Invisible Disabilities: 80% of Disabled People Are Concerned!

Invisible Disabilities: 80% of Disabled People Are Concerned!

People with invisible disabilities partying

Invisible Disabilities: 80% of Disabled People Are Concerned! 

Having a disability = using a wheelchair. That’s one persisting cliché! Actually, only 2% of people with disabilities are wheelchair users but 80% have invisible disabilities! What we mean by “invisible disabilities” is an unnoticed disability at first glance, that is to say when the person in question hasn’t made their difficulties known. What are the types of invisible disabilities? How can you identify them? What are the best practices to best welcome people with invisible disabilities at public venues? Follow the guide, we’ll explain everything!

Several types of invisible disabilities

Although we usually arrange them in main categories, there are as many disabilities as people with disabilities. The same holds true for invisible disabilities! They include most sensory disabilities (visual and hearing impairments), most of the mental and psychological impairments, cognitive disabilities and a lot of chronic diseases generating incapabilities.

In concrete terms, the following situations are part of invisible disabilities:

Hearing impairment,

Visual impairment,

Certain forms of autism,

Bipolar disorders,

Alzheimer’s disease,

People with a heart condition,

Dyslexia,

People with post-traumatic-disorders (war veterans or terrorist attack survivors), etc.

A lot of elderly people have an invisible disability, some may even have several.

Illiteracy is also a cause of invisible disability, even though it’s rarely acknowledged as such by the administration. According to the U.S. Department of Education, 54% of adults between 16 and 74 years old lack proficiency in literacy. That represents around 130 million people who can read below the equivalent of a sixth-grade level. Illiteracy has direct consequences on people’s quality of life and their integration into society.

Invisible disabilities creates multiple difficulties

The consequences of having an invisible disability vary according to the type of disability and its severity. Having disabilities can lead to being easily tired, having attention deficit disorders, difficulties to take initiatives or to put up a strategy, memory disorders.

Many people with invisible disabilities prefer not to disclose their disabilities. Some even feel ashamed because of them. This is due to the fact that being different is often regarded as a problem by relatives or work relations. Sometimes invisible disabilities can have an impact on our intimacy. For example, those with Crohn’s disease have to use the bathroom very often. Endometriosis also has a strong impact on the everyday lives of women with it. More than 6 million women have endometriosis in the U.S.

Contrary to people whose disabilities are obvious, people with invisible disabilities are often suspected to lie or to be lazy. They’re more likely to be misunderstood, laughed at or insulted. Their specific needs are rarely taken into account. However, many of them are legitimately entitled to use a parking space for people with reduced mobility (PRM), to ask for a seat at public transportation or to have priority in a line.

A lot of invisible disabilities have variable manifestations according to the situation, the events, the fatigue people feel or their mood. These fluctuations increase how misunderstood people with invisible disabilities may be by their relatives. Consequently, they have to make more of an effort to adapt which makes them much more tired. 

How can you best welcome people with invisible disabilities?

The tricky part is that by definition invisible disabilities aren’t obvious. In order to provide people with invisible disabilities with the best possible welcome, it’s important you build a climate of trust so that your visitors can freely express their specific needs. To do that, you can directly ask them: “Do you need anything in particular?”. This can be a seat to wait, some help to fill up a document, a handwritten note with the main directions to follow to get to a place or any other action that will enable them to better have access to your services.

A good thing to set up: make sure to systematically provide a field in all your subscription forms for people to express their specific needs.

And also make sure not to judge particular demands and to leave behind any negative prejudices you may have. As we said earlier, people with invisible disabilities mostly suffer from being accused of lying or taking advantage. Keep a positive and respectful attitude in all circumstances! For any situation, you can use our 7 Tips to Welcome a Person with Disabilities.

To conclude, invisible disabilities are far from being uncommon. Always keep in mind that the person you’re talking to may have specific needs you may not have thought of at first. By remaining open-minded and by listening to them without judging, you give them the opportunity to express themselves. Thus you’re more likely to meet their needs and to make them have access to the services your venue provides more easily!

Published on August 6th, 2021

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People with invisible disabilities sitting on a bench at the beach

Having disabilities can lead to being easily tired, having attention deficit disorders, difficulties to take initiatives or to put up a strategy, memory disorders.

writer

Lise Wagner

Lise Wagner

Accessibility Expert

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5 Must-Have Apps for People with Intellectual Disabilities

5 Must-Have Apps for People with Intellectual Disabilities

5 Must-Have Apps for People with Intellectual DisabilitiesPeople with intellectual disabilities such as Down syndrome or fragile X syndrome have an intellectual development that’s inferior to the population average and learning difficulties. This means they have...

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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 Tips to Welcome a Person with a Physical Disability

8 Tips to Welcome a Person with a Physical Disability

A wheelchair user

8 Tips to Welcome a Person with a Physical Disability

You’re peacefully sitting behind your reception desk when a wheelchair user comes to you. No need to panic, even with a physical disability, this person probably has similar demands as any other visitors. Staying open-minded and using common sense, you’ll be able to best assist them and lead them to the services they’re interested in. And to make sure not to make a blunder, keep in mind this precious series of advice!

What’s a physical disability?

The services dedicated to people with a physical disability are often identified with the wheelchair logo. But people with a physical disability or reduced mobility encounter a lot of different situations. This disability concerns people with motor function impairments, meaning they’ve lost some or all of their motor skills. This can affect their legs, arms or the rest of their body. People with a physical disability may find it difficult to get around or to perform manual tasks. Having a physical disability can also impact their speech without changing their ability to understand. 

To make sure you’re providing a person with a physical disability the best possible experience, start by following our 7 Tips to Welcome a Person with Disabilities! They work every time!

And now, let’s see some specific advice!

 #1 Lead your customers with a physical disability towards the priority line

Staying in a line can be extremely exhausting for people with a physical disability, especially for those who have difficulty standing. Bearing their weight on stilts or on a walker can be tiring. If they haven’t seen it, make sure to let them know where the priority line is.

#2 Offer a seat

If people who have difficulty standing still need to wait in line, make sure to offer them a seat. But stay careful so that no one jumps the line. It would be a shame for people with a physical disability to wait longer just because they’re sitting apart. 

#3 Put yourself at their level to easily communicate with them

If you need to discuss at length with a person with a physical disability, it would be better for you to sit down. You’d be at the same level as them and would avoid yourself with a stiff neck. This situation would be much more comfortable for both of you. For front desks to be accessible, they should all have a lowered counter. This enables a direct visual contact with wheelchair users and people of small stature. If your front desk doesn’t have a lowered counter, don’t hesitate to go around it.

#4 Opt for an optimized route

If you need to tell a person with a physical disability how to reach a service your venue provides, be careful to choose an itinerary without any obstacles. Lead them to where the elevators and automatic doors are located. Make sure the route doesn’t have any steps, steep slopes nor loose or slippery ground.

#5 Offer to help

The emphasis is on “offering” and not “imposing”! But if the chosen route shows difficulties (steep slope, high threshold, loose ground, crossfall…), your help will probably be welcome. If for that you need to push a wheelchair user, just wait until they’ve agreed to it. Don’t lean on their wheelchair, it’s like an extension of their body! Choose the less bumpy routes, avoid abrupt movements and tell them beforehand the maneuvers you need to do. To pass a step or a rise, turn the wheelchair around, slightly tilt it and gently pull it towards you.

#6 Deploy the access ramp

If the venue you work in isn’t accessible at ground level nor equipped with a permanent access ramp, a removable ramp for wheelchair users can be easy to use. It needs to have a call button at the level of the entrance door so that people who need it can make their presence known. We recommend you to be familiar with how this ramp works in order for you to be prepared should the need arise.

#7 Be patient

A person who has a physical disability may have slower movements than average. Avoid showing any impatience, this could make them feel more anxious and get flustered. Offer to help if you can. And if they have a speech impediment, let them finish their sentences to avoid any misunderstandings. Don’t hesitate to make them repeat themselves if necessary.

#8 Accept service dogs without discussing it

Service dogs for people with disabilities and guide dogs for blind people can have access to all public venues without extra charge and without any obligation to wear a muzzle. Let them come in with their owners. They aren’t like any other dogs: they went to school and know how to behave!

We hope this series of advice will enable you to feel more comfortable welcoming a person with a physical disability. No matter what, don’t forget this golden rule: talk to the other person as you would with anybody else! They’ll always forgive you for making a blunder if you stay open to dialogue and listen to their needs. 

If you’d like to know more about physical disability, check out our article: Obstacles in Public Transport: What Solutions for Physical Disability?

Published on 25th June 2021

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A wheelchair user and his carer

If you need to discuss at length with a person with a physical disability, it would be better for you to sit down. You’d be at the same level as them and would avoid yourself with a stiff neck.

writer

Lise Wagner

Lise Wagner

Accessibility Expert

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5 Must-Have Apps for People with Intellectual Disabilities

5 Must-Have Apps for People with Intellectual Disabilities

5 Must-Have Apps for People with Intellectual DisabilitiesPeople with intellectual disabilities such as Down syndrome or fragile X syndrome have an intellectual development that’s inferior to the population average and learning difficulties. This means they have...

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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.

Museum Accessibility: Physical and Psychological Comfort for All | Interview of French Architect Nadia Sahmi

Museum Accessibility: Physical and Psychological Comfort for All | Interview of French Architect Nadia Sahmi

A large group of people taking pictures at a museum

Museum Accessibility: Physical and Psychological Comfort for All | Interview of French Architect Nadia Sahmi

Putting architecture at the service of individuals’ well-being, that’s Nadia Sahmi’s principle, architect and CEO of Cogito Ergo Sum’s agency in Tours, France. She works as accessibility, quality of life and user experience consultant on a lot of museum projects. For her, “us” in “user”, implies the plurality of our differences, all the singularities we, as different groups of people, may have. Being convinced that making all types of audiences feel welcome comes from a global approach, Nadia Sahmi fights against technical and regulation shortcuts to put human beings at the center of every project.

Hello Nadia Sahmi. For our readers who may not know you yet, could you tell us about your approach as an accessibility consultant?

On every project I’ve worked on, my goal is to bring physical, psychological and sensory comfort to all users respecting at the same time the architectural design. For that, I study projects through the eyes of the most vulnerable users. If we take into account the needs of the most fragile among us, we truly improve society for all. I favor a global approach, taking into account all audiences in their diversity.

The strictly regulation approach that control offices adopt causes a lot of rejection. The danger is having an approach that’s too segmented, too prescriptive and not human enough. I make a point of making everybody adhere by turning things around. We create “for all”, including blind people and wheelchair users, not the way around. We don’t favor a group of people over another, we don’t point the finger at anyone. Plus, anybody can momentarily become visually or hearing impaired depending on the circumstances. Let’s just take the example of smartphone addicts… The most important thing is to find common denominators that will bring comfort and well-being to all.

More specifically, if we focus on museums, what do you think the principles to respect should be for these cultural sites to become accessible to all? 

Once again, it’s about focusing on a global approach. Making access to culture easier comes from improving the staff’s work conditions. They need to be able to act as facilitators. Everybody should be able to move around in all areas, to get closer to collections, to take note of mediation content. These examples show that focusing only on respecting accessibility technical regulations isn’t enough to make a museum accessible. By tackling accessibility through usability and empathy towards users, not only do we make all people involved adhere to the project but we also gain quality feedback. The goal remains providing physical and psychological comfort so that everybody can feel well in their heart and inner self.

For example, there’s no point in having properly sized spaces if we don’t take into account the light, preferably natural light or a well-thought artificial light. The unit of measurement can’t be lux but psychological comfort. It’s true that we can’t make people agree on everything. Studies show that men prefer white light and that women prefer yellow light. We need to accept differences and we need to find the big common denominators, the layouts that enable everybody to find their groove. That’s the vision I provide clients and users with. Colors and materials also have a strong impact on mental health. White is like a flavor enhancer: you can’t put too much of it at the risk of ruining the whole thing. There’s a whole culture to develop.

When we talk about accessibility, usually we point out the cost that comes with creating access ramps and oversized rooms. But we never talk about the benefits of creating a society where we can be comfortable in: less aggressivity, less health issues. From the moment we elevate individuals by offering them quality spaces, everybody feels better. To parody a famous brand, the headline of my approach could be: “Because I too, I’m worth it!”

In a museum, what matters before all is the way I’m welcomed, the services I get, the technologies at my disposal. Museums need to be pleasant for everybody. I have enough large spaces, intuitive paths so I feel safe to enjoy the experience. Mediation tools are diversified and adapt to the needs of everybody. No more “don’t touch!”, it’s about time we can explore museums in a different way.

Read out this study on museum accessibility for blind and visually impaired people and know more about their needs.

So opening up museums to all audiences depends on a global approach that leaves nothing and no one behind. Can you give us any examples of museums that have adopted this approach?

At the moment, I’m working on the Luma Foundation in Arles, France. We focus a lot on welcoming visitors, its organization. The goal is to bring flexibility, to assist people who need it. We rehumanise, we give meaning back to reception jobs. We reintroduce quality in relationships with others. Due to excessive hygienism or responsibility fear, it’s something we’ve completely lost track of. 

Despite everything, we can’t only rely on humans. Of course, the layout has its importance. On this project, neither text nor usability permitted us to implement a tactile signage system. I went to Okeenea to develop a solution for all, a solution that architects couldn’t reject. The indoor wayfinding solution is pain-free for architecture and is incidentally more effective than a tactile signage system for blind people because it enables them to have flexibility in their paths. It’s more than a wayfinding solution since the idea is to provide content about the history of the location. At first, we had a lot of technical and architectural constraints, due to the presence of a lot of metal. So we proceeded in stages carrying out tests on a limited area that turned out to be conclusive. What I’m interested in with this solution is that it’ll serve everybody and that it’s capable of evolving over time following the life of the building. The exhibits are never permanent so it’s important that nothing is set in stone.

Besides, we can’t put aside the 35% of French who aren’t comfortable with digital technologies. 17% of the population don’t use a smartphone and among those who do, many aren’t completely comfortable with it. We need to think of a tool that could be used by visitors to replace smartphones, an intuitive and easy-to-manipulate tool, including for people who may have their hands full with a mobility aid or something else.

The Luma Foundation does research to create a breadcrumb trail adapted to all types of floors. The idea is to create a continuity in all spaces that’s both useful and beautiful. Several artists are involved and its Mrs Hoffmann, the Foundation’s benefactor, who will have the last word. The tactile guide strips at the top of the stairs have also been rethought to fit in the architecture.

I advocate for “specific” mediation tools to be generalized for everybody. For example, the tools that are developed for blind people are great for kids but also for other audiences. At the Vuitton Foundation, another project on which I’ve worked a lot, everything has been conceived to welcome all audiences in their diversity. The plans and the tactile models that enable blind people to visualize Frank Guery’s architecture, the volumes, the way spaces are interlocked and the materials, attract all types of visitors, because they were put on the visit tour and they deal with beautiful creations. The visit assistant smartphone app is compatible with voice synthesis and is composed of subtitled and American Sign Language content. It’s completely open for a visitor who doesn’t need it but for a visually or hearing impaired person, the mediation content is here and available.

We’ve talked about the specific case of museums. But accessibility applies to all public places and housing. In order to broaden the subject, could you tell us what your recommendations are in these fields?

The main mistake remains segmenting the approaches. The regulation approach causes rejection when, on the principle, everybody agrees on creating well-being for everybody. We need to look for solutions by having a meeting of minds between architects, users and contracting authorities. It’s important to organize spaces according to usability data and not dimensional data. We also need to reintroduce the humane party. Autonomy is an aspect for which we can’t compromise on dealing with housing. However, outdoors, we can create social ties. Having worked a lot in difficult neighborhoods, I can tell you that when you provide quality of life, the whole society benefits from it.

Another important aspect is letting users choose, choose between oversized or reduced restrooms, between stairs or access ramps for example. Everywhere we have generalized the use of ramps but it’s a nightmare for the elderly. Crossing a ramp can be very difficult when one has balance issues. Imposing elevators everywhere isn’t the solution either. On the contrary, we need to promote physical activity for the elderly. I advocate installing stairs back. I know physios who have their patients work on small portable wooden stairs, just because building stairs aren’t highlighted, are ill-conceived and with a poor signage system. It’s urgent to invest in stairs: a good lighting, visual contrast on the stairs. However, we need to be careful with tactile guide strips with rounded nails that we usually find at pedestrian crossings. Elderly people could fall on them. Indoors, they can be replaced with groove mats or other flat nails. It’s important to think about solutions in their plurality and not restricting ourselves on ready-made solutions. When an older person stays cooped up, it’s because of their fears, starting with the fear to fall. I had the opportunity to observe this in a residential building on which I worked on. When we installed stair nosings with visual contrast, elderly people started to go outside. A month later, we implemented tactile guide strips with rounded nails and it was over! They had to be replaced with ground mats. It’s an intuitive code that works very well for everybody.

Control offices often lead to shortcuts regarding regulations. It’s important to make an effort in understanding what are the needs that led to the solutions described in laws and in knowing when it’s not necessary to follow them to the letter in order to keep an open mind. Regulations have opened up possibilities and enabled us to have “alternative solutions”. We need to dare!

I’ve been advocating these ideas for 25 years now with decision makers, politicians, investors. Architecture needs to meet all usability goals and this can happen fighting against clichés and bad paradigms. We need to be patient and persistent but it’s worth fully focusing on it to improve our togetherness!

Read out our articles to learn more about design and how it can help improve the everyday lives of people with disabilities: 

Adopting a Design Approach to Put People at the Heart of New Mobility Services – Interview with Marie-Charlotte Moret

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

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Picture of Nadia Sahmi

Making access to culture easier comes from improving the staff’s work conditions. They need to be able to act as facilitators. Everybody should be able to move around in all areas, to get closer to collections, to take note of mediation content.

writer

Lise Wagner

Lise Wagner

Accessibility Expert

stay updated

Get the latest news about accessibility and the Smart City.

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5 Must-Have Apps for People with Intellectual Disabilities

5 Must-Have Apps for People with Intellectual Disabilities

5 Must-Have Apps for People with Intellectual DisabilitiesPeople with intellectual disabilities such as Down syndrome or fragile X syndrome have an intellectual development that’s inferior to the population average and learning difficulties. This means they have...

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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.

7 Tips to Welcome a Person with Disabilities

7 Tips to Welcome a Person with Disabilities

Two wheelchair users share drinks with other people

7 Tips to Welcome a Person with Disabilities

 

Who hasn’t been uncomfortable dealing with a person with disabilities? We’ve all been afraid to drop a clanger, to be clumsy and to behave badly. It’s normal to feel disconcerted in a new situation when we don’t understand the appropriate codes. But it’s actually not that difficult. Here are a few tips that will work every time, regardless of the disability type of the person you’re talking with!

1. Stay natural

Alright, it’s easier said than done… But you need to realize that the person in front of you is above all a human being with the same needs as anyone. Meaning that past the initial moment of surprise, even the moment of panic (because this can also happen…), you simply have to say hello and start talking to the person in front of you.

2. Ask questions

Yes, it’s a new situation and yes, it’s normal not to have all the keys in hand. Simply ask the person you’re talking with what you can do for them. They know best how to explain it to you.

3. Don’t think for them

Because we want to do things right, we often tend to anticipate what a person with disabilities will say or do. But it’s a trap! There’s a good chance you’ll be wide of the mark concerning their expectations and this may cause frustration that could make the person with disabilities aggressive towards you! Give them time to express themselves.

4. Offer your help, don’t impose it

Some people with disabilities don’t dare to ask for help. You’ll make it easier for them if the offer to help comes from you. But do it in an open way so that the person you’re talking to can feel free to tell you if they need it or not.

5. Make sure you’re talking to the person with disabilities before anything else

If a person with disabilities is with someone like a caregiver, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they can’t communicate with you. It’s in fact rarely the case. But even if it was, it’s not a reason to ignore them in the conversation. Just speak directly to them. The caregiver they’re with will naturally take over if it’s necessary.

6. Don’t take offense if some behaviors seem strange to you

There’s nothing more normal than to feel disconcerted facing an attitude or a behavior that’s out of the ordinary. But you need to realize that some types of disabilities may be the cause and that it’s completely out of control. Try to disregard it and treat the person with disabilities as an adult no matter what.

7. Don’t pet a dog without first asking his owner

Obviously, this advice concerns every dog but it’s particularly the case with guide dogs or service dogs used for other types of disabilities. Petting them while working could distract them and thus put in danger the people they’re accompanying.

 

We hope these basic tips will enable you to feel more confident next time you’re dealing with a person with disabilities in your venue or somewhere else! You’ll find other tips adapted to specific types of disabilities such as 12 Tips to Welcome a Deaf or Hard of Hearing Person and 9 Tips to Welcome a Person with an Intellectual Disability.

Please keep in mind that there are trainings to help you and your personnel best assist customers with disabilities. Thanks to qualified organizations, you’ll be able to talk about dealing with people with disabilities without any taboos!

 

 

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A group of people admiring the sunset

Some people with disabilities don’t dare to ask for help. You’ll make it easier for them if the offer to help comes from you.

writer

Lise Wagner

Lise Wagner

Accessibility Expert

stay updated

Get the latest news about accessibility and the Smart City.

other articles for you

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5 Must-Have Apps for People with Intellectual Disabilities

5 Must-Have Apps for People with Intellectual Disabilities

5 Must-Have Apps for People with Intellectual DisabilitiesPeople with intellectual disabilities such as Down syndrome or fragile X syndrome have an intellectual development that’s inferior to the population average and learning difficulties. This means they have...

Disability Pride Month: What Is It and Why Is It Important?

Disability Pride Month: What Is It and Why Is It Important?

Disability Pride Month: What Is It and Why Is It Important?July celebrates Disability Pride Month! A month to support and raise awareness on disability. It gives people with disabilities an opportunity to be seen and heard. Obviously, everybody has their own...

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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.

The Montreal Metro on the Way to Universal Accessibility

The Montreal Metro on the Way to Universal Accessibility

Inside a metro wagon

The Montreal Metro on the Way to Universal Accessibility

With 1.36 million passengers per day, the Montreal metro is the first network in Canada and the third in North America behind New York City and Mexico City. The network, which was inaugurated on October 14, 1966 and is operated by the Société de Transport de Montréal (STM), has 68 stations on 4 lines. In 2009, the STM embarked on the path to universal accessibility. Even if there is still a long way to go, many initiatives deserve to be highlighted. Installation of elevators, adaptation of infrastructure, staff training, improvement of passenger information and signage, modernization of the ticket sales system, all stages of the customer journey are covered with projects to improve the consideration of the specific needs of people with disabilities or reduced mobility.

Since sharing positive initiatives is in our opinion an excellent way to advance accessibility for all, we suggest that you continue our world tour of best practices in the subways in the largest city in Canada.

Who are the disabled or reduced mobility users in the Montreal metro? 

Universal accessibility allows everyone to access, navigate and move around a metro station in order to make full use of all the services offered to the population. The Quebec survey on activity limitations, chronic diseases and aging 2010-2011 (EQLAV) made it possible to estimate the population living with an activity limitation that results from a long-term health condition or disability. The figures compiled by the Office des personnes handicapées du Québec (OPHQ) for the Montreal region, allow us to establish that: 

⊗ Almost a third of the 1.6 million targeted Montrealers aged 15 and over, living in a private or institutional household, have a disability, i.e. 528,385 people. It is a slight disability for the majority of them (67%). 

⊗ The rate of disability increases with age, especially from the age of 50.

⊗ Disabilities related to agility and mobility are the most common.

However, the Société de Transport de Montréal (STM) does not have statistics on users with disabilities or reduced mobility traveling on its metro network. The only known data concern people who use the adaptive transport service. 73% of them have a motor disability, which shows that they are the most penalized in accessing the regular transport network. 

 

Access to Montreal metro stations for people with reduced mobility

Accessing metro stations from the street today remains a major difficulty for people with motor disabilities. In July 2020, Omer Juma, an entrepreneur committed to a more inclusive city, launched the 4 days 4 lines project, a complete audit of vertical accessibility to metro stations in Montreal. He covered the 68 stations and more than 8,600 steps in 4 days. His results, which he readily shares with the general public, show that:

⊗ 76% of stations (52) do not have an elevator at at least one of their entrances;

⊗ 47% (32) of them have at least one entrance without an escalator;

⊗ 26% (18) of them have an entrance with a staircase doubled by an ascending escalator but none descending.

A single station out of the 68 of the subway network offers the possibility of a continuous journey from the upper level to the platform by taking the escalators. In 58 of them, even if escalators are present, there is still a break in the path, where travelers must go up or down steps. The 9 other stations do not have any escalator.

In 2017, the Superior Court authorized a $ 1 billion class action lawsuit against the Société de transport de Montréal (STM), the Agence métropolitaine de transport (AMT) and the City of Montreal on behalf of people who had had their access to public transport restricted due to their disability.

 

A universal accessibility development plan for the Montreal metro

Pursuant to article 67 of the Canadian Act to secure handicapped persons in the exercise of their rights with a view to achieving social, school and workplace integration, the STM implemented in 2007 its first development plan for universal accessibility. The 3rd plan for the period 2016-2020 setting the objectives for 2025 is articulated in 3 parts:

⊗ Strengthen the implementation of universal accessibility;

⊗ Speed up the accessibility of metro stations;

⊗ Expand the fields of intervention for universal accessibility.

The universal accessibility team is part of the Planning and Network Development Department. They work in close collaboration with three committees: the sub-committee, the associative committee and the technical committee for universal accessibility.

 

41 metro stations equipped with elevators in 2025

When building the subway in 1966, the elevators were not planned. It is now a challenge to integrate them while hindering passenger service as little as possible. It is often necessary to acquire new land, modify existing buildings, move equipment… Several projects are underway to reach the number of 41 stations equipped by 2025. Today, there are 16 to be equipped, 9 of which are fully accessible.

Elevator installations are prioritized according to various criteria in order to optimize cost-of-investment to service-provided ratio. These criteria are:

⊗ The technical complexity of the installation;

⊗ The geographical distribution of the stations equipped in order to fairly serve the various districts of Montreal;

⊗ The category of stations: priority goes to transfer stations or terminals;

⊗ Proximity to schools, health institutions or transit centers;

⊗ The possibility of combining the installation of an elevator with other infrastructure works.

25 additional stations will be equipped with elevators by 2025, including the 5 new ones on the blue line. In addition, the 26 stations of the Metropolitan Express Network (REM) which will be partially operating from 2022 will all be equipped with elevators and will be fully accessible.

The elevators are open to all passengers: people with reduced mobility, but also elderly people, parents with young children, passengers loaded with bulky luggage… Wheelchair users may ask staff for help to use them and navigate the station. The elevator service status is available in real time on the homepage of the STM website.

 

Motorized butterfly doors

The butterfly doors, which are typical of the Montreal metro, are designed to limit the piston effect, i.e. the air pressure differential due to speeding trains in the tunnels. These double doors pivoting on an axis were originally made entirely of stainless steel, which makes them heavyweight and difficult to open for people with disabilities or reduced mobility. Lighter models were introduced from 2010. In 2020, 22 subway stations were equipped with motorized butterfly doors with a push button to control their opening. The STM plans to double this number by 2025. An enlarged motorized butterfly door has been designed to be installed on the entrances equipped with elevators to accommodate people using strollers or wheelchairs.

 

Platform screen doors for the safety of all

All of the Montreal metro platforms are equipped with tactile strips to prevent the risk of falls, in particular for people who are blind or visually impaired. Platform screen doors are glazed walls installed along the subway platforms, which open automatically once the train is stopped. Already present on the Paris, London or Tokyo networks, these platform screen doors increase the safety of travelers by avoiding the risk of falling on the tracks.

By 2026, platform screen doors will be installed on the orange line of the Montreal metro. The new REM stations will also all be equipped with such doors.

 

Accessible solutions for purchasing tickets

Providing several options for purchasing tickets is the best way for people with special needs to find one that suits them. The STM offers its customers various means of purchasing transit tickets: from home through a dedicated card reader, on a smartphone, from partner shops, from station agents, from vending machines and recharging stations. 

Ticket vending machines and recharging terminals are equipped with an audio navigation system. The bank keypad is equipped with tactile cues and the screen has improved contrast and readability. 

By 2025, the STM plans to further diversify the possibilities for purchasing tickets and to facilitate access to selling points for people with disabilities.

 

Passenger information for all

Since the end of 2014, MetroVision information screens have been installed on the platforms of all stations. They inform passengers in real time about upcoming departure times, the weather and STM news. A new sound system has been installed in the stations to improve the audibility of voice announcements. The voice announcement of the next station in the trains is automated. Actress Michèle Deslauriers is currently the voice of the Montreal metro.

All the subway signage has been revised taking into account the principles of universal accessibility: visual contrast, clearly legible fonts, use of colors, symbols and pictograms. The STM is also carrying out several projects aimed at making passenger information available to their customers on as many platforms as possible: web, mobile, print, telephone, etc. In addition to information on schedules, connections and network disruptions, the STM also intends to provide all the information necessary for planning a route taking into account the specific needs of passengers. Real-time information regarding the operation of elevators, escalators and motorized butterfly doors is expected to be available on all platforms in the years to come.

 

New more accessible trains

The layout of the new AZUR subway cars put into service in 2018 takes into account the principles of universal accessibility:

⊗ Color contrast to facilitate object identification,

⊗ More ergonomic seats,

⊗ Adjustable suspension to adapt to platform level,

⊗ Wider doors,

⊗ Wheelchair spaces in each car,

⊗ Automated visual and audible information indicating stations, connections, opening and closing doors,

⊗ Accessible call points.

In MR-73 trains, only the lead car of each set of three cars has a wheelchair space. Audio information is present in all cars and visual information about connections in almost all of them. 

By 2025, an emergency call system accessible to all should be present on all trains. Audio and visual announcements will also be modified to make them easy to understand.

 

Special support for people with disabilities 

Wheelchair users as well as people with visual or intellectual disabilities can ask to be accompanied by an STM agent to facilitate their navigation within the stations. In most stations, it remains difficult for a person using a wheelchair to cross the gap between the train and the platform independently. The help of an agent is then necessary to unfold the access ramp. 

Agents trained on accessible customer service

The training programs for STM staff include modules devoted to universal accessibility, welcoming and support to people with disabilities. Employees are particularly trained in the handling of accessibility equipment such as access ramps. 

Companion card

People with visual or intellectual disabilities who have difficulty accessing the regular STM transit system independently may request a companion card. This card allows the person accompanying them to travel for free on the whole network.

Guide and service dogs are of course admitted free of charge within trains and stations.

 

Workshops to learn how to use the metro system

In order to improve the independence and safety of travelers, STM teams provide awareness and training workshops on the use of the metro system. These workshops are aimed at school groups, newcomers, the elderly, people with disabilities, etc. In 2015, more than 42,000 people attended one of these workshops. People with visual disabilities also have access to workshops offered by the Institut Nazareth et Louis Braille (INLB) as well as the Metropolitan group of the blind and partially sighted of Montreal (RAAMM). This learning program integrated into a rehabilitation course allows the identification and memorization of the routes to get more independent. 

Although universal accessibility was not taken into account when the Montreal metro was built in 1966, there is no doubt that substantial efforts have been made over the last decade. Today, universal accessibility standards and criteria are embedded in all metro design and renovation projects. This also involves raising the platforms, realizing yellow stair nosing, installing double-height handrails, ischial supports, seats with armrests, call points, etc. One thing is certain: the Montreal metro is progressing well on the way to universal accessibility!

Would you like to know more about subway accessibility? These articles are made for you:

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

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

Obstacles in Public Transport: What Solutions for Physical Disability?

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Inside the Montreal metro where we can see elevators for PRM

When building the subway in 1966, the elevators were not planned. It is now a challenge to integrate them. (…) Several projects are underway to reach the number of 41 stations equipped by 2025.

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Lise Wagner

Lise Wagner

Accessibility Expert

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