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.

writer

Carole Martinez

Carole Martinez

Content Manager

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Accessibility for All: Why Removing Barriers Benefits Us All

Accessibility for All: Why Removing Barriers Benefits Us All

Accessibility for All: Why Removing Barriers Benefits Us AllFor sure, accessibility for all isn’t something to take lightly. And neither is it something that can easily be discarded considering that over 1 billion people in the world have disabilities. We, as world’s...

The Montreal Metro on the Way to Universal Accessibility

The Montreal Metro on the Way to Universal Accessibility

The Montreal Metro on the Way to Universal AccessibilityWith 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...

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powered by okeenea

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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.

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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Accessibility for All: Why Removing Barriers Benefits Us All

Accessibility for All: Why Removing Barriers Benefits Us All

Accessibility for All: Why Removing Barriers Benefits Us AllFor sure, accessibility for all isn’t something to take lightly. And neither is it something that can easily be discarded considering that over 1 billion people in the world have disabilities. We, as world’s...

The Montreal Metro on the Way to Universal Accessibility

The Montreal Metro on the Way to Universal Accessibility

The Montreal Metro on the Way to Universal AccessibilityWith 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...

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.

Subway Accessibility: London Goes Above and Beyond for its Users with Disabilities

Subway Accessibility: London Goes Above and Beyond for its Users with Disabilities

A train at a platform in London

Subway Accessibility: London Goes Above and Beyond for its Users with Disabilities

Having an accessible subway means taking into consideration the difficulties met by several categories of users like the ones with disabilities. We’d previously seen what New York City undertakes to provide proper subway accessibility to its riders, now let’s focus on another great example with London!

In terms of subway accessibility, London is committed to best serve people with disabilities making their getting around in the city easier. First opened in 1863, the London underground now has 11 lines, 270 stations deployed on 250 miles and is used daily by around 5 million passengers. Being the 12th busiest subway in the world, the Tube needs to constantly rethink its whole system network comprising lines above and under the ground in order to meet the needs of its users with disabilities. It turns out that 45% of its system is located above ground reaching the outer environs of the capital city. 

Why is London’ subway accessibility such a good example for other cities to follow? How can public transportation enhance inclusion? Riders, get ready for a great trip! 

What does subway accessibility entail?

Mobility represents one of the most challenging issues concerning people with disabilities. A seamless mobility chain is key to ensure they can remain autonomous in their trips whether they’re visiting a museum, browsing at shopping malls or using the subway. Every step of the way, all the links have to be connected for them to go from one place to another, no matter how many links in between.

Although the subway may be the fastest and easiest way for anybody to reach their destination, it can be difficult to apprehend for people with disabilities being such a crowded and congested place. Especially when it’s not thought to welcome users with disabilities in the first place. What does it mean to use the subway for people with disabilities? Where can accessibility take place? Let’s take a look at 6 major stages:

1. Preparing the trip: the most important step for people with disabilities. It’s best they look into the route to take online or via an app. Checking beforehand which stations are accessible and real-time information about traffic and the functioning of escalators and lifts enables them to have a smooth trip. 

2. Finding the station entrance: it can be quite difficult for blind or visually impaired people. They need to have an adequate signage system to find the exact location of the station:

 

⊗ Audio beacons like NAVIGUEO+ HIFI that can be activated on demand thanks to a remote control or a smartphone with the MyMoveo app (available on both iOS and Android),

⊗ Visual contrast signage,

⊗ Tactile guide paths,

⊗ Secured stairs: handrails and contrasting non-slip stairs.

3. Buying a ticket: it’d be easier for people with disabilities to do it online but some may need to buy a ticket directly at the station either with the help of a staff member or using the ticket machine by themselves. Solutions exist for both options:

⊗ Lowered counter for wheelchair users,

⊗ Staff members trained to deal with users with disabilities,

⊗ Embossed buttons or Braille on the ticket machine,

⊗ Simplified presentation or information with the use of pictograms.

4. Going through the turnstiles: it can be stressful for users with disabilities especially when they lack time to cross and other users behind them are impatient. But subway network operators can implement easy solutions to help them:

⊗ Dedicated airlock for wheelchair users and parents with strollers,

⊗ Lowered counter when validating the ticket,

⊗ Contactless validation,

⊗ Visual contrast and pictograms to differentiate between the entry and exit turnstiles,

⊗ Presence detector to avoid any fast closing mechanisms.

5. Finding the platform: some stations are huge hubs with many connections so it can be difficult for users with disabilities to find their bearings. A signage system providing audio and visual information as mentioned above is necessary. But using a navigation app such as Evelity within the subway can relieve stress and be very helpful. This app guides users step by step inside complex environments and fits any profile and disability to best serve them. The New York City subway even chose Evelity to be tested in real conditions!

6. Getting off at the right station: visual and audio announcements at every station enable users with disabilities to always know where they are and get ready when they need to get off.

As we can see, throughout all of these steps, removing accessibility barriers is essential to enhance people with disabilities’ mobility in the subway. There are solutions so that they can use public transit by themselves thus remaining autonomous.

How subway accessibility in London is helping users with disabilities

Hosting the 2012 Olympic Games, London undertook a lot of construction and public works to be more accessible for tourists and athletes with disabilities. This of course also impacted public transport which had to renew itself in order to best serve the needs of people with disabilities. The Tube shows how groundbreaking its system is by always putting accessibility at the centre of its concerns. Let’s take a look at other complementary solutions the Tube implements for the mobility of all.

Preparing the trip

The network operator Transport for London (TfL) has set up a page dedicated to accessibility providing useful information to people with disabilities.Thanks to a journey planner and the accessibility and travel options, users with disabilities can plan their trip according to their needs and preferences: the means of transportation, using stairs or escalators, doing a lot of walking or not, managing the step or gap to get on a train… 

Moreover, accessibility maps and guides are available online and can even be downloaded to best help people with disabilities getting around and enjoying public transport. Visually impaired users can thus have a colored large print map of the whole subway network and people with reduced mobility can have a map that details which stations are equipped with escalators, lifts and ramps. Even people with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), for whom being underground and in a pitch black environment can be stressful, can get a map that locates enclosed tunnels. 

Regardless of their disabilities, users have everything they need to prepare their trip beforehand.

Accessing the station

As we saw, elevators and lifts are crucial for people with reduced mobility and wheelchair users. Installing lifts is considered to be step-free access, along with ramps and level surfaces platforms. Having step-free stations enable users not to have to use escalators or stairs. Around 100 stations are equipped with lifts and are therefore step-free access.

Even though the London subway system was opened more than 150 years ago, its infrastructure enabled it to equip stations with approximately 426 escalators and 184 lifts. An increasing number due to investment made over the years to make the subway more accessible and wheelchair-friendly. Despite its cost, the transport network benefits from equipping stations with such solutions seeing that it later attracts and retains more customers: customers with disabilities who can enjoy the subway and therefore the city of London.

To ensure users with a visual impairment have a good experience, most stations have tactile guide paths, markings on platform edges for safety, visual contrast color and audio announcements so that they can easily find their bearings. Users with a hearing impairment benefit from visual announcements and information.

Buying a ticket

In 2003, TfL developed a contactless system for tickets called Oyster, being the first public transit network in the world to implement it. Such contactless payment turns out to be the perfect solution for people with disabilities: no need to use a vending machine or to ask a staff member for help. This means people with a visual impairment and people with reduced mobility don’t have to struggle anymore to find or to reach the vending machine. With Oyster, they can easily top up their Oyster card from the comfort of their home or they can even do it directly on their smartphones.

Getting on and off the train

Providing safety to all users is key for any subway network operators. In 1968, the Tube coined the “Mind the gap” warning phrase that can be seen on signalized platform edges. It is now very common since other subway network systems from cities all over the world use a similar phrase to warn users of the gap between the platform and the door train. In the United States, you can see a “Watch the gap” sign.

In order to provide more accessible trains, as part of its step-free access, TfL committed to setting up ramps operated by staff members at some stations. Although gaps between platforms and trains can be found at most stations, work is underway to increase the number of step-free access stations. TfL designed a map locating every step-free access on its entire network so that users can know where they can safely and without any difficulties board the train.

Finding a seat can be difficult for users with disabilities, the elderly or pregnant women. Being wheelchair-friendly, most Tube trains have at least 2 accessible seats dedicated to wheelchair users per carriage. Besides, London residents with disabilities can apply for a “Please offer me a seat” badge so that other users can be aware of their need to be seated. It’s quite convenient for people whose disabilities aren’t visible and it enables them not to have to ask and justify themselves.

Getting everybody involved towards subway accessibility

In order to best meet the needs of their customers with disabilities, TfL has focused on having more staff at stations that can advise or help users when necessary. But what matters is having a trained staff to deal with people with disabilities. All staff members receive a Disability Equality Training upon arriving and are thus aware of the issues met by users with disabilities. They can for example help people with hidden disabilities who wear a sunflower badge. This enables people to discreetly ask for help just by wearing this sign. Providing a reliable assistance service to users with disabilities is a perfect way to retain customers. 

If the Tube can be such an efficient and accessible subway, it’s thanks to disability experts from Independent Disability Advisory Group (IDAG). Its members use all of their expertise regarding disability to make public transport more inclusive and accessible to all. For more information on their work, you can check their 2019 report on London’s public transit accessibility. Working closely with disability experts and making the most of their knowledge is what enables TfL and the Tube to be groundbreaking regarding subway accessibility. That’s how they have been able to find permanent solutions to people with disabilities’ mobility and to renew their system.

As we can see, London proves to be the perfect example of what subway accessibility should be like. The Tube has found solutions that enable users with disabilities to remain autonomous and to enjoy the city by rethinking its system to improve it. 

 

Further information on public transport accessibility:

Obstacles in Public Transport: What Solutions for People with Physical Disabilities?

Making Public Transport Information Accessible to Disabled People

MBTA: a Global Model of Accessible Public Transportation

 

 

 

 

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Escalators at a subway station improving accessibility

Even though the London subway system was opened more than 150 years ago, its infrastructure enabled it to equip stations with approximately 426 escalators and 184 lifts.

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Carole Martinez

Carole Martinez

Content Manager

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Accessibility for All: Why Removing Barriers Benefits Us All

Accessibility for All: Why Removing Barriers Benefits Us All

Accessibility for All: Why Removing Barriers Benefits Us AllFor sure, accessibility for all isn’t something to take lightly. And neither is it something that can easily be discarded considering that over 1 billion people in the world have disabilities. We, as world’s...

The Montreal Metro on the Way to Universal Accessibility

The Montreal Metro on the Way to Universal Accessibility

The Montreal Metro on the Way to Universal AccessibilityWith 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...

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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.

Artificial Intelligence and Accessibility: Examples of a Technology that Serves People with Disabilities

Artificial Intelligence and Accessibility: Examples of a Technology that Serves People with Disabilities

A machine learning brain

Artificial Intelligence and Accessibility: Examples of a Technology that Serves People with Disabilities

Many of us think that artificial intelligence represents an abstract and futuristic notion we only see in sci-fi films with humanoid robots and holograms. However it’s more and more grounded in our reality reaching various fields and categories of people including people with disabilities. Artificial intelligence truly revolutionizes accessibility and inclusion! Thanks to AI technology solutions, people with disabilities can drastically improve their everyday lives. 

We had previously seen that smartphones are a powerful tool that help users with a visual impairment. Indeed, many apps enable them to remain autonomous. For example, thanks to Seeing AI, visually impaired people can easily read their mail by placing documents under the smartphone camera. AI technology can apply to any type of disability profile. For instance, people with reduced mobility can control everything at home just by using their voice with a virtual personal assistant such as Amazon Alexa.

Let’s take a look at AI and how it can enhance accessibility thanks to a few examples of innovative solutions! The future starts now!

 

What is artificial intelligence and how does it work regarding accessibility?

Artificial intelligence (AI) refers to smart machines or algorithms that are capable of performing cognitive tasks usually made by humans. This includes different technology solutions that mimic humans and use logic from playing chess to solving equations. Machine learning is one of the technologies that is part of AI: when algorithms are exposed to more data, they can learn and improve from it in order to anticipate consumers’ needs. For example, Google uses machine learning: its algorithms collect what Internet users searched and what they liked on social networks in order to provide more personalized search results and recommendations. 

Nearly 4 billion people in the world use Google search engine, therefore AI, which is perceived as a social good. Anybody can have access to it including people with disabilities. Technology in general and artificial intelligence in particular have a key role in accessibility. It’s not just about finding the latest innovations but mostly about providing a solution at the service of a category of people in order to improve their lives. What can AI do towards accessibility?

It can remove accessibility barriers through different solutions:

⊗ Image recognition for people with a visual impairment,

⊗ Facial recognition for people with a visual impairment,

⊗ Lip-reading recognition for people with a hearing impairment,

⊗ Text summarization for people with a mental impairment,

⊗ Real-time captioning or translations for people with a hearing impairment or even people who don’t speak the language.

AI has a huge impact on people with disabilities’ everyday lives: a person with a mental impairment can easily comprehend the world around him thanks to text summarization. What may at first be a complicated message to decipher turns out to be an easy-to-understand text. Things that at first were difficult or impossible for them are now easily accessible on a daily basis. AI enables people with disabilities to step into a world where their difficulties are understood and taken into account. Technology adapts and helps transform the world into an inclusive place with artificial intelligence accessibility. There is a certain sense of equality as AI puts everybody, with or without disabilities, at the same level.

 

What are the benefits of artificial intelligence regarding accessibility for people with disabilities?

We’ve seen the main points regarding AI accessibility but concretely, where is AI put into action to improve people with disabilities’ lives? How does AI help them remain autonomous? Let’s focus on 4 major situations where AI adds value:

Communicating with others and being connected

Depending on the type of disability and profile, communicating with others can be a challenge. The same holds true for staying connected to others in a world that’s more and more digitized with the growing importance of social media and our dependence to the Internet. But technology and AI leave no one behind and can be at the service of people with disabilities. A lot of apps use artificial intelligence to favor accessibility.

For blind or visually impaired people:

 VoiceOver: a screen reader directly integrated on iPhones. Although its main use is to enunciate any email or textual message, VoiceOver also uses AI to describe apps icons, the battery level and even in part images. 

 TalkBack: the equal of VoiceOver for Android smartphones. It enables users to fully use their smartphones.

 Siri: iPhones virtual assistant. Thanks to voice control, users simply have to enunciate their request: from doing a Google search or dictating a text message to send to a friend. People with a visual impairment can easily use Siri and stay in touch with others.

 Cortana: a virtual assistant created by Microsoft and implemented on Windows. It helps blind or visually impaired users to navigate on their computer using simply their voice. In a sense, it’s similar to Siri.

 Google Assistant: an app activated by voice control. Users can easily set up an alarm or manage their schedule, the same way as Siri.

For deaf or hard of hearing people:

 Virtual assistants like Siri and Google Assistant for the users to fully use their smartphones and be connected to others.

 Ava: an instant transcription app that uses AI to instantly transcribe the conversation of a group of people. Its algorithm adds punctuation, the name of the person who is talking and the necessary vocabulary from the user’s dictionary. An easy way for people with a hearing impairment to be included and to follow a conversation with several people without lip-reading. 

 RogerVoice: a French instant transcription app for group conversations available in 90 languages. It works the same way as Ava.

For people with physical disabilities:

⊗ Virtual assistants like Siri, Google Assistant and Google Voice Access: people with reduced mobility can use their smartphone by voice command. Google Voice Access was especially created for people with reduced dexterity.

⊗ IFTTT: an app that connects other apps so that the user with poor dexterity can use all his smartphone’s functionalities without struggling. It creates combinations with the apps to automatically perform tasks such as reading an email aloud and sending a tweet.

Even people with speech impediments can benefit from AI technology with the app Voiceitt. Thanks to machine learning, Voiceitt can easily understand people with brain injuries or Parkinson’s and whose speech may first seem difficult to apprehend. This app normalizes their speech to create an output of audio or text so that people with speech impediments can still communicate with others and be understood.

Of course, AI apps and smartphones aren’t the only way for people with disabilities to communicate and to be connected to others. Web accessibility keeps improving to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) thus providing the same access and services to everybody regardless of their disabilities. 

Indeed designing an accessible website can be quite tricky but AI technology turns out to be a game-changer. A site’s design is scanned and analyzed thanks to machine learning. It can then improve its accessibility through many points:

⊗ A facial recognition with an AI software to replace CAPTCHAs that can be difficult to find for people with a visual impairment,

⊗ A keyboard navigation optimization via the “Tab” button for people with physical disabilities,

⊗ A voice-recognition or a speech-recognition technology like Google’s Project Euphonia for people with speech impairments to use the Internet thanks to sounds and gestures,

 Audio descriptions content for people with a visual impairment,

 Captions and translations of online videos for people with a hearing impairment like Microsoft Translator,

 Readjustments of graphic elements such as fonts, colors and spacing for people with a visual impairment,

⊗ A built-in library of idioms, slang and phrases that are unusually used for people with a mental impairment.

Machine learning mimics a browser, the same way it mimics humans, to automatically adapt what’s on the screen and make it accessible for people with disabilities. Artificial intelligence technology fully enhances accessibility and inclusion.

Getting around

For people with disabilities, mobility proves to be one of the most challenging issues to overcome. How can wheelchair users get around in the city in an autonomous and serene way when they constantly need to be aware of the location of lowered pavements and accessible toilets? In our article How to Help People with Disabilities Get a Better Experience on the Subway?, we saw that people with disabilities need to rigorously prepare every trip they make. Luckily for them, a lot of navigation apps based on AI technology can help them gain more autonomy and more spontaneity when they’re getting around.

 Google Maps: one of the most used GPS apps around the world. Visually impaired people or wheelchair users can prepare their trip in advance and visualize their route and the best means of transportation to use according to their profile. Thanks to the “wheelchair accessible” option, wheelchair users can know where ramps and elevators are located in the city. Plus the feature “accessible places” is useful for them to have more information about the layout of many premises: entrance, parking spots, restrooms, seating arrangements… This feature is also used by people with a visual impairment to find the exact location of a building entrance.

Moovit: a great app for people who use public transportation. It provides real-time traffic information and turns out to be helpful for people with a visual impairment when voice announcements aren’t activated on the bus for example. 

Wheelmap: it lists and maps all accessible public venues (restaurants, shops, cafés…). Even users can add data and information concerning the accessibility level of places. 

Soundscape: an app that describes blind people their surroundings with audio 3D technology. They can easily be aware of the points of interest near them and the intersections. Quite convenient to enjoy the city.

Evelity: the first indoor wayfinding app for people with disabilities. Regardless of their profile, they can easily navigate inside complex and busy places such as subway networks, colleges and universities, shopping malls, stadiums… Evelity works like a GPS and gives step by step instructions. It’s tailor-made to fit the users’ profiles and their needs:

→ Visually impaired users can set it up to work with VoiceOver and TalkBack screen readers so that they can have audio instructions.

→ Hearing impaired users can use text descriptions and icons.

→ Wheelchair users and people with reduced mobility benefit from optimized routes.

→ People with a cognitive impairment have simplified interfaces.

This innovative navigation app for people with disabilities is the perfect example of AI technology that enhances accessibility in general and people’s everyday lives in particular. 

Self-driving cars (also called autonomous cars or driverless cars) represent a new solution for the mobility of people with disabilities, regardless of their disabilities since they can help them get around more independently. People don’t need to ask a relative or to book a service when they need to get around by car. Self-driving cars use sensors, cameras, radars and AI to get to the chosen destination. Their algorithms collect all the necessary data about their environment like traffic lights, curbs, pedestrians…, by inputting Google Maps and Google Street View. Many companies from the car industry test or develop self-driving cars.

Living independently 

AI technology concerns any field and can thus enhance accessibility even at home. Virtual assistants can improve everybody’s lives and it’s particularly striking with people with disabilities. We’d previously talked about Siri on iPhones. But at home, with smart speakers like Amazon Echo with Alexa and Google Home with Google Assistant, people with disabilities can control everything by voice: from turning on the lights to setting up an alarm or listening to music in the living room. 

Any home object can be connected which means that a blind person can set up their oven just by asking Alexa or that a person with reduced dexterity can lower a room temperature just by using their voice. 

Even before arriving home, people with disabilities can still control their virtual assistants at home thanks to the app IFTTT. It connects different apps together, including virtual assistants like Alexa, to create combinations called “applets”. It’s very convenient for people with reduced dexterity: any single task can automatically be done by voice control. They can for example increase their thermostat on their way from work to be at ease once they arrive home. 

Having a connected smart home can sometimes be life saving: if a person with disabilities falls, a system previously set up can call up emergency services. People with disabilities can thus live alone knowing that they’re safe if something happens.

AI technology solutions enable people with disabilities to gain more autonomy and be comfortable in their own homes. AI takes accessibility to the next level. 

Accessing the same services as anybody

Inclusivity means that everybody has the right to access any services regardless of their profiles and disabilities. Blind people can read thanks to Braille and hearing impaired people can enjoy a movie thanks to subtitles. Here are a few non-exhaustive examples of artificial intelligence technology at the service of accessibility:

Braille AI Tutor: an innovative solution to compensate the lack of Braille teachers. Thanks to AI-based speech recognition and gamification, blind students can learn Braille more independently. Education represents a fundamental right. Accessing to an education is key for blind people to find a job and be included in society.

Seeing AI on iOS: an app designed for visually impaired people that can read and describe all types of documents placed under the smartphone camera such as banknotes or mail. It can even recognize images, colors and faces thus providing details on people’s emotions. 

Lookout on Android: the equivalent app of Seeing AI. It has a Quick Scan Mode that can skim through a text.

Google’s Project Guideline: an AI-based solution that enables blind people to run by themselves. With just a harness around their waist, their Android smartphone connected to it and headphones, blind people can run without any external help following a guideline painted on the ground. 

Accessible documents thanks to Microsoft Accessibility Checker or Adobe Accessibility Checker: students and employees with disabilities can still have access to information in order to succeed.

The medical industry also benefits from AI with robot-assisted technology for more precision during surgery or data collection to provide a more accurate diagnosis. But for people with disabilities, this can represent a huge progress in providing a better quality of life. The most striking example is the invention of an exoskeleton powered with AI that enables paralyzed people to use their legs again: they can stand up and walk. A breakthrough that’s not only technological but also medical for people with motor impairments!

These are just a few of the AI technologies used to improve people with disabilities’ lives in various fields as many more solutions are available and developed whether by startups or large corporations such as Google and Microsoft. By having a user-centered approach, artificial intelligence technologies use inclusive design to conceive solutions that best meet the needs of people with disabilities to enhance accessibility. Indeed, AI technology enables them to gain more autonomy whether they’re at home enjoying a movie with subtitles or at work reading an accessible document making the world more accessible and inclusive to them.

Want to know more about apps that people with disabilities use in their everyday lives? Read our articles: 

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

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

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

Posted on March 5, 2021

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A blind man uses the app Evelity to get around in the subway

AI enables people with disabilities to step into a world where their difficulties are understood and taken into account.

writer

Carole Martinez

Carole Martinez

Content Manager

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Get the latest news about accessibility and the Smart City.

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Accessibility for All: Why Removing Barriers Benefits Us All

Accessibility for All: Why Removing Barriers Benefits Us All

Accessibility for All: Why Removing Barriers Benefits Us AllFor sure, accessibility for all isn’t something to take lightly. And neither is it something that can easily be discarded considering that over 1 billion people in the world have disabilities. We, as world’s...

The Montreal Metro on the Way to Universal Accessibility

The Montreal Metro on the Way to Universal Accessibility

The Montreal Metro on the Way to Universal AccessibilityWith 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...

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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 to Guarantee a Seamless Mobility Chain to Users with Disabilities?

How to Guarantee a Seamless Mobility Chain to Users with Disabilities?

The beginning of a mobility chain as users are entering a train station

How to Guarantee a Seamless Mobility Chain to Users with Disabilities?

Whether you are a subway network operator, an architect, a roadway manager or a museum director, guaranteeing a seamless mobility chain to your users isn’t the conundrum you’d expect.

Having an accessible and uninterrupted mobility chain enables people with disabilities to remain autonomous during their trips. A visually impaired person needs to be able, among other things, to find the subway station, go to the platform and make their connection by themself. The same applies to a wheelchair user. The curbs need to be lowered so that they can enjoy the city without any difficulties.

There’s a whole range of solutions that can guarantee people with disabilities, regardless of their profile, a real autonomy.

In this article, we’ll explain to you all the links that constitute the mobility chain so that you can set up easy devices for the benefit of your users!

 

A continuous mobility chain: a major issue

For people with disabilities, getting around can prove to be a major challenge. Any obstacles or barriers on their way can prevent them from getting around in a spontaneous way and therefore damages their autonomy, ruining, to a certain extent, their everyday lives. That’s where the mobility chain takes place.

The mobility chain can be summed up through these various stages:

1. Preparing your trip;

2. Using sidewalks and pedestrian crossings;

3. Using public transportation;

4. Coming up to the building and locating the main entrance;

5. Locating the adapted path to reach the chosen service;

6. Using horizontal and vertical circulations;

7. Reaching the chosen service, communicating with the staff;

8. Locating the adapted path to leave and exit the building.

We can see that the mobility chain forms part of accessibility. It truly is essential for people with disabilities since a continuous mobility chain enables them to move around more freely. Not having to ask someone for help when there are existing solutions so that they can manage by themselves turns out to be primordial for them.

A mobility chain is efficient when all of its links are connected to each other so that users can have a smooth trip without any obstacles: users go from point A to reach point C. Consequently, point B needs to be able to link A and C together. There can be many possible combinations in just one place. This is particularly striking with multimodal transit hubs such as a bus station with access to bus platforms, train platforms, information desk, city public transport… All the possible destinations need to be taken into account in order for the mobility chain to be covered in full. Every link has a role to play and if there’s one that’s broken, it’s the whole mobility chain that’s paralyzed.

On a larger scale, an optimal mobility chain helps build an inclusive and supportive city. A true challenge for a Smart City that has to welcome everybody including people with disabilities. But cities all over the world keep innovating to provide their citizens with safe and efficient mobility options. This happens to be the case with MaaS, a Finnish mobility transport platform, that facilitates the lives of both users and urban designers.

 

What are the solutions to implement for a seamless mobility chain?

Being a hotel or shop manager, nothing is more rewarding than a satisfied customer. Because obviously, a customer who had a good experience in your establishment is likely to come back and tell others about it. Whatever your establishment may be, public or private, taking into account the needs of your customers or visitors with disabilities will be beneficial for your activity. 

The same applies to cities which are committed in providing their inhabitants and tourists with the best possible experience. Roadways and public transportation have a key role in the image they send back to their users.

The first step consists in checking on the continuity of horizontal and vertical circulations:

⊗ Large doors and pathways;

⊗ Removing steps or offsets;

⊗ Removing upright obstacles;

⊗ Visual and tactile contrasting elements to limit traffic zones;

⊗ Securing stairs;

⊗ Creating alternatives to stairs: ramps or slopes, elevators or escalators.

Here is now a summary of different devices or solutions of equivalent effect that you need to implement to guarantee your users a seamless mobility chain:

For roadways: 

⊗ Accessible Pedestrian Signals (APS) such as aBeacon designed by French company Okeenea;

⊗ Tactile ground surface indicators (TGSI);

⊗ Guiding paths;

⊗ Visual information for people with a hearing impairment;

⊗ Lowered curbs for wheelchair users.

Accessible Pedestrian Signals, also known as audible signals, still remain the safest way for blind or visually impaired people to cross the road. They can easily be activated on demand with a remote control or a smartphone thanks to MyMoveo app (available on both Android and iOS).

For public transportation (subway, bus, bus and train stations): 

⊗ Audio beacons like NAVIGUEO+ HIFI;

⊗ Secured stairs: handrails and contrasting non-slip stairs;

⊗ Guide paths;

⊗ Visible, readable and easily understandable signage: pictograms and Braille;

⊗ Visual information for people with a hearing impairment; 

⊗ Removable access ramps on buses;

⊗ Indoor wayfinding apps like Evelity: New York City subway chose Okeenea’s app for a test in real conditions. 

To activate audio beacons on demand, people with a visual impairment use the same devices than those used for Accessible Pedestrian Signals. Quite convenient! 

For public venues:

⊗ Parking spaces for people with reduced mobility, including wheelchair users;

⊗ Audio beacons;

⊗ Amplification systems or induction loop systems;

⊗ Secured stairs: handrails and contrasting non-slip stairs;

⊗ Elevators or escalators;

⊗ Visible, readable and easily understandable signage: pictograms and Braille;

⊗ Indoor wayfinding apps like Evelity: Luma Foundation in Arles, France chose Evelity for its visitors.

In a building such as a museum, metres and metres of guide paths can distort the architecture and the design of a place. An innovative solution like Evelity is particularly relevant! It fits in all types of places and buildings and provides a tailor-made experience to its users, whatever their profile may be.

No matter what activity you’re in, the training of your staff happens to be a true asset regarding the satisfaction of people with disabilities’ needs. They could thus benefit from a good experience and would be more likely to come back to your place or use public transport again. 

Setting up these devices, you’ll guarantee your users with disabilities a continuous mobility chain. Being able to get around in a spontaneous, safe and autonomous way makes a difference for people with disabilities!

 

Would you like to know more about accessibility? Find out more articles to learn all the good practices that other cities have already implemented:

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

How Can Shopping Malls Be Accessible to People with Disabilities?

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

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

 

 

media

People getting around in a subway platform in New York City

A mobility chain is efficient when all of its links are connected to each other so that users can have a smooth trip without any obstacles: users go from point A to reach point C.

writer

Carole Martinez

Carole Martinez

Content Manager

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Get the latest news about accessibility and the Smart City.

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Accessibility for All: Why Removing Barriers Benefits Us All

Accessibility for All: Why Removing Barriers Benefits Us All

Accessibility for All: Why Removing Barriers Benefits Us AllFor sure, accessibility for all isn’t something to take lightly. And neither is it something that can easily be discarded considering that over 1 billion people in the world have disabilities. We, as world’s...

The Montreal Metro on the Way to Universal Accessibility

The Montreal Metro on the Way to Universal Accessibility

The Montreal Metro on the Way to Universal AccessibilityWith 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...

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.

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

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

The entrance of a subway station in Madrid

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

Providing a safe and accessible service for all passengers is a major issue for all transit agencies throughout the world. That’s why, when we discovered the brilliant study by the French department’s accessibility branch on subway accessibility in the key cities around the world, it seemed essential to us to share it with you!

It is estimated that 30 to 40% of the population experience difficulties in using public transport. This means that accessibility is not restricted to people with disabilities, and even less to wheelchair users alone, contrary to what The Guardian suggested in its 2017 ranking of the most accessible subway networks. Since then, the French department’s accessibility branch published a study* which examines the accessibility of 42 subway located in 25 countries. This nuanced report discusses the concept of “accessible subway” and highlights the positive initiatives put in place to facilitate access to the subway for all those who encounter mobility limitations. We have produced a summary for you, supplemented with examples from our experience, because yes, we know subway accessibility like the back of our hands!

 

30 to 40% of the population facing barriers in accessing the subway

Taking the subway is more complex than it looks. This implies a chain of actions for which many travelers may encounter brakes or obstacles:

⊗ Preparing your route,

⊗ Obtaining real-time information about the correct functioning of accessibility equipment and any disturbances on the network,

⊗ Locating access to the subway station,

⊗ Going down into the station,

⊗ Obtaining a transport ticket,

⊗ Requesting information or communicating with staff,

⊗ Going through security gates,

⊗ Walking and finding your way inside the station to reach the right platform,

⊗ Waiting in safety until the arrival of the train,

⊗ Getting on board,

⊗ Finding a seat or support bar to maintain balance throughout the trip,

⊗ Getting off at the right station,

⊗ Walking and finding your way inside the station to reach your connection or the desired exit,

⊗ Going through the exit gates and

⊗ Going up towards the road.

Beyond people living with a physical, sensory, mental or psychological disability, many travelers encounter difficulties for one or more stages of the travel chain. According to various studies, they represent 30 to 40% of public transport users. These are the elderly, people with a temporary disability due to injury or illness, pregnant women, obese people, people of small stature, people who are illiterate or do not master the English language, people with young children or even those burdened with packages or luggage.

For more details on the difficulties encountered by subway users according to their disability and the solutions provided by the transit operators, we invite you to read our article:

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

 

An accessible subway, what is it?

The British daily The Guardian published in 2017 the ranking of 7 major subway systems in the world according to their accessibility level. Paris took last place behind Washington DC, Los Angeles, Tokyo, New York City, Barcelona and London. A very severe score for the French capital, which, despite the impossibility of making most of its metro stations accessible to wheelchair users, is doing its best to take into account the other disabilities on the Parisian metro system.

It is from this observation that the French department’s accessibility branch launched a study on the accessibility of 42 subway systems around the world. The data collected is uneven and does not allow for a ranking, which would be senseless. But this study questions the notion of “accessible subway system”.

1st lesson: physical accessibility for people in wheelchairs remains the top achievement for a subway system to claim to be “accessible”. This includes installing elevators, ramps, lowering floors, and reducing or eliminating gaps between trains and platforms. Then come the visual and audio information systems inside the trains which benefit everyone but even more so to people with visual or hearing disabilities. But overall accessibility to all disabilities requires attention to every detail throughout the travel chain. Thus, poorly thought out new equipment risks ruining all the efforts made upstream. 

2nd lesson: other measures exist but they are far from being generalized and little valued on the various communication media of subway systems. Improving visual signage, installing audio beacons, induction loops, accessible vending machines and entry gates, training staff and developing wayfinding applications adapted to different disabilities are just as important for successful accessibility.

 

Inaccessibility is not inevitable

The age of infrastructure is often mentioned to explain its inaccessibility. But the oldest subway systems are not equal in terms of accessibility. It appears that Paris comes bottom of the class with only 9 wheelchair accessible stations out of 303. Older subway systems do much better: London (1863), Boston (1897) or even Athens (1869). Other subway systems inaugurated before 1930 also perform well in terms of accessibility: Berlin (1902), Madrid (1919), Barcelona (1924) and Tokyo (1927). 

Although New York City subway system shows much better performance than the Paris metro, it remains among the lowest percentages of any major transit system in the world. Only 119 of 472 (25%) of all of the subway system’s stations are fully accessible to wheelchair users. In comparison, Boston’s MBTA subway and the Chicago “L”, which are as old or older, have more accessible subway stations. However, 70 more New York City subway stations should be accessible by 2024. This would allow one of every two to four stations on every line to be accessible, so that all non-accessible stops would be a maximum of two stops from an accessible station.

Most of the stations were built before wheelchair access was a requirement under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. Since then, elevators have been constructed in new stations and stations that required little modification to meet ADA standards have been upgraded. In addition, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) selected 100 “key stations” to be conformed to ADA requirements when they are being renovated.

According to the MTA’s definition, a fully accessible station must have the following facilities:

⊗ Elevators or ramps,

⊗ Handrails on ramps and stairs,

⊗ Large-print and tactile-braille signs,

⊗ Audio and visual information systems,

⊗ Accessible station booth windows,

⊗ Accessible MetroCard Vending Machines,

⊗ Accessible service entry gates,

⊗ Platform-edge warning strips,

⊗ Platform gap modifications or bridge plates to reduce or eliminate the gap between trains and platforms,

⊗ Telephones at an accessible height with volume control,

⊗ Accessible restrooms at stations with restrooms.

The MTA also provides training to its employees to better assist riders with disabilities. On the other hand, training is delivered to riders with disabilities themselves, their families, and mobility specialists.

 

Original initiatives to include all disabilities for a better subway accessibility

With a few exceptions such as Marseille, Rome or Beijing, subways built after 1970 are generally wheelchair accessible. In most stations, there are elevators, access ramps, widened doors and seats reserved for people with reduced mobility. Obstacles persist to board the trains. Human assistance may be necessary.

Other initiatives are emerging to facilitate travel, orientation and communication for other travelers with disabilities, whether visual, hearing, intellectual, psychological or cognitive. Far from being still generalized, they are nevertheless very interesting sources of inspiration for transit operators.

Adapted materials to plan a route according to one’s disability

Even more than for the general population, planning their itinerary is a crucial step for people with disabilities. Identifying their route and any difficulties, knowing the operating status of access facilities, all this requires appropriate tools. The first step is of course to make all digital media accessible, websites and mobile applications.

Digital Accessibility: Why? For Whom? How?

But paper based materials are not to be neglected. Thus, the London tube provides a collection of maps adapted to different disability situations: large print, tactile, audio, step-free maps and even tunnel maps for claustrophobic people.

In Paris and Toulouse, educational materials have been developed in the form of card games and other fun devices for people with intellectual disabilities to familiarize themselves with the network.

Public Transport: Accessibility Solutions, Also for the Intellectual Disability 

Audio beacons to locate entrances

Audio beacons allow blind or visually impaired people to locate entrances to subway stations thanks to the source of the sound. They are triggered a few meters away using a remote control or a smartphone application. The elevators of the Rennes metro in France have been equipped with audio beacons since it was built in 2002. Today, audio beacons can be found in Paris, Lyon, Prague, Helsinki and perhaps other cities as well.

Tactile guide paths to mark the routes

Guidance or directional tactile paving allows visually impaired people and anyone with orientation difficulties to get from one point to another without deviating. They are found on many subway systems such as Brussels, Berlin, Madrid, Barcelona, ​​Santiago de Chile or Tokyo. To provide effective guidance, these should preferably be coupled with audio signage or a smartphone wayfinding application.

Indoor guidance applications for smartphones

Despite the lack of a GPS signal inside subway stations, wayfinding applications adapted to different disabilities are gradually spreading. They make it possible to calculate a route in a closed area adapted to the various mobility limitations of the users. The Evelity solution is already installed in the Marseille metro.

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

Vending machines adapted to all disabilities

Lowering vending machines so that they can be used by people in wheelchairs or short stature has become the rule on many subway networks. However, these machines often remain inaccessible to blind or visually impaired people, to people who are illiterate or do not speak the language of the country, or even to those with an intellectual disability. Thus, interfaces should be designed with all of these restrictions in mind. Text to speech is an option to be implemented, as in Paris or Barcelona.

Pictures, symbols and pictograms

In order to help people who are illiterate or have an intellectual disability to find their way around, some operators have designed signage which associates a distinct image with each station name. 

This work has already been carried out on the subway networks in Mexico City, Fukuoka in Japan, Recife in Brazil, and Toulouse in France.

Braille signs

International standards for elevators require button marking in Braille and prismatic-numbers, which is very useful for visually impaired people to select their floor. The information in Braille sometimes available on the platforms, as in Washington DC, Chicago or Santiago de Chile, would on the other hand have every interest in being replaced by audio information, much more universal. Indeed, Braille has three major drawbacks:

1. It is difficult to locate for a person who cannot see or has low vision;

2. Serious problems with cleanliness, when touching it, can risk spreading bacteria or viruses such as COVID-19;

3. The proportion of people able to read Braille remains very low.

Audio information addresses all people with visual impairments, but also intellectual or understanding difficulties.

Tactile maps

Tactile maps for the visually impaired can be found on some subway networks such as Paris, Brussels, New York City and Tokyo. For the same reasons as Braille information, these are not very appropriate. On the other hand, tactile maps on paper can be made available to users so that they can consult them in the comfort of their home or the premises of an association. These will allow them to better understand their environment and therefore to find their way more easily.

Staff training to provide adequate assistance

Despite the accessibility improvements, certain situations continue to require human assistance, for example in case of equipment failure or network disruption. This assistance is widely present in London, Paris, Brussels, New York City, or Saint Petersburg. And in order to be able to provide effective assistance, the staff concerned are specifically trained to support people with disabilities.

The French study from the department’s accessibility branch on subway ACCESSIBILITY IN MAJOR WORLDWIDE cities shows us that accessibility has generally improved a lot for people in wheelchairs but is still struggling to become widespread for other disabilities. In addition, access to information on available facilities and suitable route planners is sorely lacking. Hence the interest in surfing open data to develop digital solutions that meet everyone’s specific needs!

media

The entrance of a subway station in Paris

The British daily The Guardian published in 2017 the ranking of 7 major subway systems in the world according to their accessibility level. Paris took last place behind Washington DC, Los Angeles, Tokyo, New York City, Barcelona and London.

writer

Lise Wagner

Lise Wagner

Accessibility Expert

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