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.

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.

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Lise Wagner

Lise Wagner

Accessibility Expert

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7 Tips to Welcome a Person with Disabilities

7 Tips to Welcome a Person with Disabilities

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...

7 Tips to Welcome a Person with Disabilities

7 Tips to Welcome a Person with Disabilities

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...

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The French leading company

on the accessibility market.

For more than 25 years, we have been developing architectural access solutions for buildings and streets. Everyday, we rethink today’s cities to transform them in smart cities accessible to everyone.

By creating solutions ever more tailored to the needs of people with disabilities, we push the limits, constantly improve the urban life and make the cities more enjoyable for the growing majority.

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

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Get the latest news about accessibility and the Smart City.

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7 Tips to Welcome a Person with Disabilities

7 Tips to Welcome a Person with Disabilities

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...

5 must-have apps for deaf and hard of hearing people in 2020

5 must-have apps for deaf and hard of hearing people in 2020

5 Must-Have Apps for Deaf and Hard of Hearing People in 2020  Technological breakthroughs can do miracles. For the 466 million people worldwide having disabling hearing loss (WHO), smartphones have become an essential tool to facilitate social interaction due to...

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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.

Everything You Have Always Wanted to Know on Geolocation | Interview of Valérie Renaudin, Head of GEOLOC Team at University Gustave Eiffel, France

Everything You Have Always Wanted to Know on Geolocation | Interview of Valérie Renaudin, Head of GEOLOC Team at University Gustave Eiffel, France

A visually impaired and his guide dog are part of the research led by GEOLOC Team and Okeenea Digital

Everything You Have Always Wanted to Know on Geolocation | Interview of Valérie Renaudin, Head of GEOLOC Team at University Gustave Eiffel, France

In a previous article, we had already talked about artificial intelligence and how this technology serves people with disabilities. Now, let’s focus on geolocation, a term that’s more and more mentioned in the media. Indeed, everyday we use geolocation, without even realizing it, with GPS that truly make part of our daily lives and have thus become indispensable. But how does it work exactly? How can geolocation have an impact on everybody’s mobility including people with disabilities’ mobility?

In order to decipher all that’s hidden behind the notion of “geolocation”, we met with Valérie Renaudin, Head of GEOLOC Team at University Gustave Eiffel in Nantes, France. In this interview, she lifts the veil on its operation and shares with us her vision, her missions as researcher and expert in this field.

In a few words, can you introduce yourself? 

My name is Valérie Renaudin and I’m currently the Head of GEOLOC Team in Nantes (French West coast), as part of the University Gustave Eiffel. I have a mixed experience, both industrial and academic, spent on several continents during 15 years, in the French and German-speaking Switzerland. Plus the English-speaking Canada in the area of Calgary. 

Can you explain to us the mission of the GEOLOC laboratory at the University Gustave Eiffel? 

The GEOLOC laboratory focuses on geolocation in order to improve the mobility of people and goods. For several years, we’ve produced new ways to calculate and locate mobile objects, what we call dynamic positioning, that go with the rise of new mobility practices and new services based on the geolocation of their carriers.

Traditionally, we used to focus on elements related to transportation such as cars and trains and even more substantial elements meant for air or maritime transport. Later, with the rise of connected objects, we started to focus on the “man in the street” and his way to get around in order to improve his daily life mobility.

 

What are the challenges you’re facing regarding geolocation? And why?

The main challenge we’re facing today is providing an accurate and seamless geolocation to travelers throughout the whole multimodal chain, whatever their getting around may be, whether they’re in good health or have mobility impairments. If we’re interested in this particular challenge (and that’s truly one!), it’s because today the objects that are being used for geolocation weren’t conceived for it. The general public expects connected objects to provide geolocation in any place, this being the opposite of navigation systems that were specifically conceived for cars. 

Today, we want connected objects, which have very low quality sensors, to be sufficiently intelligent to understand who we are while getting around. This way, they can provide the best possible tracing and ultimately, the best wayfinding solution. 

Why are we so interested in these challenges?

It’s simply because it’s almost become something we are owed. Now we consider it’s something that’s available everywhere. We hear a great deal about connected objects, the power of smartphones or even AI. For the general public, the media implies that geolocation is a panacea. But in practice, the gained accuracy is far less important than the one we imagine. The consequence is that a lot of services suffer from it. This concerns emergency services during interventions or mobility support services for people with disabilities.

 

What do you say the connection between technology and mobility is? What will be the concrete benefits for citizens?

Today, technologies make mobility easier. We can see how much the use of technologies shakes up our ways to get around. Personally, having lived on several continents and worked in Canada, I realize how tools have now become essential. I will no longer be able to go without a geolocation solution when I use transportation: a unique and do-it-all tool that enhances my mobility. Being impatient behind the wheel and hating traffic jams, I’m very pleased to be able to use apps such as Waze that use geolocation and combine it with some interpretation to give me the best possible routes.

Today, thanks to these connected objects, we are able to address everybody, regardless of their specificities. That’s the advantage smartphones but also their combinations with artificial intelligence methods provide. Globally, what artificial intelligence can promise us tomorrow is maybe to provide solutions that are adapted to suit our differences. In other words, tomorrow people with impairments or disabilities can hope their difference becomes a descriptive richness in their getting around.

I realize how capable we are today to incorporate differences, whether they’re personal or cultural, through solutions we can develop. 

How do you see tomorrow’s mobility?

I see tomorrow’s mobility as something plural. Meaning that instead of benefiting from an universal solution such as I could have developed in the past, a solution for which we need to adjust for it to be performing in our everyday lives, we can imagine that solutions will know how to address me: Valérie Renaudin or you, Mr X, Mrs Y throughout our trips. 

I imagine this mobility to be sufficiently seamless to enable me to increase my autonomy, to maybe increase my abilities in the course of my aging and finally to explore an environment, whether it’s familiar or not, in a different way.

 

Inclusive mobility, such as mobility for people with disabilities, seems to be a utopia or on the contrary a short-term reality.

I think it’s in the not so distant future and let’s be crazy, maybe short-term. Actually, inclusive mobility is this ability to address solutions or to invent solutions for all, whatever their mobility abilities may be. To be clear, the solutions that are currently being deployed in today’s smartphones don’t take into account mobility specificities nor mobility impairments. Nevertheless, the progress about sensors, the progress about calculation technologies, the comprehension of who we are, simply permit us to imagine that tomorrow we’ll be able to provide more suited solutions and thus to improve the notion of inclusive mobility.

Also, the ability to provide solutions that don’t depend on the infrastructure itself. Their deployment would also enable us to consider covering more vast territories and to make mobility available to people who wouldn’t choose these solutions if they had to pay expensive subscriptions or to subscribe to the latest technology. 

 

Any last words?

One of the most important obstacles concerning the adoption of technologies that permit to improve mobility via an accurate geolocation is actually to have to adopt objects such as smartphones, smartwatches, smart glasses for which the offer is quite limited and consequently having to add an extra technological object to help us get around. It’s interesting but at the same time it causes a lot of problems. They are calculation problems but also problems about the adoption of technologies and choice. I may want to have a mobile with a particular color. Or if I want glasses, will the cameras make them heavy?

Even if we’ve been talking about this for a while and that I haven’t seen it being deployed, won’t we, ultimately, come to a stage when technology will fully be integrated in fabrics and textiles we wear today? Mainly, this integration in fabrics is limited to the problems of antennas, even batteries. But if we could hide somewhere on our clothing all of this technology, we could benefit from an individual and personalized guidance, becoming hands-free. A guidance that would turn into our companion, our daily mobility companion and even our companion to improve our lives.

Bonus: Discover more information about the partnership between the GEOLOC laboratory from the University Gustave Eiffel and French company Okeenea Digital on the improvement of people with disabilities’ mobility! 

What technologies do people with disabilities use in their everyday lives? Read out our articles: 

The Smartphone: a Revolution for the Blind and Visually Impaired!

Mobility Apps for Blind People or how Technology Can Replace Special Assistance at the Airport?

9 Must-Have Apps for People with Physical Disabilities in 2020

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Valérie Renaudin, her colleagues from GEOLOC Team and Charlène Milly from Okeenea Digital are studying the mobility of a visually impaired man

The main challenge we’re facing today is providing an accurate and seamless geolocation to travelers throughout the whole multimodal chain, whatever their getting around may be, whether they’re in good health or have mobility impairments.

writer

Christine Pestel

Communication Manager

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7 Tips to Welcome a Person with Disabilities

7 Tips to Welcome a Person with Disabilities

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...

5 must-have apps for deaf and hard of hearing people in 2020

5 must-have apps for deaf and hard of hearing people in 2020

5 Must-Have Apps for Deaf and Hard of Hearing People in 2020  Technological breakthroughs can do miracles. For the 466 million people worldwide having disabling hearing loss (WHO), smartphones have become an essential tool to facilitate social interaction due to...

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powered by okeenea

The French leading company

on the accessibility market.

For more than 25 years, we have been developing architectural access solutions for buildings and streets. Everyday, we rethink today’s cities to transform them in smart cities accessible to everyone.

By creating solutions ever more tailored to the needs of people with disabilities, we push the limits, constantly improve the urban life and make the cities more enjoyable for the growing majority.

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

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

The hall of the New York Grand Central Terminal

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

Multimodal transit centers turn out to be major nodes of transportation in large cities that aim at improving transport efficiency. They can easily connect together different means of transportation, thus saving time for passengers who need to commute. Every day, transit centers enable millions of passengers to easily reach their destination regrouping several transport networks like buses or trains under one place. But how can such crowded and complex places be accessible to people with disabilities? 

Getting around spontaneously in a city implies being autonomous, an even more important notion for people with disabilities. However, mobility remains one of the most challenging issues for them. A lot of factors need to be considered for accessibility barriers to be removed. But it doesn’t mean it’s not impossible, even in a maze-like transport hub with connections to railroad and subway trains or city bus services.

Let’s take a look at innovative solutions that help users with disabilities safely get their bearings in multimodal transit centers! 

What are multimodal transit centers exactly?

Multimodal transit centers or transport hubs gather different means of transportation: railroad stations, subway stations, rapid transit stations, city buses, regional buses… Some have a high number of platforms located on ground level or deep underneath like New York Grand Central Terminal and its 44 platforms. Thus transport hubs accumulate a lot of possible combinations. Even airports can be considered as transport hubs since some include international railroad trains and public transit systems such as buses, shuttles and streetcars to connect them to the city on top of national and international airlines. 

The common goal is to provide multimodal and interchange transportation. Instead of having a point-to-point system, passengers who need to commute benefit from a hub-and-spoke system: they have at their disposal different possible combinations in one place to make their trips more simple. Thus they can easily reach their destination without spending unnecessary time going for example from a subway station in the city centre to a bus stop across. In a world that keeps moving faster and faster, a hub-and-spoke network represents the perfect solution for commuters in large cities. With so many options available, they can use the means of transportation that best suits their journey and their needs.

Penn Station in New York City is a perfect example of a multimodal transit center: it regroups intercity rail with Amtrak, commuter rail with Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) and NJ Transit (NJT), rapid transit with New York City Subway MTA and PATH, and bus and coach services with New York City Bus and Intercity coaches. Penn Station results in being one of the busiest transportation hubs in the Western Hemisphere! As such, it sets an example of accessibility by providing accessible restrooms, high platforms, accessible parking…

What’s noteworthy with transit centers is that they’re not just about transportation. Thanks to shops, bars and restaurants, users can fully take advantage of these hubs. In a way, they provide similar services as shopping malls. For example, New York Grand Central Terminal has 60 shops and 35 places to eat. It can even welcome different types of events in the Vanderbilt Hall and contains libraries. This interchange service aims at offering the best possible experience to all.

For more information on transit hubs, you can read Arcadis’ report on mixed mobility: Improving Quality of Life Through Transit Hubs. The design and consultancy firm provides a benchmark with valuable insight on different transit centers across the world.

Even though there’s a constant flow of traffic passengers, transit centers’ infrastructures are designed to make passengers’ journey easier and pleasant. Indeed, architects and urban planners apply the principles of universal design for the comfort of all such as perceptible information, low physical effort and simple intuitive use.

Obviously, passengers with disabilities fully benefit from these principles. They can use any means of transportation that multimodal transit centers dispose of thanks to easy accessible solutions. 

 

How to remove accessibility barriers in transit centers?

As you can see, there are so many transportation combinations that it’s easy for anyone to feel overwhelmed. For people with disabilities, this may cause a lot of stress and anxiety. How can they easily find their bearings in a loud and busy transport hub? 

First things first: using public transit means having a seamless mobility chain to go from point A to point C. This means that point B needs to perfectly link together point A and point C. The mobility chain actually concerns any passengers, not just those with disabilities. Our article How to Guarantee a Seamless Mobility Chain to Users with Disabilities? will shed some light on this key notion. 

Obviously, removing accessibility barriers is what provides a seamless mobility chain. It implies being aware of the difficulties met by people with disabilities. This can happen at any stage of their journey. Let’s review the obstacles met by people with disabilities during each stage of their trips and the solutions that network operators can implement to help them get around!

Preparing your trip

Having a smooth trip strongly depends on this first stage. People with disabilities need to make sure they know everything about the route to take according to their needs, traffic…

ObstaclesSolutions
Not knowing the best route to take according to their needsUsing a journey planner online or via an app that calculates journeys including transfers
Lack of information on trafficAudio and visual real-time information 
Lack of information about elevators and escalatorsReal-time information about the location of elevators and escalators and their working order

The MaaS (Mobility as a Service) is a great innovative solution that integrates different means of transportation and can help users plan a trip. Our article Maas: a Solution for Tomorrow’s Mobility deciphers this technology perfectly suited for smart cities.

Finding the entrance of the transit center

Transit centers being a hub-and-spoke system, they can have several entrances and exits. This also demands good preparation. But once people with disabilities are in their vicinity, they may need extra help to find the exact location of the entrance.

Category of people with disabilitiesSolutions
People with a visual impairmentAudio beacons like NAVIGUEO+ HIFI: they can be activated on demand thanks to a remote control or the smartphone app MyMoveo
An efficient signage system with tactile guide paths, visual contrast and detectable warning strips
People with a mental disabilityUsing universal pictograms that are easy to understand


Going inside the transport hub

The implementation of elevators and escalators is crucial for people with reduced mobility such as wheelchair users, the elderly, parents with strollers… 

Category of people with disabilitiesSolutions
People with reduced mobilityElevators and escalators
Access ramps
Large automatic doors
People with a visual impairmentSecured stairs: handrails and contrasting non-slip stairs

Elevators and escalators need to be in enough numbers, perfectly located and visible to all of those who would like to use them. Plus, maintaining their working order is key to ensure a seamless mobility chain.

Buying a ticket

Even a trivial thing such as buying a ticket can be challenging for people with disabilities whether they use the ticket machine by themselves or they ask a staff member at a booth station. Nowadays, more and more people buy their ticket via their smartphone. Users can thus easily do it at home.

Category of people with disabilitiesSolutions
Wheelchair usersLowered counter
People with a visual impairmentEmbossed buttons or Braille on the ticket machine
Tactile guide paths and audio beacons to find the locations of the booth and the machine
People with a hearing impairmentAudio induction loops at station booth
People with a mental impairmentUniversal pictograms that are easy to understand
Accessible vocabulary (easy-to-read)

One of the most important things when assisting people with disabilities is knowing how to behave around them. A trained staff is key to ensure passengers with disabilities have the best customer service possible. That’s how transit centers can retain customers. 

 

Going through the turnstiles

This stage can be stressing since passengers with disabilities may lack time to cross the turnstiles. Sometimes, the closing mechanism is just too fast. Plus, other passengers behind them may be impatient. 

ObstaclesSolutions
Not enough width for wheelchair usersDedicated airlock for them
Ticket validity control too high for wheelchair usersLowered validity ticket control
Difficulties to insert a ticketContactless validation
No clear distinction between entry and exit gatesVisual contrast, universal pictograms and tactile guide paths
Fast closing mechanismPresence detector

 

Finding the platform

Depending on the transit center, passengers with disabilities may need to use a bus, a train or a subway train. In such gigantic transport hubs, finding their bearings can be difficult for them since they contain so many different means of transportation and connections. Going through the different concourses can feel like quite the expedition.

A clear audio and visual signage system such as the one previously mentioned remains essential for passengers with disabilities. 

But there’s also another solution that’s both simple and innovative: an indoor navigation app! The wayfinding app Evelity was developed by Okeenea Digital and especially created to guide people with disabilities step by step inside complex venues and public transit systems. That’s one of the reasons why the New York City subway chose Evelity for a test in real conditions! This solution is tailor made to fit any profile of disabilities and provides more autonomy and spontaneity to users with disabilities. In crowded and multimodal transit centers, this app is more than relevant!

Getting on the bus or train

For wheelchair users to get on a bus, bus drivers need to pull up to the curb or to lower or “kneel” the bus. Getting on a train means having an accessible boarding area at the centre of a platform with the smallest gap between the platform edge and the subway train. In New York City, MTA conceived a Guide to Accessible Transit on Buses and Subways that provides users with all the necessary information.

Accessible seatings aboard buses and trains enable wheelchair users to safely travel.

Getting off at the right station

The navigation app Evelity can of course alert users they’ve reached their destination. Even if their smartphone is in their pocket, the app still functions and gives them the necessary information. This enables vulnerable users to feel safe using their smartphone in a public space, without any risk of theft.

Visual and audio announcements allow passengers to constantly know where they are. Thus they have enough time to get ready to get off. 

 

Although multimodal transit centers may seem at first complicated to use for people with disabilities due to so many combinations of transportation, there are a lot of solutions that are implemented to make their trips easier. Getting around spontaneously and autonomously is essential for all passengers, regardless of their profile. Accessible transport hubs help them save time while having the best experience possible. 

 

For more information on accessible public transit systems, you can read the following articles:

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

MBTA: a Global Model of Accessible Public Transportation

Public Transport Information Accessibility: 5 Solutions for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Users

media

An airport that serves as a transit center

In a world that keeps moving faster and faster, a hub-and-spoke network represents the perfect solution (…) With so many options available, people can use the means of transportation that best suits their journey and their needs.

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Carole Martinez

Content Manager junior

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7 Tips to Welcome a Person with Disabilities

7 Tips to Welcome a Person with Disabilities

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...

7 Tips to Welcome a Person with Disabilities

7 Tips to Welcome a Person with Disabilities

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...

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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.

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?

media

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.

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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7 Tips to Welcome a Person with Disabilities

7 Tips to Welcome a Person with Disabilities

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...

7 Tips to Welcome a Person with Disabilities

7 Tips to Welcome a Person with Disabilities

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...

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.