Mobility Services. Then empathy represents an important value when it comes to designing a solution for the mobility of people with disabilities. 

 

The undeniable commitment of the cultural world for the development of inclusive design

If there’s one field that has always questioned the issue of accessibility and the comfort of its visitors it’s the cultural world. How can blind or visually impaired visitors apprehend the paintings in a museum? Can visitors with wheelchairs have easy access to the galleries?

Tactile Studio, an agency specializing in inclusive design for the promotion of the arts to everyone, creates adapted and innovative solutions that both serve the aesthetics of the place and the needs of its visitors. World famous cultural institutions employ this agency to ensure all types of visitors can enjoy culture and arts such as the Orsay Museum in Paris that set up a tactile and multi-sensory exploration of L’Atelier du peintre, a painting by Gustave Courbet. Tactile Studio created a special design of the painting so that visitors with a visual impairment could touch the highlighted layers of the painting. They also had an audio description of the painting so that emotions could be convened through different canals and senses. A complete immersion to easily understand and appreciate an artwork!

Relief and tactile experience are not the only solutions put in place by the design agency. Indeed, technology can be used to help visitors exploit paintings or photographs. The Louvre Abu Dhabi Museum opted for a digital solution for its “Photographs: An Early Album Of The World 1842-1896” exhibition to explain the relevance of these photographs on both technical and cultural aspects. Tactile Studio created interactive animations, graphical interfaces and a narration for digital non-tactile supports. A fun way to approach art!

The Guggenheim in New York represents a very good example of accessibility through inclusive design since it addresses different profiles thanks to adapted solutions. Even its cylindrical building proves to be easily accessible: visitors start their trip at the top and gradually go down with its slightly tilted rotunda ramp to access the exhibitions. A simple way for visitors with wheelchairs to get around in the museum if they don’t want to use the elevators. 

However, the Guggenheim and its rotunda provide more solutions that meet the needs of different profiles:

 

Wheelchair visitorsComplimentary standard wheelchairs
Accessible seating places
Visitors with a visual impairmentVerbal descriptions by professionals 
Visitors with a hearing impairmentAmerican Sign Language (ASL) interpretation
Assistive-listening devices
Visitors with sensory processing disordersA social narrative guide to know what to expect during the visit
Quiet places

Thanks to inclusive design, access to culture is indeed possible and can take many forms. Visitors with disabilities benefit from endless innovations to share the same experience as any visitor. Therefore, a constant renewal is necessary to ensure everybody can enjoy culture. Research proves to be an essential part of inclusive design which is why Access Smithsonian, the Institute for Human Centered Design and MuseWeb collaborated to establish a guide on Inclusive Digital Interactives: Best Practices + Research

This guide is a must-read for anyone involved in inclusive design and its implementation in the cultural world. It provides detailed examples of case studies with a goal to constantly rethink and reconsider what is done at the present moment to foster innovation. 

As we can see, creating an accessible and barrier-free society through inclusive design can happen for many different fields. The challenges to raise only but increase the necessary constant renewal to think and rethink the solutions. Accessibility can be achieved thanks to innovative solutions! Together, let’s build an inclusive world! 

 

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Inclusive design and accessibility both share a common goal even though their methods and solutions differ: enabling people with disabilities to be included in society and to enjoy the same services as anybody.

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Carole Martinez

Content Manager junior

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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 Cities in North America Communicate Efficiently about Accessible Pedestrian Signals: Good Examples to Follow

How Cities in North America Communicate Efficiently about Accessible Pedestrian Signals: Good Examples to Follow

How Cities in North America Communicate Efficiently about Accessible Pedestrian Signals: Good Examples to Follow

 

You’ve invested thousands of dollars in the installation of Accessible Pedestrian Signals (APS). It’s now time to make it known to those primarily concerned: blind and visually impaired people who are eagerly waiting for APS to gain more autonomy in their trips. How can you do it? What type of information is it necessary to transmit? Which channels can you use? In this article, you’ll find the methods chosen by cities in the United States and Canada which have answered the issue head on. 

Accessible Pedestrian Signals favor the mobility and the autonomy of blind or visually impaired pedestrians. Indeed, thanks to audible and vibrotactile indications, they know exactly when they can safely cross the road enabling them to get around in the city in a spontaneous way. As well as anybody else, blind or visually impaired people aspire to fully enjoy their city. No matter what their size is, cities have to make their public roads accessible implementing APS for pedestrians with a visual impairment. It’s an obligation defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 for the US and the Canadian Human Rights Act of 1985 for its neighbor. 

Let’s take a glance at solutions undertaken by cities which have already positively apprehended the issue!

 

Public road accessibility: efficiently informing pedestrians with a visual impairment

For blind or visually impaired people, getting around means doing some research beforehand in order to correctly apprehend a place or a route. Where exactly is the building entrance located? Where is the nearest subway station? Besides, is it an accessible subway station? This process requires preparation to find on the Internet all the necessary information so that they can have a safe and serene trip. 

The commitment of cities towards their blind or visually impaired citizens

The Internet has demystified information thanks to a digital accessibility that’s more and more innovative. Thus it’s easy for people with a visual impairment to surf online. They can know the number of APS implemented in their city plus their exact location. New York City, the largest city in the U.S., provides information on Accessible Pedestrian Signals directly on its Department of Transportation website. Any concerned citizen can download the list of intersections equipped with APS and the 2019 report on the status of the APS program. With just a few clicks, blind or visually impaired pedestrians can know which parts of the five boroughs they can freely explore.

At the end of 2018, New York City had equipped 371 intersections with Accessible Pedestrian Signals. This amount was possible by implementing APS on 75 intersections each year but for 2019 and 2020, it was decided to increase their number to 150. Meaning that the installations of APS at intersections have doubled and their cost too. Thus in 2019, the city spent $9,675,000 to equip 150 intersections according to different criteria established by laws and regulations and implemented by city engineers. These data are in open access for the public and involved city planners in an annual report of the state of accessibility in New York City. In our article Everything You Need to Know about Accessible Pedestrian Signals Regulation in New York City, we had already explained which guidelines city engineers follow regarding the features of APS and their installation.

The Big Apple doesn’t limit itself to the use of regular APS with pushbuttons but also focuses on innovative technology with aBeacon developed by Okeenea Tech. Indeed, aBeacon was the winner of the Call for Innovations of the New York City Department of Transportation: it’s a connected APS with on demand activation. Blind or visually impaired pedestrians just have to use a remote control or the app MyMoveo to activate a sound message telling them when to cross the street safely. In a world where COVID-19 can be spread everywhere, including on surfaces, having a perfectly contactless APS enables pedestrians to be safe. This type of APS is responsive to COVID-19. In this particular context, pushbuttons, which can sometimes be difficult to find on a pole for users with a visual impairment, do have their limits… The device aBeacon is currently in test in a junction in the city. Not only does New York City favors inclusive mobility but also innovates using a technology that can make crossing the street safe for all pedestrians during a pandemic.

Although no specific information or list can be found on the Department of Transportation for the city of Los Angeles, it’s not the case for San Francisco: their Municipal Transportation Agency website provides an updated list of the 305 intersections equipped with Accessible Pedestrian Signals that also contains the 80 intersections that will be equipped with APS in a near future. A complete and transparent communication that benefits all citizens with a visual impairment who want to know exactly what their city is doing to improve their mobility! Pedestrian accessibility in the Fog City can only but improve as previously demonstrated in our article We Need to Talk about Pedestrian’s Crossing Accessibility of San Francisco.

Another major U.S. city that bets on rising its number of APS installed on intersections is Chicago. In 2019, the Windy City had only equipped 11 signalized intersections with APS, a very low number considering around 258,900 inhabitants of Illinois have a visual impairment. Consequently, last year Mayor Lighfoot announced the installation of 100 new Accessible Pedestrian Signals in the following two years. Chicago is ready to make an effort and introduces its whole program to install new APS on the city website with the proposed locations listed and in open access to any concerned citizen. For this pilot project, the city worked closely with the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD) and the Chicago Department of Transportation and displayed at the public meeting open house photographs of the APS that will be installed. Proof that Chicago is set on improving pedestrian accessibility.

APS in Canada are similar to those in the United States since they are activated with a pushbutton. Following the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act of 2005 (AODA), Accessible Pedestrian Signals in the state of Ontario need to be complied to certain regulations. Toronto provides the list of the 999 intersections equipped with Accessible Pedestrian Signals. We had already focused on the city’s accessibility for blind or visually impaired pedestrians in our article How Do Blind People of Toronto Cross the Street Safely?

The 176 intersections of Ottawa equipped with APS are also available online and listed by the city but the need for more APS is crucial to improve the mobility of its 50,000 blind citizens as shown in our infographic.

The cities of Canada make a point in providing its citizens with a visual impairment all the necessary information so that they know which parts of their city they can explore. Accessible Pedestrian Signals enable blind or visually impaired to gain more autonomy and a freedom of movement!

 

Open data resources: a new opportunity for cities

Information regarding the locations of Accessible Pedestrian Signals can also be deployed through open data. Indeed, open data represents a great opportunity for cities to gather all types of updated information for all parties concerned in city planning whether they are engineers, designers, operators, public or private service providers or just regular citizens who want to be involved in their city.

When Canadian cities have understood and mastered this type of resources to list APS as Toronto and Montreal do, American cities unfortunately don’t gather information on their open data websites failing to see that locating APS in their city is essential for the mobility of blind or visually impaired pedestrians.

Using open data resources enables Internet users to have access to regularly updated information with just a few clicks!

 

Organizations: efficient intermediaries in the field

Organizations play a central role in providing the right information to people with a visual impairment who may not know how to access it. This happens to be the case for the blind or visually impaired inhabitants of Montreal thanks to the RAAMM organization (Regroupement des aveugles et amblyopes du Montréal métropolitain) that lists the 209 intersections that are equipped with APS.

For New York City, the organization PASS (Pedestrians for Accessible and Safe Streets) is a major actor that has its say concerning the installation of APS. Not only does it contain the link to the list of the locations of APS provided by the NYCDOT but it also works closely with the city’s legislators and officials including the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD) to identify intersections where the implementation of APS would be best suited for blind or visually impaired pedestrians.

Citizens can thus directly be involved in their city planning. In North America, people can request online the installation of APS in an intersection they use. Their request will then be studied by city engineers and put on the list if the need is valid. Different criteria need to be matched in order for an APS to be installed. In the United States, the request is done through the city’s Department of Transportation: users can write to the commissioner via an online form. It’s really easy for citizens to actively participate in their city life!

 

The Vision Zero plan: another way for cities to be more inclusive

The Vision Zero approach aims at improving road safety and reducing the number of accidents by focusing on the responsibility of road designers and not its users’. Therefore, it’s up to road designers to create a safe environment for all users (cyclists, pedestrians, car drivers). All the major cities of North America we mentioned implement this plan at various degrees according to their needs and their infrastructures. 

Vision Zero measures consist in:

⊗ Reducing speed limit for cars;

⊗ Creating safe bike lanes where they are necessary;

⊗ Improving lighting;

⊗ Installing Accessible Pedestrian Signals on traffic lights;

⊗ Increasing the duration of the crossing for people with reduced mobility…

Every profile is scrutinized and considered so that road safety affects every one of them.

New York City has implemented a Vision Zero action plan for 6 years now and has issued a report showing the efficiency of their actions: last year was the second safest year since pedestrian deaths reduced by 33%. Vision Zero has become a priority for the Big Apple which is already reaping the benefits of its actions!

For Toronto, reducing pedestrian injuries means focusing on installing more Accessible Pedestrian Signals for blind or visually impaired people. This year, the city has already equipped 46 intersections as its target is to reach 66 intersections. Their Vision Zero initiative prioritizes pedestrians with a visual impairment, an approach we can all but salute!

Pedestrian accessibility represents an important issue for cities. Indeed, making sure that everybody can cross the street safely favors inclusivity. The Smart City keeps evolving to improve the mobility of blind or visually impaired pedestrians and this goes through the implementation of Accessible Pedestrian Signals. It’s up to cities to provide accurate information to their citizens.

 

If you liked this article, you’ll also like other articles focused on Accessible Pedestrian Signals:

Accessible Pedestrian Signals (APS): a Century of Change

How Do the Blind Safely Cross the Road?

 

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The Big Apple doesn’t limit itself to the use of regular APS with pushbuttons but also focuses on innovative technology with aBeacon developed by Okeenea Tech (…) the winner of the Call for Innovations of the New York City Department of Transportation.

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Carole Martinez

Content Manager junior

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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.

Removing Traffic Lights vs Pedestrian Safety: a Guide to Inclusive Streets

Removing Traffic Lights vs Pedestrian Safety: a Guide to Inclusive Streets

Removing Traffic Lights vs Pedestrian Safety: a Guide to Inclusive Streets

 

Promoting active mobility and encouraging public transport in our cities of the 21st century often involves removing traffic lights. A change that’s not welcome for all pedestrians, especially the most vulnerable. Locating pedestrian crossings, knowing when to start without running any risk, finding your way in shared space, avoiding bicycles and scooters… are all new difficulties to be overcome for blind or visually impaired pedestrians, but also the elderly or children. How can we ensure that challenging the over dominant position of cars will benefit all pedestrians? Getting rid of traffic lights must be accompanied by measures for the safety and comfort of all. Let’s see what they are!

 

Removing traffic lights for more attentive motorists

The European Union’s Mobility and Transport organization includes the promotion of walking and cycling among its strategies to enable more sustainable transportation in Europe. Local governments are now implementing policies aimed at promoting the practice of active mobility and public transport services and have adopted a Vision Zero approach. In this context, the place of traffic lights at intersections is questioned. Generally perceived as safety features, these traffic signals have however proven over time that they do not prevent accidents. In 2016, 5.320 pedestrians were killed in road accidents in the European Union. Despite all road safety measures, pedestrian fatalities decrease more slowly than road fatalities in general. In the United States as well, about 14% of fatal crashes occur at signals and the large majority of them involve pedestrians. 

According to European studies, removing traffic signals would have many benefits:

⊗ Reducing bad driving practices (e.g. running red lights, accelerating through a yellow light, etc.);

⊗ Reducing vehicle speed;

⊗ Avoiding motorized traffic congestion;

⊗ Decreasing noise and pollution;

⊗ Lowering operating costs. 

So that removing traffic lights brings real benefits in terms of safety, it must of course be accompanied with measures limiting vehicle speed: setting the speed limit at a maximum of 30km/h (20mph), new geometric design, roundabouts, speed-warning signs, shared spaces. 

Seattle is one of the first cities in the United States to study how reducing speed limits and increasing speed limit sign frequency improves safety for everyone. Early results show a decrease in vehicular speeds and a reduction of up to 39% in crashes.

The same applies in Europe. The number of people seriously injured in road accidents dropped by 72% in the German city of Münster when a 30km/h limit was introduced.  

Removing the traffic lights would encourage road users to pay closer attention towards each other. Instead of focusing on the color of the traffic light, they would be more attentive to their environment and to the different movements of pedestrians, cyclists or other motorists.

 

A sense of insecurity for nearly 20% of pedestrians

Despite the speed limit measures associated with the removal of traffic lights, many pedestrians do not feel the benefits and feel unsafe when crossing streets. Moreover, even in the presence of traffic lights, observations show that, if most of the pedestrians, the most mobile and abled, do not respect the pedestrian red phase and start crossing as soon as the way is clear, about 20% do not dare to walk until the signal has turned green. These are the elderly, children, parents with strollers, disabled people, those who carry heavy loads, in short, all pedestrians with reduced mobility. And so these are the same people who suffer from the removal of traffic lights. Even though their safety is theoretically ensured by reducing speed, their sense of insecurity is real.

In 2016, a new mobility strategy was implemented in Amsterdam to make more room for cyclists and pedestrians while limiting space for vehicles. In this context, traffic lights were removed from a busy junction. When cyclists were asked whether the traffic lights were necessary, the majority was undecided because they had never thought about this question. But about a third said “absolutely yes”. The proportion is approximately the same among pedestrians as show the results of an experiment led in Paris.

According to most road regulations in the world, motorists have to reduce their speed when they approach an intersection and get ready to stop when someone is waiting to cross the street. Failing to comply with this rule is punished with severe fines and other penalties (e.g. driving license suspension or revocation).

Despite these very deterrent measures, you just have to stand for a few minutes near a pedestrian crossing and observe to realize that the rule is not followed by the majority of motorists. Therefore, pedestrians do not cross for fear of being struck by a vehicle and motorists do not stop for fear of being struck by the vehicle behind them.

 

Impossible eye contact for blind or visually impaired pedestrians

Showing your intention to cross the street and communicating with cyclists or motorists require eye contact, gestures and expressions, a language that is inaccessible to blind or visually impaired people. They can only rely on auditory clues.

And they are not the only ones suffering from this situation! Judging by the growing number of pedestrians who are focused on their smartphones, visual communication between road users is increasingly compromised.

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

Some cities in Japan, China or Australia have already taken measures to solve this new safety issue: dedicated sidewalks, warning signs or flashing lights on pavements at dangerous intersections, etc. 

In France, the RATP group has teamed up with Okeenea to alert smartphone addicts using the app AMY connected to aBeacon, an audible pedestrian signal primarily designed for blind and visually impaired pedestrians.

 

The importance of making spaces legible and understandable

To meet the diverse needs of road users, reducing speed alone is not enough to create a sense of safety. What causes the most difficulties for the blind or visually impaired, but also for the elderly or anyone with a deficit in cognitive or intellectual abilities, is the lack of legibility of spaces. The non-regulation of flows by traffic lights and the creation of shared spaces generate disorganized or erratic movements. However, people with visual impairments learn to listen to traffic flows by ear to find their way around. No longer possible under these conditions.

Remember that the proportion of people over 75 in the population is expected to double within 40 years and that the risk of developing a visual impairment increases with age. At the same time, the ability to assess danger, distances and traffic speeds decreases. The multiplication of modes of travel (bicycles, scooters, etc.) and the appearance of silent vehicles further increase the difficulty. It is therefore essential that the most vulnerable pedestrians can move in spaces where they feel safe.

 

Visual, tactile and auditory cues

To meet the need for legibility of space expressed by the most vulnerable pedestrians, town planners must ensure that they maintain visual, tactile and auditory cues in cities.

Even in the absence of pedestrian signals, it is recommended to maintain audible markings at street intersections so that blind or visually impaired people can identify places where they can cross. After having removed traffic lights on intersections, the French city of Rouen has installed audio beacons, which can be activated on demand with a remote control or smartphone app, and can be combined with flashing lights to alert motorists of the presence of vulnerable pedestrians.

Reducing speed and creating traffic-calmed areas means removing any device that might suggest the right-of-way of motorists over pedestrians, such as the traditional white strips of zebra crossings. However, to feel safe, the most vulnerable pedestrians do need dedicated spaces. This is the principle of the “comfort space” introduced by the British Department for Transport, in its Local Transport Note about shared spaces published in 2011. Comfort space is an area of the street predominantly for pedestrian use where motor vehicles are unlikely to be present. In a level surface street, comfort space can be provided by a tonal contrast and tactile delineator strips. It must be clearly identified by most vulnerable people.

At each intersection, the pedestrian right-of-way must be clearly indicated to motorists. Pedestrians must also be able to easily identify the conflict zone so as to increase their vigilance there. This is all the more crucial for blind or visually impaired pedestrians, who generally rely on the number of intersections to memorize their route.

 

Safety awareness, training and education for road users and urban designers

Considering the extent of the failure to respect the right-of-way given to pedestrians by other road users, it seems crucial to increase awareness campaigns.

Changing the attitudes and behavior of drivers and pedestrians is a complex, long-term undertaking that requires a variety of interventions to be implemented: 

⊗ Road safety programs,

⊗ Mass media campaigns,

⊗ Introducing radar speed signs along hazardous sections, etc.

Changes in public road safety policy and urban design require that decision makers and practitioners are continually trained and educated to implement them. The World Health Organization gives valuable advice in its road safety manual for decision-makers and practitioners.

 

In any case, presence or absence of traffic lights, let us never forget that the street belongs to everyone and not only to the 80% of the most able-bodied people! Everyone’s participation in society is at stake, this “inclusive society” that we strive to build together.

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So that removing traffic lights brings real benefits in terms of safety, it must of course be accompanied with measures limiting vehicle speed: setting the speed limit at a maximum of 30km/h (20mph), new geometric design, roundabouts, speed-warning signs, shared spaces. 

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Lise Wagner

Lise Wagner

Accessibility Expert

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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.

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.

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Lise Wagner

Lise Wagner

Accessibility Expert

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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.

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Carole Martinez

Digital Content Manager Junior

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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.

Accessibility Toolkit: When Complete Streets Help People with Disabilities

Accessibility Toolkit: When Complete Streets Help People with Disabilities

Accessibility Toolkit: When Complete Streets Help People with Disabilities

 

After World War II, cars’ supremacy started to shape Northern American cities. Consequently men started to be more and more dependent on their personal vehicle to move around and roads were designed to the detriment of sidewalks, mass transit and bike trails. 

It was not until the early 1970s that some states like Oregon began to design the urban space with all users in mind to make transportation network safer and more efficient. This is how Complete Streets-like policy was born. Many jurisdictions have followed over the years.

Today, no less than 1,200 agencies at local, regional and state levels have adopted Complete Street policies in the United States. Depending on the jurisdiction, Complete Streets can be a non-binding resolution, incorporated into local transportation plans or a fully bidding law.

Meanwhile accessibility has never been such a strong challenge. According to recent studies, 1 adult in 4 lives with a disability which amounts to 61 million Americans (cdc.gov).

So what are Complete Streets policies and above all why do they matter for disabled people?

Complete Streets design elements

Streets are more and more congested. It can be hard for everyone to find their place, especially in city centers where pedestrians, bikes and motorized vehicles coexist. 

Complete Streets policies precisely aim at enabling safe use and support mobility for all users using various street design elements such as:

⊗ Pedestrian infrastructure: sidewalks, crosswalks, median crossing islands, curb extensions, pinchpoint, Accessible pedestrian Signals for visually impaired people, pedestrian wayfinding, greenery, and street furniture.

⊗ Traffic calming measures to lower speeds of vehicles: speed humps, speed tables, speed cushions, signage, and traffic lights.

⊗ Bicycle accommodations: protected or dedicated bicycle lanes, repair stations, and bicycle parking.

⊗ Public transit equipment: Bus Rapid Transit, bus pullouts, transit signal priority, bus shelters, and dedicated bus lanes.

Incomplete streets obstacles for disabled people

Cars’ supremacy left a legacy in Northern American cities. 

Car-centric roadways lead to uneven access to urban services. And it is all the more true for disabled people who most often cannot use cars. Cities that don’t offer Complete Streets measures in their busiest areas force citizens and especially disabled people to face huge challenges when getting around.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of what is causing difficulties to pedestrians with disabilities in “incomplete streets”-like designs:

⊗ Unpaved, broken, or disconnected surfaces

⊗ Lack of curb cuts and ramp

⊗ Ponding of stormwater and runoff streams near intersections

⊗ Lack of Accessible Pedestrian Signals (APS) at signalized intersections. This article goes into more details about this specific point.

⊗ Inadequate sidewalks or intersections design

⊗ Wide intersections with limited crossing time

⊗ Lack of escalators, elevators or ramps to overcome steps

⊗ Inaccessible bus stops

⊗ Large spaces without landmarks

⊗ Routes going nowhere

⊗ Inappropriate sidewalk obstacles

⊗ and the list goes on…

What benefits for disabled people?

Complete Streets design provides an environment where all street users, particularly the most vulnerable, can get around safely and efficiently. This means that regardless of the mode of transportation, the age, the ability, or the confidence level, streets are accessible, safe  and appropriate for the needs of all users. 

Ontario was the first Canadian state to adopt a Complete Streets policy to help disabled citizens navigate streets more efficiently. In 2017, Ontario’s Growth Plan encouraged equity by incorporating strong directives in order to build streets that meet the needs of all road users.

“In the design, refurbishment, or reconstruction of the existing and planned street network, a complete streets approach will be adopted that ensures the needs and safety of all road users are considered and appropriately accommodated.”

Moreover statistics show that pedestrian street activity increases support of local businesses and expands employment opportunities.

Streets are complete and accessible using mainly:

⊗ Tactile walking indicators;

⊗ Accessible Pedestrian Signals;

⊗ Push buttons accessible to wheelchair users;

⊗ Ramps and curb cuts

However, the legacy of years of valuing cars in Northern American society and the difficulty to change attitudes towards the most fragile people show that there is a lot of work to be done. 

Considering that major american cities have less than 1% of signalized intersections equipped with Accessible Pedestrian Signals, it leaves a lot of room for improvement!

Wondering which Accessible Pedestrian Signal to choose? Use the new APS comparator!

Find out more about this policy.

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Complete Streets design provides an environment where all street users, particularly the most vulnerable, can get around safely and efficiently.

This means that regardless of the mode of transportation, the age, the ability, or the confidence level, streets are accessible, safe  and appropriate for the needs of all users.

writer

Zoe Gervais

Zoe Gervais

Content Manager

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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.