How to Make Shared Streets Truly Shared by All?

How to Make Shared Streets Truly Shared by All?

A woman is about to cross the tram rails

How to Make Shared Streets Truly Shared by All?

 

Shared streets, curbless streets, shared spaces, all these facilities have been on the rise for the last fifteen years. Based on the removal of the conventional division between sidewalk and roadway, they lead to a decline in car domination, a good way to improve safety, quality of life and the attractiveness of city centers! At least on paper. In reality, experience shows that the most vulnerable users do not always find their way there. Among them are seniors and people who are blind or visually impaired. Sharing the street with bicycles and motor vehicles reinforces the sense of insecurity when navigating those spaces.

How to reconcile road sharing and comfort for all? How to ensure that shared streets do not become zones closed to the most fragile pedestrians? In this article, we provide you with a series of recommendations resulting from international experience so that shared streets are truly shared by all.

What are shared streets?

Shared streets or shared spaces are zones where pedestrians, bicyclists and motor vehicles mix in the same space. The design of shared streets should suggest that the most vulnerable users have greater priority over all others. In other words, a child, an elderly or disabled pedestrian should benefit from the awareness of all other users in order to be able to move around safely. Next on the “vulnerability scale” are able-bodied pedestrians, bicyclists and other active modes of transportation, powered two-wheelers, cars and trucks.

The design of a shared street aims to reduce traffic speed and increase driver awareness. Shared streets are generally designed to produce motor vehicle operating speeds between 5 and 15 mph. Thus, design elements that suggest priority to motor vehicles and separate modes are removed. They include vertical curbs, traffic signals, pavement marking, and other conventional street elements.

It happens that curbless streets and complete streets operate quite similarly to shared streets. The recommendations we’re going to cover apply to all categories of shared spaces, regardless of their official classification.

The benefits of shared streets

The transformation of city centers into shared streets or low-speed zones has many advantages.

Pedestrian safety

Creating shared streets aims to provide more space for pedestrians, bicyclists and other active modes of transportation, while improving their safety.

Space flexibility

Compared to a conventional street, a shared street offers more flexibility. It can be easily converted into a pedestrian area when organizing markets, festivals or other events. The rest of the time, it allows access for motor vehicles even if it does not give them priority.

Improving accessibility and economic development with shared streets

When a street is too narrow to provide comfortable sidewalks that comply with accessibility standards, converting it into a shared street saves space. It is also a good way to facilitate access to shops and services for people with reduced mobility or using a stroller. If the shared street is well designed, it is likely to attract a lot of people and have a positive impact on economic development.

The recommendations we give you in this article are precisely intended to help you design safe and welcoming shared streets for everyone, in order to be able to derive all the expected benefits.

How to avoid creating zones closed to the most vulnerable users?

Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 provides that no person with a disability shall, because a public entity’s facilities are inaccessible or unusable, be excluded from participation in or denied the benefits of a public entity’s programs, services, or activities-including pedestrian facilities in the public right-of-way. 

The concept of shared streets was originally created on the basis of “normal” human abilities. However, in terms of human capacities, we know well that the norm does not exist. There is simply no question that certain people are deprived of essential faculties. They are already vulnerable in general, and even more exposed to close contact with motor vehicles due to the removal of physical barriers. This primarily concerns blind or visually impaired people and seniors. The absence of detectable landmarks such as curb lines creates orientation difficulties for them and increases their feeling of insecurity. In addition, negotiating priorities in shared streets involves eye contact, which is obviously impossible for blind or visually impaired people. The same goes for “smombies ”, smartphone addicts who never look up from their screen, even if, in their case, it’s voluntary.

In a conventional street, visually impaired people rely above all on detectable edges, such as curbs and building faces to keep their path. They identify the location of pedestrian crossings thanks to the noise of traffic flows and learn to analyze intersections to cross at the right time. Detectable warning surfaces alert them as soon as they are about to cross the road. The accessible pedestrian signals (APS) associated with the traffic lights are also very useful for identifying crosswalks and crossing safely. In an environment where traffic flows are not regulated, all these landmarks disappear. The shared streets are also used a lot by silent vehicles such as bicycles or electric scooters.

Seniors also face similar challenges. Promiscuity with motor vehicles, bicycles and scooters creates a feeling of insecurity. Indeed, age-related sensory and cognitive impairments complicate risk assessment. Many seniors say they avoid shared streets for fear of an accident.

The fact that these vulnerable users avoid shared streets also calls accident data into question. How can we say that these developments are less accident-prone if part of the population avoids them?

What design rules for a space truly shared by all?

The rules for designing a shared street aim to naturally induce a reduction in speed. The removal of signs, curbs and road markings delimiting spaces aims to reduce the illusion of safety and create uncertainty in the minds of drivers to encourage them to slow down. But experience shows that removing signs is not enough to change behavior overnight.

Show Pedestrian Priority

The first step to take when designing a shared street is to make its operation visible and to leave no ambiguity about the priority scheme. This requires the installation of Share Road Signs at any entry/exit of shared streets, but also at intersections so as to remind drivers of the pedestrian priority.

The facilities present in a shared street should also encourage pedestrians to appropriate space and drivers not to feel at home. Among them are:

Creating chicanes, raised crossings and textured paving to calm the traffic speed,

Installing seats and benches,

Introducing revegetation by planting trees, installing planters and vegetable plots,

Designing a lighting homogeneous over the entire area.

Create a comfort zone for pedestrians

The concept of “comfort zone” for pedestrians was first introduced in England and then in the United States. It is described in the good practice guide published in 2017 by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). The comfort zone consists in an obstacle-free pedestrian route where pedestrians can move around safely without risk of conflict with other users. Where possible, the comfort zone should be aligned in proximity with building faces.

The guide recommends providing a space between the buildings and the comfort zone to allow the installation of shop signs and storefronts without them invading on the walkway.

Also to preserve the comfort zone, lighting fixtures, road signs, street furniture and café terraces should be grouped together in a “furniture zone” located between the comfort zone and the area shared with the vehicles in the center of the street. The comfort zone should be at least six feet wide so that two pedestrians can walk side by side and comfortably pass a pedestrian walking in the opposite direction.

Provide tactile walking surface indicators and visual contrast

It would of course be counterproductive to recreate the boundaries found in conventional streets. However, it is essential that blind or visually impaired people can find their way around and move around safely. They should then find two types of detectable surfaces: warning surfaces and directional indicators.

Detectable warning surfaces should be installed at each entry/exit of the shared street and at any intersection where vehicles have right-of-way.

Directional indicators should be installed along the comfort zone so that visually impaired people can move around without encountering obstacles. If the comfort zone is more than 11 feet wide, it is better to install directional indicators in the middle of it. If it’s less than 11 feet wide, it is better to place them on the side of the buildings while leaving space for shop signs and storefronts.

There are currently no specifications for the use of directional indicators in the United States but it can be referred to the international standard ISO 23599:2012. This guarantees that directional indicators will be easily detectable and identifiable by people who are blind or have low vision.

In the context of a new street design, it would be a shame not to take advantage of this to integrate directional indicators into the architectural design. The color of this device should contrast with the adjoining surface, either light on dark or dark on light. It should be detectable underfoot and with a white cane. It is essential to organize a consultation bringing together a maximum of users of different profiles to choose the best system. It is unfortunately common that surface treatments theoretically used to provide tactile and visual contrast are totally imperceptible to the main parties concerned.

Install audio signals

The removal of traffic lights and their associated accessible pedestrian signals (APS) from shared streets deprives blind or visually impaired people of valuable landmarks. It is therefore important to restore them by installing audio beacons. These beacons can be activated from a distance with a remote control or the MyMoveo app by Okeenea. The audio beacons have the advantage of providing useful information to visually impaired pedestrians without altering the architectural design of shared streets. Audio beacons can be attached to public lighting poles or on building faces.

We recommend installing sound beacons:

At the entries and exits of the shared street to inform visually impaired pedestrians that they are entering a shared space,

At intersections to make it easier for them to cross the streets,

Whenever an essential point of interest is present.

The audio messages broadcast by the beacons must inform blind or visually impaired pedestrians that they are in a shared street and provide information on its operation and the presence of detectable surfaces.

Don’t skip user consultation to conceive shared streets!

Shared streets are relatively recent facilities in the history of urban planning. We still lack perspective on the appropriation of these shared spaces by all types of users. This is why the consultation stage is essential. This consultation must involve the most varied profiles:

Pedestrian representatives,

Representatives of bicyclists,

The elderly,

Pedestrians with reduced mobility (wheelchair users or other mobility aids: canes, walkers, etc.),

Blind or visually impaired people, as well as orientation and mobility specialists,

People with an auditory, mental, intellectual or cognitive disability,

Maintenance and operation staff who are responsible for roads, vegetation and street furniture.

Key stakeholders should be involved at every stage of the planning and design process, from needs assessment to final design.

Care must be taken to ensure accessibility at all stages of the consultation. Remember to arrange:

Meeting rooms accessible to people with reduced mobility,

A support service for people requiring orientation assistance,

Presentation materials in large print, audio, Braille or accessible digital format (depending on attendee needs),

Sign language interpreters (ASL),

Induction loops or other amplification system for hearing-impaired people with hearing aids (depending on attendee needs),

Contrasting plans and 3D models to facilitate the representation of visually impaired people,

A construction game (Lego or other) to allow participants to represent and manipulate the facility components…

This list is not exhaustive. Remember to ask the participants in the consultation meetings about their specific needs.

In conclusion, the transformation of city centers has accelerated considerably since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. We can only rejoice at the increase in the place given to walking and other active modes of mobility. But let’s keep in mind that not everyone has the same physical, sensory, cognitive or intellectual abilities. Let’s make sure that everyone finds their place in these new attractive urban environments. We hope these guidelines help you design shared spaces that are truly shared by all.

Want to know how to design an inclusive and safe city for all? Check out our articles:

Vision Zero: A Revolutionary Approach to Road Safety

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

How Can a Smart City Make Life Easier for People with Disabilities?

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

Published on March 25th, 2022

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A blind pedestrian is walking towards a staircase

The concept of shared streets was originally created on the basis of “normal” human abilities. However, in terms of human capacities, we know well that the norm does not exist. There is simply no question that certain people are deprived of essential faculties. 

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Lise Wagner

Lise Wagner

Accessibility Expert

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Hearing Impaired People: a Multitude of Profiles for Different Needs

Hearing Impaired People: a Multitude of Profiles for Different Needs

Hearing Impaired People: a Multitude of Profiles for Different Needs  Did you know that hearing impaired people have several profiles and that the way they identify themselves is important? You may be familiar with deaf and hard of hearing people but for each of...

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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.

Blindness, Low Vision, What Are the Different Forms of Visual Disability?

Blindness, Low Vision, What Are the Different Forms of Visual Disability?

A pedestrian with a visual impairment crossing the street in New York

Blindness, Low Vision, What Are the Different Forms of Visual Disability?

 

Approximately 12 million American people are affected by a visual disability and no less than 253 million people in the world. Who are they? What are their needs? How can we facilitate their social participation?

It’s referred to visual disability beneath a specific threshold of impairment. But the WHO considers that 2.2 billion people suffer from a vision disorder worldwide. Another notable fact, this figure should double by 2050. We will see in this article that visual impairment covers a wide variety of profiles and causes whose impact on daily life differs from one person to another. But there are major accessibility principles to follow to facilitate access to your services for all these communities!

Blindness, low vision, visual impairment, what is it exactly?

In humans, 80% of the information transmitted to the brain comes from the eyes. The main functions that determine the quality of the vision are:

Visual acuity,

Visual field,

Binocular vision,

Depth perception,

Color vision,

Sensitivity to light and

Contrast perception.

Visual acuity is the ability to recognize details of an object at the greatest possible distance. Using the meter as a unit of measurement, visual acuity is expressed relative to 6/6. Otherwise, using the foot, visual acuity is expressed relative to 20/20. These values indicate “normal” human eyesight. But they fluctuate over the lifetime. From the age of 45, it is common for visual acuity to be reduced in near vision. This is presbyopia, a disorder linked to the natural aging of the lens.

Visual field corresponds to the visible area in front of you when fixing straight at a point without moving. The normal visual field extends 180° horizontally and 130° vertically. Thus, all the elements that enter the visual field (movement, light, color, shape) are likely to attract the eye, even if the perception of details remains the distinctive feature of central vision. The peripheral visual field is reduced in children under 8 and the elderly. Certain eye disorders such as glaucoma or retinitis pigmentosa also considerably reduce the visual field.

Binocular vision is the ability to coordinate the two eyes so that the brain makes a single image from what each eye sends it. It plays a crucial role in depth perception. A lack of alignment or coordination of the two eyes, called strabismus, can lead to loss of vision in one eye if it is not taken care of from early childhood.

Color vision is generally very good in humans, much better than in most animals. However, color vision abnormalities are common. Namely: color blindness affects 8% of the male population.

Visual impairment means that one or more of these functions are impaired.

Visual impairment, or low vision, is defined by a visual acuity between 6/60 to 6/18 or a visual field less than or equal to 20°. The visual acuity taken into account is with the best possible correction (glasses or contact lenses) and in the better eye.

Blindness is the complete absence of vision. The expression “legal blindness” means that the visual capacities of the person are insufficient to be used. People with a visual acuity of less than 20/200 (in the better eye with the best possible correction) or a visual field of less than 10° fall under the “blindness” category.

What accessibility for the visually impaired?

Like other disabilities, visual impairment takes different forms and to varying extents. Blind people resort to the use of their valid senses: hearing, touch, smell, but also the echolocation, cold drafts, temperature differences, etc. People who have low vision act a little differently in that they maximize their visual potential.

The difficulties encountered by blind or visually impaired people in public spaces concern:

Reading information,

Location and orientation in space,

The ability to cross the street safely,

The ability to detect dangers…

In order to improve access to the environment and services for people with a visual impairment, the following recommendations should be applied:

Visible and legible signage, using large print and contrasting colors,

 Accessible pedestrian signals (APS) at pedestrian crossings,

 Audio beacons to identify important points of interest,

Audio dubbing of visual information, in particular announcements in public transport,

Tactile guide paths for orientation in large spaces,

Detectable warning surfaces to alert to a danger such as stairs, public transit platforms or pedestrian crossings,

Continuous handrails, contrasting risers and stair nosings to use the stairs safely,

Tactile signs with Braille and raised print in the elevators,

Maps using high-contrasting colors, large print and Braille and raised indications,

Homogeneous and glare-free lighting,

High-contrasting colors and different floor coverings to structure the space,

Staff trained in welcoming people with visual disabilities,

Digital services that meet accessibility standards.

Several degrees of visual impairment

Because sight is a complex sense, for which many functions are involved, there are as many ways of seeing poorly as there are people with low vision.

Blindness and visual impairment according to the WHO

The WHO distinguishes in its International Classification of Diseases (ICD) five categories of visual impairment numbered from I to V. This classification takes into account the visual acuity with the best possible correction in the better eye and the visual field of the person.

In the United States, there are approximately 12 million people 40 years and over who have vision impairment, including:

1 million who are blind,

3 million who have vision impairment after correction, and

8 million who have vision impairment due to uncorrected refractive error.

81% of people affected by blindness or moderate or severe visual impairment are over 50 years old.

4 forms of visual impairment

There are also four main types of visual impairment, which have varying impacts on daily life. Sometimes these forms can be combined.

Central vision loss

The central part of the retina concentrates the cells responsible for visual acuity. It allows the vision of shapes and colors, but especially details.

People with central vision impairment have difficulty reading, writing and performing precision work. Face recognition also becomes tricky. On the other hand, they retain the perception of space and movement, which generally allows them to move around without assistance.

Peripheral vision loss

In people with impaired peripheral vision, the visual field narrows. This is also known as “tunnel vision”. Central visual acuity is preserved but vision is limited to what is just around the eyes’ visual point of fixation.

This type of visual impairment is often puzzling for those around you. Indeed, people with impaired peripheral vision may be able to read the fine print of a newspaper but the next moment bump into a pole, no matter how colorful. They have no global perception of their environment and are unable to follow a moving object. This type of visual impairment is very disabling to navigate independently.

Blurry vision

This type of visual impairment is like looking through frosted glass. The luminosity diffuses and makes the contours of objects imprecise. People with blurry vision only perceive vague shapes, which makes contrast, depth and distances difficult to appreciate. The light, especially when it is bright, can become unbearable.

These people are particularly embarrassed for reading, writing and precision work. But they also have great difficulty to navigate, because it is impossible for them to assess the danger and find their way around.

Visual disorders following brain injuries

Visual disturbances caused by trauma or brain damage are varied and often associated with other disturbances such as attention, memory or behavioral problems.

In most visual disorders following brain injuries, it is not the visual function itself that is impaired, but the ability of the brain to analyze information. 

Many causes of visual disability

Visual impairment can appear at any age of life, due to a harmless birth defect, an illness or an accident.

Worldwide, more than 80% of visual impairments are preventable or curable. This means that better access to hygiene and medical care, especially in developing countries, would greatly contribute to reducing the number of blind or visually impaired people.

In Western countries, the main causes of visual impairment in the elderly are cataracts, glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Diabetic retinopathy is a common complication of diabetes.

Some genetic diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa or Leber’s optic neuropathy can appear in childhood.

Low vision or blindness are also sometimes caused by a malformation of the eyes, oxygen deprivation at birth or an accident during life. Optic nerve damage is irreversible.

In low-and middle-income countries, infectious diseases, myopia and cataracts are among the main causes of visual impairment.

In conclusion, keep in mind that visual impairment takes various forms. Not all people carrying a white cane are plunged into darkness. If you are in charge of the development of a public space or a building, keep in mind that lighting, visual contrast, detectable, tactile and sound cues are essential for the independence of blind or visually impaired people. Their number is expected to double by 2050, it is important to act now.

Find more information about accessibility for people with a visual impairment:

8 Key Points to Ensure Accessibility for Customers with Vision Disabilities at Public Venues

6 Tips to Communicate with a Blind or Visually Impaired Person

8 Clichés on Accessibility for Blind and Visually Impaired People

Published on February 18th, 2022

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A blind pedestrian is walking towards a staircase

Blind people resort to the use of their valid senses: hearing, touch, smell, but also the echolocation, cold drafts, temperature differences, etc. People who have low vision act a little differently in that they maximize their visual potential.

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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Hearing Impaired People: a Multitude of Profiles for Different Needs

Hearing Impaired People: a Multitude of Profiles for Different Needs

Hearing Impaired People: a Multitude of Profiles for Different Needs  Did you know that hearing impaired people have several profiles and that the way they identify themselves is important? You may be familiar with deaf and hard of hearing people but for each of...

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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.

8 Clichés on Accessibility for Blind and Visually Impaired People

8 Clichés on Accessibility for Blind and Visually Impaired People

A builder is securing stairs installing contrasting and non-slip stair nosing

8 Clichés on Accessibility for Blind and Visually Impaired People

 

What do people with a visual impairment need? Why are accessibility regulations so strict regarding visual and tactile contrasts, fall prevention and signage? You’ll discover in this article a few answers to give meaning to your accessibility projects. Let’s not forget that beyond being ADA-compliant, what’s really at stake is the inclusion of people with disabilities!

1 – There are no visually impaired people in my city

According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), approximately 12 million people 40 years and over in the United States have a visual impairment, including 1 million who are blind. That’s a lot of people! Actually, this could be the number of inhabitants of Chicago! This means some of them are more likely to live next to yours. 

People are considered to be visually impaired below a certain limit: a visual acuity inferior to 4/10. According to WHO, their number should double by 2050.

Other causes can also put us in a temporary state of visual impairment: loss of glasses, eye operation, blackout, blinding sunlight…

2 – Blind people can’t see at all

Indeed, completely blind people don’t have any visual perception, not even light perception. People who are profoundly visually impaired are considered to be blind as long as their visual acuity is inferior to 1/20 or their visual field is of 10°. 

The visual capabilities of some people aren’t enough to be exploited. On the whole, they have the same needs as completely blind people but their perception of light, certain shapes or colors could occasionally help them. The right visual contrast and good quality lighting will be quite useful.

So don’t be surprised if a blind person asks you to turn on the lights!

3 – Whether they’re blind or visually impaired, people with a visual impairment all have the same needs

Just like any category of people, visually impaired people are all different. Every one of them has their own abilities, experiences, assets and weaknesses.

Despite everything, there are fortunately common points. 

Whatever their level of visual impairment may be, blind and visually impaired people like tactile, detectable and audio indicators.

Those with a bit of vision left are in addition more sensitive to quality lightning, appropriate visual contrasts and an understandable signage system. 

4 – My stairs don’t need to be accessible since there’s an elevator within my venue

Unless they also have a motor impairment or they’re particularly weighed down, a visually impaired person usually prefers to take the stairs. They save time. Plus taking the stairs enables them to have a better representation of their surroundings.

For them to use them with safety, think of implementing detectable warning surfaces at the top of each flight, contrasting and non-slip stair nosing and high-contrasting risers at the top and bottom!

5 – My venue is accessible for blind people: I’ve put up Braille signs on all the doors

It’s really a good thing to have implemented this! But have you considered how a blind person would go to the door? And how would they find the Braille sign if they don’t know there’s one?

Leaving aside the fact that there aren’t many blind people who can read Braille. However, those who can will appreciate a lot to be able to confirm their destination by reading a door sign. Quite useful in large school halls, colleges or hospitals for example.

But for them and all the other visually impaired to go to these doors and find their bearings, consider accessibility issues right from the building entrance! Tactile guide paths, audio beacons, an understandable signage system with visual contrast, indoor navigation app…, all these solutions mix to provide an effective accessibility. 

6 – In the United States, there aren’t a lot of accessible pedestrian signals

According to the ADA Accessibility Guidelines, accessible pedestrian signals (APS) are mandatory at newly constructed or reconstructed intersections. This means that a lot of existing intersections may not have APS. 

Indeed, they can be installed upon request along a specific route used by blind and visually impaired people, a route that leads to a school for blind people for example. 

Recently, New York City has been under the spotlight for its lack of APS. A federal judge has ordered the city to install more than 9,000 accessible pedestrian signals at intersections. They’re essential for blind and visually impaired people to cross the street safely and to fully enjoy everything the city has to offer!

7 – There’s no need to install accessible pedestrian signals at calm neighborhoods because they pose no danger

For sure, it’s best to start with very busy or complex intersections in order to prioritize the installation of APS. But for a visually impaired person, slow traffic can be as unsettling as busy traffic. 

Indeed, blind and visually impaired people rely a lot on traffic flows and their hustle and bustle to find their bearings, determine their path, locate the pedestrian crossings and know when to cross. 

When traffic is too rare, accessible pedestrian signals are essential to make up for the missing landmarks.

8 – No need to have APS, guide dogs know by themselves when to cross the street

For a start, visually impaired people don’t all have guide dogs. According to Guiding Eyes for the Blind, only 2% of blind and visually impaired people work with guide dogs. 

Moreover, guide dogs can’t read signs and they can’t interpret the WALK sign of traffic lights. It’s always their owner who orders them to cross the street after analyzing the situation (traffic noises, accessible pedestrian signals indications…).

However, guide dogs lead their owner towards the pedestrian crossing and until the other sidewalk. And they bypass obstacles.

Want to implement the appropriate solutions for blind and visually people? Check out our articles:

8 Key Points to Ensure Accessibility for Customers with Vision Disabilities at Public Venues

How Do the Blind Safely Cross the Street?

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

Published on February 4th, 2022

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Accessible stairs for the visually impaired with detectable warning surfaces, handrails and contrasting non-slip stair nosing

Whatever their level of visual impairment may be, blind and visually impaired people like tactile, detectable and audio indicators.

writer

Lise Wagner

Lise Wagner

Accessibility Expert

stay updated

Get the latest news about accessibility and the Smart City.

other articles for you

share our article!

more articles

Hearing Impaired People: a Multitude of Profiles for Different Needs

Hearing Impaired People: a Multitude of Profiles for Different Needs

Hearing Impaired People: a Multitude of Profiles for Different Needs  Did you know that hearing impaired people have several profiles and that the way they identify themselves is important? You may be familiar with deaf and hard of hearing people but for each of...

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.

Intellectual Disability, a Little Known and Multidimensional Disability

Intellectual Disability, a Little Known and Multidimensional Disability

People with intellectual disabilities walking in the streets

Intellectual Disability, a Little Known and Multidimensional Disability

Intellectual disability, sometimes called mental retardation, affects 1 to 3% of the global population, which represents approximately 6.5 million people in the United States. Who are they? What are their needs? How can we facilitate their participation in society?

We will see in this article that intellectual disability covers a wide variety of profiles, causes and manifestations. And the good news is that all the improvements made for accessibility to other disabilities also benefit people with intellectual disabilities. Which ones in particular? This is what you will find out.

Intellectual disability, mental retardation, what does it mean?

The terms “intellectual disability” and “mental retardation” both refer to a slower than average intellectual development. To be more precise, intellectual disability is the consequence of disorders of intellectual development in interaction with the barriers of the environment.

People with intellectual disabilities face difficulties in two areas:

Intellectual functioning, measured by intelligence quotient (IQ), which includes learning, reasoning, decision-making and problem-solving skills;

Adaptive behaviors, essential for daily life, which involve communication and interactions with others, but also the ability to take care of oneself.

Intellectual disability starts in childhood and is generally stable throughout life. No treatment is available to cure it. However, the consequences of an intellectual disability can be alleviated with specialized support and a suitable environment.

Not to be confused with mental illness or psychological disability! The pathologies at the origin of a psychological disability do not directly affect intellectual capacities but only the ability to mobilize them. However, it is not uncommon for an intellectual disability to be associated with a psychological disability or mental illness. This is particularly the case in 75% of autism spectrum disorders. In addition, people with an intellectual disability are 3 to 4 times more likely to develop a psychological disability than the overall population.

8 Clichés About Intellectual Disability

7 Clichés About Psychiatric Disability

What accessibility facilities for the intellectual disability?

Like all other disabilities, intellectual disability manifests itself in various forms and to varying degrees. The difficulties commonly encountered in the urban environment concern:

Reading and understanding,

Spatial awareness,

Time awareness,

Decision making,

Communication.

In order to improve access to the environment and to services for people with intellectual disabilities, the following recommendations should be applied:

Signage using colors, symbols and pictograms, 

Staff trained in welcoming people with mental disabilities,

Audio dubbing of visual information, in particular transport announcements,

Simplified maps with photos of the main destinations,

“Easy-to-read-and-understand” information,,

Learning workshops on transport networks,

Mobile applications for orientation, to facilitate communication, to reduce stress, to learn social interactions, etc.

5 Must-Have Apps for People with Intellectual Disabilities

Tactile paths, accessible pedestrian signals (APS) and audio beacons, originally designed for the visually impaired, are also very useful for people with intellectual disabilities. Indeed, soliciting several senses stimulates understanding.

Several degrees of intellectual disability

We speak of intellectual disability from an intelligence quotient lower than 70. As a reminder, the average intelligence quotient in the overall population is 100, the vast majority being between 85 and 115. The IQ does not however reflect the functioning in the environment. This is why the diagnosis of intellectual disability cannot be limited to an IQ test. It must also take into account the capacities of communication and adaptation in the environment.

Many forms of this type of disability are associated with psychological, motor or sensory disorders. These can in some cases complicate the diagnosis and capacity assessment. For example, the evaluation of the intelligence quotient in a deafblind person is almost impossible due to the inadequacy of the testing tools.

85% of people with intellectual disabilities are affected by a mild form. If they benefit from appropriate support in childhood, they are perfectly capable of living independently in adulthood.

The World Health Organization (WHO) distinguishes in its International Classification of Diseases (ICD) six classes of mental retardation, from mild to severe, but also non-specific forms.

Note: the 11th edition of the ICD, published in May 2019, updated the terminology concerning intellectual disability. We no longer speak of “mental retardation” but of “disorders of intellectual development”.

Mild intellectual disability

It is characterized by a slight delay in acquiring language and slower development than the average child. Difficulties usually appear during schooling but can be alleviated through appropriate educational methods. Most people with mild intellectual disabilities are able to lead independent lives as adults and work.

IQ, when it can be measured, is between 50 and 69.

Moderate intellectual disability

It concerns 10% of people with intellectual disabilities and is characterized by a very slow development of comprehension and language skills. In most cases, there is also difficulty performing basic activities of daily living such as washing or dressing. Even though children with an average intellectual disability have significant academic difficulties, some of them manage to learn to read, write and count. In adulthood, they are sometimes able to work, provided the tasks are simple and structured.

IQ, when it can be measured, is between 35 and 49.

Severe intellectual disability

It concerns 3 to 4% of people with intellectual disabilities. The difficulties encountered by people with severe intellectual disabilities are much the same as those with moderate intellectual disability, but to a greater degree. Motor impairments and associated disorders are also more common. These people generally need constant assistance in their daily life.

IQ, when it can be measured, is between 20 and 34.

Profound intellectual disability

It concerns 1 to 2% of people with an intellectual disability. It is characterized by an almost total inability to understand. People with a profound intellectual disability are generally unable to move and their communication is limited to a few non-verbal manifestations. They are unable to control their bodily functions and take care of themselves. They must therefore benefit from permanent assistance.

The IQ is then estimated to be less than 20.

A disability with multiple causes

Unlike other forms of disability that can occur at any time in life, intellectual disability begins in childhood, before the age of 18.

It can be caused by a genetic defect, illness or exposure to alcohol during pregnancy, oxygen deprivation at birth, or certain illnesses or exposures to toxic substances during infancy. Little is known about whooping cough, measles or meningitis can lead to intellectual disability if treatment is delayed. Malnutrition is also a cause of intellectual regression in regions of the world prone to famine.

The three most common causes of mental disability are Down syndrome, 22q11 deletion (otherwise known as DiGeorge syndrome), and exposure to alcohol during pregnancy. There is also a rise in the numbers due to the increase in the number of preterm births.

In more than a third of cases, however, the cause of the intellectual disability remains unknown.

Intellectual disability cannot be treated, but prevention and support measures can limit the consequences.

In conclusion, keep in mind that the vast majority of people with intellectual disabilities live among others. We all therefore have the possibility of helping them to express their full potential by adapting our behavior. If you are responsible for the accessibility of a venue, a transport network or the roads of a municipality, think of all the inexpensive facilities that you can implement to facilitate their orientation and improve their sense of security.

Find out more on accessibility for people with intellectual disabilities with these articles:

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

9 Tips to Welcome a Person with an Intellectual Disability

Published on January 21st, 2022

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A man with Down syndrome and another man smiling

Tactile paths, accessible pedestrian signals (APS) and audio beacons, originally designed for the visually impaired, are also very useful for people with intellectual disabilities.

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Lise Wagner

Lise Wagner

Accessibility Expert

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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

stay updated

Get the latest news about accessibility and the Smart City.

other articles for you

share our article!

more articles

Hearing Impaired People: a Multitude of Profiles for Different Needs

Hearing Impaired People: a Multitude of Profiles for Different Needs

Hearing Impaired People: a Multitude of Profiles for Different Needs  Did you know that hearing impaired people have several profiles and that the way they identify themselves is important? You may be familiar with deaf and hard of hearing people but for each of...

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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.