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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Inclusive design, universal design and accessibility: an inevitable triptych 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Inclusive design with a human-centered approach

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

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

⊗ Observing the user groups;

⊗ Analyzing the research;

⊗ Communicating with the user groups on the issue;

⊗ Offering a solution or a prototype;

⊗ Feedback from the groups;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Carole Martinez

Content Manager junior

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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.

13 Must-Have Apps for Blind or Visually Impaired People in 2020

13 Must-Have Apps for Blind or Visually Impaired People in 2020

13 Must-Have Apps for Blind or Visually Impaired People in 2020

 

For blind or visually impaired people, accessing simple information can sometimes be difficult. How can a nonsighted person get their bearings and choose the best route to get to their destination? Or read a document that’s not available in braille? Answer an email from a co-worker? Fortunately, technology keeps innovating and permits to assist people with a visual impairment in their everyday lives.

Indeed, 89% of them have a smartphone, a tool that truly revolutionizes their lives! If they can gain more autonomy today it’s thanks to features that are more advanced and accessible to the general public or thanks to apps that are specially designed for them. Blind or visually impaired people who find it restrictive and stressing to get around can now be more serene!

Let’s explore these apps together!

VoiceOver

VoiceOver is a screen reader that’s integrated into iPhones that, as its name indicates, enunciates emails or other textual messages aloud. It’s up to the user to choose the speaking rate and the volume.

Not to forget that braille also remains an option for those who have a braille keyboard to connect to the smartphone or who just want to write in braille directly on the screen of their iPhone.

VoiceOver also describes all the elements on the screen such as apps icons, the battery level and even in part images thanks to artificial intelligence. All the information is thus accessible!

TalkBack

Android smartphones also have a similar screen reader with TalkBack. It follows the same guideline as for iPhones: reading textual elements aloud, exploring the screen, using braille with BrailleBack… Everything is set for an optimal and smooth navigation!

Siri

Directly integrated into iPhones, Siri is an easy-to-use vocal assistant. For blind or visually impaired people, for whom finding and clicking on the right button can be difficult, using a voice control enables them to save time!

They just need to ask Siri to call a contact, to send a dictated text message and everything is therefore easier!

Google Assistant

Also activated by voice control, Google Assistant has the same functionality as Siri. The user totally controls their smartphone according to their needs: sending an email, setting up an alarm, managing their schedule…

Available on both Android and iOS

Google Maps

It’s one of the most popular GPS navigation apps. Being able to anticipate their route is essential for blind and visually impaired people. And this also applies for other types of profiles in general since people with disabilities use 30% more the GPS on their smartphone than the rest of the population. (Find out all the facts and figures concerning their use of smartphones in our infographic.)

Google Maps enables users to have access to all the real-time traffic information which is ideal when choosing the right means of public transportation!

The app even provides a new feature called “Accessible Places” that enables users to even more apprehend their environment thanks to information concerning the seating plan of a restaurant, the exact location of a building entrance…

A precious help to serenely get around!

Available on both Android and iOS

Moovit

For those who are used to taking public transportation, this app lists all the possible means of transportation, their itineraries, their timetables and other information on real-time traffic.

The app even indicates the users the names of stops while on the bus, the tram or the subway. This proves to be essential for blind or visually impaired people when voice announcements aren’t activated.

Available on both Android and iOS

Microsoft Soundscape

Developed by Microsoft, this app is particularly innovative since it uses audio 3D technology to describe blind or visually impaired people their environment. 

Soundscape enables them to better apprehend their surroundings, to call out intersections and to find their bearings in the city with great facility. And all of that by having their smartphone in their pocket: their hands remain free for their white cane or their guide dog!

Available on iOS

Evelity

Developed by Okeenea Digital, this app is the first indoor wayfinding solution for people with a visual impairment to navigate in complex venues such as museums or universities! It works like a GPS.

Compatible with VoiceOver and TalkBack, Evelity provides audio instructions to users to guide them step by step. People with disabilities can easily find the reception desk or the classroom without needing to know the premises in advance.

Available on both Android and iOS

MyMoveo

We’re once again on the theme of mobility with MyMoveo developed by Okeenea Tech. This app enables blind or visually impaired users to activate connected Accessible Pedestrian Signals aBeacon to know when the pedestrian signal is green and thus safely cross the street.

Users can even use the app to activate the audio beacons NAVIGUEO+ HIFI which can locate points of interest such as the entrances of a public building or a subway station.

Available on both Android and iOS, an update is coming! 

Be My Eyes

An app with which users can ask the help of sighted users in order to match their clothes or to know the expiry date of a product. Thanks to an audio-video connexion, users can easily get in touch. 

Available on both Android and iOS

Aira

Aira works in the same way as Be My Eyes since it connects nonsighted people with sighted ones to help them in various tasks such as finding the gate of an airport.

What sets this app apart is that the sighted users, called agents, are specifically trained to assist blind or visually impaired users referred to as Explorers. 

Although the app can be downloaded for free, users are charged according to the different plans and services Aira provides. Depending on the formula they choose and their needs, the cost can thus be high.

Available on both Android and iOS

Seeing AI

A multipurpose app that permits to read and describe all types of documents placed under the smartphone camera such as banknotes or product barcodes.

Seeing AI even recognizes images, colors and faces and thus gives details on people’s emotions. 

Available on iOS

Lookout

Lookout is the equivalent app of Seeing AI on Android. The user just has to activate their smartphone camera so that Lookout can identify banknotes, objects… Thanks to its Quick Read Mode, the app skims through a text which is ideal when sorting the mail for example.

An app that simplifies the everyday tasks and saves time to its users!

Available on Android

 

We can see that blind or visually impaired people have within their reach numerous apps that improve their autonomy especially concerning their mobility.

If you want to know more about other profiles of people with disabilities and the apps they use in their everyday lives, you can read our articles:

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

5 Must-Have Apps for Deaf or Hard of Hearing People in 2020

 

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The app Evelity is the first indoor wayfinding solution for people with a visual impairment to navigate in complex venues such as museums or universities! It works like a GPS.

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Carole Martinez

Content Manager junior

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powered by okeenea

The French leading company

on the accessibility market.

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

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

The Trailblazers of College Accessibility in the United States

The Trailblazers of College Accessibility in the United States

The Trailblazers of College Accessibility in the United States

 

The academic year has started! It’s time for students to go back to college and to fully build their own future! But some, like students with disabilities, can face obstacles during their studies. College accessibility is key to make sure these students can succeed, whether they have a visual or a hearing impairment or motor difficulties.

Around 20% of students with disabilities attend college in the United States. A percentage that keeps increasing every year due to the fact that colleges and universities put up more and more measures to make their premises and their curriculums accessible to all. They thus attract more and more students with disabilities who wish to have access to a higher education.

What do American colleges need to do to be accessible? How can they promote the inclusion of students with disabilities? Get ready to take some notes, we’re going to dissect everything! Retakes aren’t admissible!

Measures promoting college accessibility

Thanks to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1990 (IDEA), students with disabilities between the ages of 3 and 21 receive a public education that’s tailored to their profile. One of its most important goals is to help students have access to a higher education establishing transition services. These services work closely with students to guide them by helping them to find the right college and preparing them for their life on campus.

The same year the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) passed. It aims at protecting people with disabilities from any type of discrimination by implementing accessibility measures in public accommodations. Giving people with disabilities the same services and opportunities as any other citizens represents the true meaning of accessibility. Thus public academic institutions need to abide by it. 

Both acts demonstrate that it’s up to schools and colleges to adapt to the students’ different profiles in order to facilitate their inclusion and their success by first turning their premises accessible. For colleges, it concerns the whole campus: administrative services, lecture halls, cafeterias, libraries… A lot of measures that answer the needs of students with disabilities, regardless of their profile, are easy to implement:

⊗ Automatic doors;

⊗ Guide paths for orientation; 

⊗ Elevators and access ramps;

⊗ Visual contrasting non-slip stair nosings;

⊗ Audio beacons located at strategic points of interest (entrances, reception desk, assemble rooms…);

⊗ Universal pictograms; 

⊗ Braille signs;

⊗ Audio induction loops;

⊗ Accessible restrooms.

We thus have simple yet very efficient systems that enable students but also faculty members with disabilities to get their bearings in a huge and crowded place without needing to be accompanied by someone. Even technology can be useful like Evelity, an indoor wayfinding app specially designed to guide people with disabilities step by step. To use this innovative technology, users just need a smartphone, an essential tool that favors the autonomy of people with disabilities in their everyday lives.

To make sure students with disabilities have equal access to programs, activities and courses but also accessible accommodations on campus, colleges all have disability services at their disposal. However, colleges don’t provide the same disability resources to their students. It’s up to them to carefully choose a college that perfectly answers their needs. They can research anything they need to know on disability and higher education on the National Center for College Students with Disabilities (NCCSD) website. Most services constitute in:

⊗ Note takers;

⊗ American sign language interpreters;

⊗ Assistive Listening Devices (ALDs);

⊗ Assistive technology (screen readers, alternate format materials, video magnifiers…); 

⊗ Exam adjustments;

⊗ Housing accomodations (wheelchair accessible for example).

Some institutions can afford to go further like world-class private university Harvard. Indeed, Harvard pays attention to ergonomics for its students as well as its faculty members with disabilities by providing furniture and office equipment that’s adapted to their type of disability. The university also puts at their disposal accessible shuttles and vans to facilitate their getting around. Everything is thought to make their lives on campus agreable!

Another good example is Berkeley that provides all the necessary services listed above but also takes into consideration the needs of students on the autism spectrum. Different academic supports like executive function skills building and an emphasis on social engagement with a weekly discussion group enable students on the autism spectrum to succeed in their studies and to have a rich campus life. 

Easily accessible campuses  

Thanks to their accessibility, colleges and universities can bank on their attractivity to enroll new students. It’s a place where students spend several years learning, shaping their personalities and creating links with others. Consequently, for those who don’t already have an accommodation on the premises being able to easily go there is key to guarantee they have a good college experience.  

For students with reduced mobility, going to college by car can easily turn into a conundrum when it comes to finding a PRM parking space on campus. A college with accessible parking spaces strengthens even more their autonomy to get around. 

Using public transportation to go to college can also facilitate the lives of students as long as it’s accessible. Subway stations for instance need to be equipped with elevators and escalators. Students with disabilities living in Boston are lucky to use the MBTA since it has strongly improved its accessibility over the years. All buses have a retractable access ramp and dedicated spaces for people using wheelchairs, they remain a good means of transport for people with reduced mobility.

For places as huge as campuses, making accessible every possible route between all the different buildings: from the student center to the lecture halls, from the lecture halls to the library or from the library to the cafeteria… There are a lot of possible combinations that students do to successfully complete their studies and their lives on campus. As we previously saw, a simple and clear signage system enables all students to easily get their bearings in an autonomous way. Tactile guiding paths are the easiest way for visually impaired students to find their way to their chosen destination. They simply have to follow them. 

A lot of colleges and universities put an online map of their campus so that students can easily comprehend the premises. In addition to all the necessary information on the location of the buildings, the map of the University of Michigan also indicates where the accessible entrances are.

Understanding the issues of students with disabilities

Although a lot of apps exist to facilitate the communication of hearing impaired students with others, it’s always better when they face empathic people. Whether they are faculty members of fellow students, it’s important they put themselves in their position by following several tips to make them feel welcome. Being sensitive to the needs of students with disabilities favors their inclusion and offers them a comfortable environment for their studies. A well trained staff and faculty plays a major role in the success of these students. Colleges and universities that focus on disability awareness will attract more students with disabilities.

Seeing that the number of students with disabilities who decide to go to college keeps increasing, colleges and universities need to be able to answer their needs for a perfect inclusion and success. Setting up accessibility measures enables colleges to strengthen their positive image and reputation.

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To make sure students with disabilities have equal access to programs, activities and courses, colleges all have disability services at their disposal.

writer

Carole Martinez

Content Manager junior

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powered by okeenea

The French leading company

on the accessibility market.

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

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

The Guidelines for Stadium Accessibility: Offering People with Disabilities a Good Experience

The Guidelines for Stadium Accessibility: Offering People with Disabilities a Good Experience

The Guidelines for Stadium Accessibility: Offering People with Disabilities a Good Experience

 

All football fans will agree: watching the game on TV is nothing compared to going to the stadium to cheer their favorite team on. Or listening to The Boss at home will never reach the sensation felt by those who were lucky enough to see him perform at the old Giants Stadium, now MetLife Stadium, for his Born in the U.S.A. Tour making him a rock legend. People go to the stadium to enjoy the ambiance, to shout out and sing along, to gather, to share a good time…

For people with disabilities, going to the stadium can prove to be a real challenge because of accessibility. In a venue that can receive more than 100,000 visitors, what place is given to people with disabilities? How can such huge and complex venues like stadiums be made accessible? What measures are implemented to welcome and guide disabled people? Can they adapt to all types of disabilities? 

Is it a perfect touchdown for stadiums in the US? Let’s take a look at their overall score on accessibility!

Measures promoting stadium accessibility

Stadiums are such huge venues with a constant and ubiquitous crowd that it would be easy to think that making them accessible is nothing short of a utopia! And yet, different measures are already or currently being implemented to enable all visitors to be welcome and to feel comfortable whatever their profile is. 

Thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in all areas of public life, venues that receive visitors have to make sure people with disabilities are offered the same access and services as any visitors. For stadiums, it means applying measures to enforce and promote accessibility for all regardless of the disability such as:

⊗ PRM parking spaces;

⊗ Lowered counters at concession and merchandise stands;

⊗ Wheelchair seating areas;

⊗ Wheelchair escorts;

⊗ Assistive listening devices for hearing impaired people;

⊗ Audio induction loops; 

⊗ Audio beacons located at different strategic points of interest (entrances, exits…) for visually impaired people;

⊗ Elevators, escalators and ramps;

⊗ Visual contrasting non-slip stair nosings;

⊗ Guide paths;

⊗ Universal pictograms for people with an intellectual disability;

⊗ Dedicated spaces for service animals;

⊗ Closed captioning for special announcements and/or public addresses for the hearing impaired;

⊗ Audio description for the visually impaired;

⊗ Accessible restrooms.

A lot of stadiums already provide these types of measures and solutions that are easy to implement such as the Madison Square Garden. The Garden, also known as The World’s Most Famous Arena, welcomes both sporting games and concerts. The venue shows a perfect example of what accessibility can and should be. Indeed, the Garden goes further providing interpreting services to visitors. People with hearing impairments can thus have a complete understanding of the situation of the game thanks to a sign language interpreter. People with sensory sensitivity who may react badly to strobes or flashing lights during an act can be warned in advance upon request to be aware of the potential challenges. Knowing this in advance enables them to feel safe and in control. They can still enjoy the show just like anybody else.

The Garden isn’t the only venue to think of the wellbeing of everybody regardless of their profile. Indeed, the U.S. Bank Stadium in Chicago, home to the Vikings, created a sensory room, a quiet and soothing place for those who need silence when the activities of the game become too loud and too intense. People with Down syndrome, people on the autism spectrum or with dementia can thus find a safe haven. The room provides noise-canceling headphones, ear plugs, sensory toys, low lighting… An innovative initiative that favors the inclusion of people with sensory needs! A stadium that leads the way to a better accessibility!

The U.S. Bank Stadium website provides maps of both the exterior and the interior of the stadium. Visitors can thus prepare their excursion and get all the information they need in advance to avoid any stress and can even download the maps on their smartphones. Knowing that 84% of people with disabilities use a smartphone to have a better autonomy in their everyday lives, it makes sense smartphones are becoming more and more necessary for them. 

Using an indoor wayfinding app like Evelity that guides people with disabilities step by step could be extremely valuable in such a complex venue as the app can not only help the users find their bearings but can also locate entrances and exits and other landmarks within the venue.

How to ensure people with disabilities have a good experience?

As we’ve seen, the goal of having an accessible stadium is to enable all its visitors to share the same experience: easily accessing their seat, having a good visibility of the game… Plus actively participating in the festivities: singing the team anthem, shouting out their joy when their favorite team scores and thus fully enjoying the ambiance the stadium has to offer.

It’s essential for people with disabilities to feel comfortable in a busy and crowded place. Some prefer to come to the stadium with a companion who can assist them if necessary. For those who come by themselves, they may rely on staff members or any attendants at the stadiums to guide them and assist them. 

This means that attendants have to be able to answer the needs of supporters whatever their disabilities are. Greeting them with a smile, being available, knowing how to anticipate their needs and their potential obstacles and having empathy are all necessary qualities. The whole stadium personnel (attendants, vendors, security guards), internal or external, have to be well trained in all aspects. Thanks to a partnership with Fraser Pediatric Therapy, two licensed behavioral specialists take care of visitors at the sensory room of the U.S. Bank Stadium. During every home game, people with sensory disabilities can request their help to relax.

The Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina and home to the Panthers Carolina has Guest Relations Booths located at each main entrance to answer any questions that people with disabilities may have about the stadium or public transportation and assist them accordingly. 

Having a well trained staff enables the visitors to feel safe and comfortable thus ensuring them to fully enjoy the game. They share the same experience as any other visitors.

 

Getting in and out of the stadium

It’s not always easy to go to the stadium due to a large number of people who go there as well and the traffic jams that follow. Is it more practical to leave early to find a parking space? The Ohio Stadium in Colombus, Ohio provides a map that informs visitors how to reach their accessible parking from different directions and also the route the accessible shuttles take from the parking to the stadium entrances. Other stadiums enable visitors to book in advance their parking space so that they don’t have to worry about finding a space once they arrive. For those who don’t have a vehicle, using public transportation can always be an option but it’s easier with an accessible subway.

The Penn Station leads directly to the Madison Square Garden. A major hub since it connects intercity and commuter rail services around New York City. When using public transportation, people with disabilities must always be careful of their surroundings. Sometimes even buying a ticket can prove to be challenging for them. Being accompanied can relieve their stress and make them feel secure hence having an efficient and well trained staff to answer their questions is vital for them. 

An inclusive and accessible stadium is indeed possible thanks to different measures that are easy to implement whether it’s inside or outside the stadium. All fans, with disabilities or not, can enjoy their experience and share a good time together. Stadium accessibility constantly needs to renew itself to answer the needs of people with disabilities.

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The goal of having an accessible stadium is to enable all its visitors to share the same experience: easily accessing their seat, having a good visibility of the game…

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Carole Martinez

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The French leading company

on the accessibility market.

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

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

How Is Airport Accessibility Progressing for People with Disabilities?

How Is Airport Accessibility Progressing for People with Disabilities?

How Is Airport Accessibility Progressing for People with Disabilities?

 

Checking-in, dropping off luggage, going through the security checkpoint, boarding…, the course of a traveler can often lead to stress and worry. A largely amplified phenomenon for travelers with disabilities who struggle to move around and find their bearings in such huge places. Millions of people pass through airports every year. How is accessibility deployed within airports? What measures can be implemented to enable the 61 million Americans with disabilities to safely travel?

Indeed, when we travel, a lot of us tend to be stressed because of all the steps to follow and things not to forget. This feeling can be increased for a person with disabilities who needs precise information and a personalized care according to their profile.

Let’s make a quick scan of the progress of airport accessibility in the United States!

 

How to safely travel?

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) aims at prohibiting discrimination towards people with disabilities and at implementing accessibility measures in public accommodations. Thus, every American airport has to follow rules and regulations to make sure that travelers with disabilities can easily have access to the same services and advantages as other travelers. Moreover, the Air Carrier Access Act of 1986 focuses on discrimination on airlines. They have to accomodate the needs of people with disabilities aboard aircraft. From any airport in the US, travelers with disabilities are provided with the same assistance services such as:

⊗ When purchasing their flight tickets, travelers can indicate if they need assistance;

⊗ The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) helpline helps travelers with disabilities to go through security checkpoints;

⊗ Pet relief areas for furry companions. Even they have their own private restrooms;

⊗ Airlines provide assistance throughout the whole trip (boarding, deplaning and making connections).

Even when travelers prepare their journey at home, they can easily know what type of assistance the airport provides since airports all have a dedicated page on assistance service on their website. Plus all airport websites have to be accessible to enable visually impaired people to easily get the necessary information. Such is the case with Denver International Airport (DEN) that lists all its accessibility services and details specific subjects (the location of its accessible parking spaces for example). A map of the airport and its terminals is available on the website but also on the airport app. Smartphones are indeed a vital tool for people with disabilities enabling them to gain more autonomy.

However, assistance services constitute a huge cost for airports. People with reduced mobility and people with disabilities more and more request these services that have difficulties to meet demand. Customer care representatives aren’t always available and some may not have received the appropriate training. If airports could focus on other accessibility measures, this could hugely relieve assistance services and provide more autonomy to travelers with disabilities. Indeed, they wouldn’t have to depend on assistance services as much. Plus there wouldn’t be as many complaints as there are now.

Following the ADA, travelers who didn’t have access to any services provided by airports can directly file a complaint online. Each airport website gives this opportunity to passengers, for example the Los Angeles Airport (LAX).

It’s to be noted that some people don’t want to use assistance services and prefer to travel by themselves or accompanied by a relative to help them through all the steps in their trip.

An efficient signage system is key to answer their needs and can easily be implemented to equip such a complex place like an airport:

⊗ Audio beacons that indicate to visually impaired people the location of different strategic points of interest (entrances, counters, restrooms…);

⊗ Braille signs;

⊗ Display screens with bigger letters and contrasting colors;

⊗ Pictograms with geometric shapes;

⊗ Guide paths for orientation;

⊗ An indoor wayfinding app like Evelity that guides from point A to point B people with disabilities (everything can be located: check-in counters and shops entrances).

Installing a clear and understandable signage system helps travelers with disabilities (blind or visually impaired people but also people with intellectual disabilities) to get their bearings, just like any traveler.

LAX already breaks ground thanks to the Aira app available on its site. It helps passengers to find their way on the premises. A lot of airports lean on technology to assist travelers. 

Easily accessing check-in counters and boarding gates makes our experience better. For travelers in wheelchairs, that means lowered counters, wide-access doors and security lanes. For them and other travelers with a lot of luggage, all airports have elevators, escalators and ramps. With wide ramps, one of the principles of universal design, people can easily and rapidly move around in the airport. Embracing universal design, airports create a better and more accessible environment to facilitate the trip of all their passengers. The restroom stalls of Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport (MSP) have doors that swing out and side grab rails. Plus some space for those who have a carry-on suitcase.

 

A trained and receptive staff

Since every American airport provides its passengers with disabilities with assistance services, a trained and open staff is key to make sure a trip is going according to plan. But this proves to be difficult to achieve seeing that airports are faced with a constant turnover, plaguing the efficiency of the services. Continually emphasizing the importance of an adequate training program is critical to ensure that travelers with disabilities are properly taken care of.

Greeting with a smile, being informative, available, having empathy and adapting to the persons according to their profile and their needs all are essential qualities that make a good customer care representative. A true accessibility service that’s focused on helping others.

For travelers with a hearing impairment, a visual paging system can help them to stay informed concerning their flight since they can’t rely on audio messages. The Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) uses both a visual and an audible paging system to convey real-time information to passengers. At check-in counters, hearing impaired travelers still can interact with the staff thanks to sound amplifying devices. Besides, several apps can also help travelers with an hearing impairment to communicate with staff. For example Ava which can be downloaded on both the traveler’s smartphone and the flight attendant’s in order to facilitate their conversation. Even shops can be equipped with sound amplifying devices, induction loops, or use Ava or any other app, providing a comprehensive and efficient service to all their clients. Thus airport accessibility happens at different levels.

 

How to go to the airport?

The first step is going to the airport. By car? By train? By bus? What’s the best way to go to the airport for people with disabilities? 

A person with reduced mobility who uses their personal vehicle can park at different areas since parking airports are all equipped with PRM spaces. A true asset to get more independence! The John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) even makes its passengers with reduced mobility who use PRM spaces profit from discounts.

The Chicago O’Hare International Airport (OHD) can be reached by public transportation in different ways. Indeed, from downtown, passengers can take the CTA Blue Line train. The station within the airport is equipped with an elevator making it easy for people with reduced mobility to go to or leave the platform. Although not all CTA stations are accessible, its buses and trains have: spaces designated for people in wheelchairs, buses with ramps or that can kneel to the curb. Thanks to a station directly connected to the airport, passengers can gain more autonomy. They don’t have to depend on a taxi or on a friend to drop them off. Using a reliable system that adapts to people with disabilities, regardless of their profile, helps travelers feel safe and more comfortable in their trip. In a previous article, we saw that people with disabilities needed to count on an accessible subway. Travel without feeling any unnecessary stress is quite the luxury. 

It’s obvious that airport accessibility is progressing. The implementation of the ADA ensuring travelers with disabilities have access to the same services as other travelers has permitted to move things forward. Even if nowadays it’s easier to travel, airports still have to continue to listen to all its passengers. Other measures can make people with disabilities have a better experience during their travels. A constant renewal is necessary to truly answer the needs of everybody.

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Millions of people pass through airports every year. How is accessibility deployed within airports?

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Carole Martinez

Content Manager Junior

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The French leading company

on the accessibility market.

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

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

MBTA: a Global Model of Accessible Public Transportation

MBTA: a Global Model of Accessible Public Transportation

MBTA: a Global Model of Accessible Public Transportation

 

With 1,330,200 riders per day, including 30 to 40% who have disabilities or restricted mobility, the MBTA has long been committed to improving the accessibility of public transit in the Greater Boston. Over the last decade, 50 new station elevators and 1,000 accessible buses have been added. But access is still in motion. In May 2020, the Department of System-Wide Accessibility (SWA) released its latest roundup of current MBTA access initiatives. This report covers many topics ranging from infrastructure to vehicles, customer communication and employee training. Let’s review these projects that aim to make the MBTA transit system a global model of accessible public transportation.

 

Accessibility Improvements for Subway Stations

 

Although most of the MBTA subway stations have been built before wheelchair access was a requirement under the American with Disabilities Act of 1990, many of them have been renovated to be made accessible: all stations on the Orange Line, all but one on the Blue Line and the Ashmont–Mattapan High-Speed Line. Since August 2019, when the renovated Wollaston Station reopened, the red line is now 100% accessible as well.

Most of the underground portion of the Green Line is accessible. However, many surface stations on this line will be made ADA compliant with:

⊗ Raised platforms

⊗ Detectable warnings,

⊗ Benches

⊗ Elevators

⊗ New escalators.

Improvements must also be made to the paths of travel leading to the platforms: repairing defects on sidewalks, ramps, stairways, etc.

Other accessibility improvements in multiple locations across the system are planned for next years.

Wayfinding signage will be gradually replaced at the “Top 10” stations to make it clear and consistent and bring them into full compliance with ADA / MAAB regulations, LEP standards, and internal wayfinding requirements.

Automated door openers will be installed on at least one entrance to each subway station.

For customers who have difficulty reaching and interacting with the fare gates, the MBTA is working on a solution that enables them to pay their fare and open the fare gate without physically tapping their card.

 

Ongoing Projects for 100% Accessible Commuter Rail Stations

 

In 2020, 110 out of 142 MBTA Commuter Rail stations are accessible. 6 lines are fully accessible. Renovations, rebuilding projects and relocations are planned to reach a 100% accessibility.

According to the SWA report, 8 commuter rail stations are currently being renovated, repaired or upgraded to become ADA compliant with:

⊗ New compliant mini-highs,

⊗ New accessible routes,

⊗ New accessible parking,

⊗ High-level platforms,

⊗ Elevators and ramps,

⊗ Detectable warning panels.

The existing inaccessible Chelsea Commuter Rail Station will even be relocated to become accessible. Work is now under way and should be completed in fall 2022.

Many projects are running to standardize accessibility amenities such as bridge plates, mini-highs or detectable warning surfaces to the greatest extent feasible.

 

Upgrading Elevators and Escalators

 

Over the last decade, 50 new elevators have been installed. New constructions and replacements are underway or scheduled for next years. The MBTA will develop a system-wide elevator and escalator replacement plan to inventory existing units, adjust maintenance contracts, determine at what rate units must be replaced and remove barriers to replacing escalators and elevators quickly and efficiently.

The MBTA understands the importance of the cleanliness of elevators for a good customer experience. This aspect is essential for people with disabilities. The first step consisted in identifying key elements that have an impact on elevator cleanliness. Some decisions were made subsequently, such as implementing new cleaning contract, replacing flooring materials, assign Transit Ambassadors to inspect elevators and pilot new technology solutions like moisture identification devices.

Traveler information is an essential complement to physical accessibility. People with disabilities need to anticipate their travels and know in advance the obstacles they may encounter. That’s why the MBTA plans to install digital screens at elevators that provide real-time elevator information and alternative service options. Digital display screens will gradually replace printed flyers that are currently used.

 

Improvements and Reconstructions for Accessible Bus Stops

 

100% of MBTA buses themselves are accessible. In 2017, the MBTA surveyed all 7,690 bus stops for accessibility barriers. Bus stops were categorized as critical, high, medium, and low priority according to the accessibility level and numbers of barriers identified.

273 of them were identified as critical. These stops were so inaccessible that rollator and wheelchair users must get onboard and exit in the street, causing highly dangerous situations. The MBTA decided to close 170 of these “critical” bus stops and construct new ones. 70 have been completed to date and others are in construction or under design to be reconstructed in the next years.

844 bus stops were classified as “high priority” because of accessibility barriers such as a sloped landing pad, narrow sidewalk, lack of a curb, or unusable curb. Three design and engineering firms worked with the MBTA’s Service Planning Department to analyze situations and schedule access improvements. Roughly 100 “high priority” stops will be reconstructed by the end of 2020.

Regarding the update of bus shelters and amenities, the MBTA has launched a Request for Responses (RFR), the technical specifications of which were written in close coordination with the department of system-wide accessibility (SWA).

 

New Accessible Vehicles on the Subway

 

The MBTA is currently deploying new vehicles on Red, Orange and Green Lines. These vehicles feature accessibility improvements such as wider doors, seating areas for wheeled mobility device users, updated PA/VMS systems for better voice and text announcements. In addition, signage for priority seats is gradually being installed in the existing subway cars. The MBTA also pilots a new securement system in buses which allows wheelchair users to secure themselves independently.

 

Making Traveler Information both Audible and Visible

 

People who are blind or have low vision have difficulty accessing written information while people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing cannot understand audio information. In all cases, making information visible and audible benefits all users, whether or not they have a disability. The Customer Technology Department (CTD) and SWA will develop a policy that defines when, and by what means, digital signage must have an audible component as well as when information that is broadcast audibly must have a visual component.

As part of a digital display screen roll-out, the MBTA aims at developing an app for making the screens’ text-based information available audibly via a smartphone application. The development of the application was paused following discussions showing that blind and low-vision people were not ready to accept an application for that functionality alone. Further discussions are underway to add other useful functionalities. More generally, the MBTA is looking for ways that technology can help them make it easier for riders with disabilities to use the T.

 

Accessibility Training for Staff Members

 

Staff training is central in the department of system-wide accessibility strategy to ensure that travelers with disabilities have the best customer experience. SWA has developed a certification program which includes classroom and hands-on material, as well as videos documenting first-person perspectives from customers with disabilities. These programs are developed for bus and subway operations, but also for Transit Ambassadors, Transit Police Officers and Senior Leadership. Video productions have been delayed due to safety precautions related to COVID-19 but will resume as soon as possible.

 

New Interface for Customer Communication

 

Accessibility is always in progress and customers are in the best position to indicate accessibility barriers. The MBTA will finalize enhanced guidelines for tracking and resolving accessibility complaints. Additionally, a new module within the MBTA’s complaint database will be created to facilitate information-sharing and data analysis internally. The existing portal for accessibility complaints has already shown positive results. It facilitates collaboration and information sharing between departments and reduces the amount of time necessary to solve a complaint.

The MBTA also developed initiatives to notify customers of upcoming works. That’s the objective of the public engagement plan for seniors and people with disabilities.

The accessibility policy also involves information and awareness-raising of the general public. The MBTA plans marketing campaigns to spread the message that access benefits all customers – seniors, parents, students, commuters, tourists, and countless other customers who travel each day.

The accessibility of a public transit network like Boston’s is a huge job including infrastructure, vehicles and equipment. But all this would be small without staff training, traveler information and communication between departments. The MBTA maintains a massive data base on its website, which may be a source of inspiration for many transport authorities around the world.

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In Boston, over the last decade, 50 new station elevators and 1,000 accessible buses have been added. But access is still in motion.

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Lise Wagner

Lise Wagner

Accessibility Expert

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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.