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

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powered by okeenea

The French leading company

on the accessibility market.

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

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

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

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

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

 

Twelve American cities are operated with a subway: Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco, San Juan and Washington, D.C. Ever since the first station opened in Boston in 1897, over 1000 stations, for a system length of around 816 miles in total, are now in operation in the United States of America. These railway transit systems, elevated and underground, represent a vast labyrinth that enables thousands of people to move around every day without using the often congested streets that we all know too well. 

If the subway is the favorite transportation solution for the major part of the population, it can prove to be a real puzzle for disabled people.

How can you feel safe in a congested and confined environment? How can you find your way around when you have to deal with complex stations? How can you reach the platforms in an environment where elevators are rare or even nonexistent?

We’re going to review the difficulties encountered by disabled people and the good practices to adopt throughout all the steps of a subway trip.

Welcome to the subway!

Preparing your trip

In order to go from point A to point B using the subway without any problems, there’s nothing like properly prepare your route. But this can be difficult for a disabled person.

Difficulties encounteredGood practices
Understanding the route to takeWebsite or app with a suited route
Lack of information on disruptionsReal-time information during disruptions
Lack of information on the presence and state of elevators/escalatorsReal-time information of the functioning state of elevators and escalators
Forgetting the routeReminder of the route

 

Finding the station

It’s not easy to find the subway entrance for those who are blind or visually impaired.

You need to choose a clear and homogenous accessible signage for the whole network. Universal accessibility requires good lighting, visual contrast, audio-based navigation systems, detectable warnings, and tactile paths.

 

Going down to the station

Due to the many steps that separate the station entrance and the station itself, the installation of elevators and escalators is essential for people with reduced mobility.

Since the majority of the network was built before 1990, a lot of stations can only be accessed using stairs. Thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), forbidding discrimination towards people with disabilities, cities had to review their accessibility standards. New York City, for example, has already renovated 120 stations and the number keeps growing.

A vertical access to the subway is critical for the millions of Americans and tourists with reduced mobility who would like to move around in a city. The lack of such measures compel them to use another means of transport or even stay at home.

Further information on accessibility on public transportation for physically disabled people

Buying a ticket

It’s impossible to pass the turnstiles without purchasing a ticket.

You can find several options: at the station booth with the help of a staff member, at the ticket machine or online. But these options need to be accessible.

Difficulties encounteredGood practices
Locating the station booth or the ticket machineSound guiding system, visual signage and guide paths
Using the tactile buttons of the ticket machines Embossed buttons
Lack of sound informationEarphone jack
Counter heightLowered counter
Difficulty to comprehend the offerSimplified presentation of information (pictograms)
Difficulty to readLarge-print and accessible vocabulary (Easy-to-read)
Stress due to the impatience of other usersBuying a ticket online, by text or by an app
Communicating with the staff Staff training to welcome and assist disabled people

 

Going through the turnstiles

Going through the turnstiles can be stressful. The impatience of other users, the lack of time to cross them, the strength of the doors while closing are all anxiety-provoking and are intensified when you have a disability.

How do the visually impaired find the turnstiles? How can they quickly go through them without hurting themselves or their guide dog? What about those with a mental disability intensified by stress or those who just need more time to comprehend their environment and how to move around?

The main goal of transportation networks is to avoid fraud but it’s also important to enable everybody to safely access the platforms.

Difficulties encounteredGood practices
Inadequate passage width for a wheelchair Dedicated airlock for people with reduced mobility enabling people with strollers, wheelchairs and people being accompanied to access the platform
Ticket validity control too highLowered ticket validity control for people of small stature and children
Difficulty to insert your ticketContactless validation
Distinction between entry and exit gatesVisual contrast, illuminated pictograms for a better visibility (for example a green arrow and a red cross), guide paths
Fast closing mechanismPresence detector
No detector for children, people of small stature or guide dogsLowered presence detector
Difficulty for people who can’t use their right arm to validate their ticketGates with left access to validate, double validation inside PRM airlocks
Difficulty to find and operate the open button for PRM airlocksA visually contrasted and easy access open button

 

Finding the platform

In some stations, finding the right platform can turn into a real track game. The complexity of the area, the number of connections, the lack of information and the passenger flow during rush hours make it difficult to find your bearings.

In response to the difficulties encountered by the most vulnerable users, a clear visual and audio signage is essential. A digital navigation system can help them be completely autonomous and can make them feel reassured during their travel.

Finding a seat on board, whether the wagon is full or not, is not always easy. Making your way to ask for another person’s seat requires a certain confidence and sensory capabilities that some of us don’t have.

That’s the reason why it’s important to define priority and clearly identified seating spaces. 

Getting off at the right station

To know when you need to get off, a map of the entire subway line inside the wagon is vital. A visual and sound announcement before every station and during potential disruptions enables to counterbalance the mental and sensory impairments that some users may have.

For further reading, please see our article Public Transport Information Accessibility: 5 Solutions for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Users

 

Different needs

The stations that already are ADA-accessible in New York City dispose of:

⊗ Elevators or ramps

⊗ Handrails on ramps and stairs

⊗ Large-print and tactile-Braille signs

⊗ Audio and visual information systems, including Help Points or Public Address Customer Information Screens

⊗ Accessible station booth windows with sills located no more than 36 inches (91 cm) above the ground

⊗ Accessible MetroCard Vending Machine

⊗ Accessible service entry gates

⊗ Platform-edge warning strips

⊗ Platform gap modifications or bridge plates to reduce or eliminate the gap between trains and platforms where it is greater than 2 inches (5.1 cm) vertically or 4 inches (10 cm) horizontally

⊗ Telephones at an accessible height with volume control, and text telephones (TTYs)

⊗ Accessible restrooms at stations with restrooms, if a 24-hour public toilet is in operation

It’s up to the transportation network companies to set up adequate solutions to better meet the needs of the disabled. A dialogue between associations representing the disabled and those in charge of the network enable to address in the best possible way the needs of the intended people.

Although the ADA has enforced the transportation network companies to review their planning since 1990, accessibility is still a work in progress. Some stations show a fine example of what accessibility should be but most of them still need to fit the required standards compelling the users to get around via another means of transport.

A lot of solutions, whether they are known or groundbreaking, enable to reach the accessibility standards fixed by the regulations. Discover some of them on our website

Further reading on accessibility in New York City

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In response to the difficulties encountered by the most vulnerable users, a clear visual and audio signage is essential.

writer

Zoe Gervais

Zoe Gervais

Content Manager

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Get the latest news about accessibility and the Smart City.

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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...

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

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

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

NEVER miss the latest news about the Smart City.

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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.

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

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

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

 

Marie-Charlotte Moret is a service designer. “Designer ah?! She creates beautiful objects then!”. No, not only. Her job is to analyze actual practices to bring out new solutions that improve everyday life, with services that are useful, usable and “desirable” (beautiful), essential conditions for their development and sustainability. This is why this approach is central to create new mobilities in the urban environment of the 21st century. Explanation!

 

Putting people back at the heart of urban mobility is a growing concern for city designers and local public transport authorities. Can you explain how service design meets this challenge?

 

The designer’s approach is indeed centered on humans. The methodology we apply is the analysis of what already exists, the audit of the environment, the behavior of the users and the constraints encountered. It is only after each step is complete that we start the creation process in order to answer the problems previously observed by choosing the product that best suits the needs. The next step is to check how the solution is used and what are its potential misuses.

I also apply the methodology of design thinking, which includes the users from the beginning of the reflection. Contrary to common assumptions, it is not just about filling a wall with post-it. The method involves observations in the field, interviews, explanations … We begin by empathizing with the user. What are his needs that are not covered? What are its constraints? Why would he use one solution over another? This approach is very useful for creating products as well as services.

 

You have worked on solutions to improve the mobility of people with disabilities. What have you learn from this experience?

 

At University, I wrote an essay on: “How to improve the lives of elderly people in retirement homes”. When I arrived at Okeenea Digital in 2018, I discovered new users: people with disabilities in their urban mobility. However, the methodology remains the same. Putting the user in the center should be the start of any new project. Understand the needs, the problems, the daily life … to improve the overall experience.

Last year, we responded to SNCF’s Open Beacon tender (the French National Railway Company) by offering a mobility assistant at train stations. I then undertook observation sessions in the field, met users with all types of mobility problems. Currently, there is a human assistance service available for all travelers with disabilities or reduced mobility called Access Plus service. But this service is completely saturated and is very expensive for the SNCF. On the other hand, it is quite restrictive for users who must anticipate their trip at least 48 hours in advance and arrive well before the departure of their train. The organization is very rigid and does not allow a partial support on a single part of the trip, for example for a person who knows by heart his station of departure but only needs help for his correspondence or upon arrival. 

We then imagined an mobile application combining wayfinding technologies and human help in case of temporary difficulties. Working on a project such as this one of course involves understanding the needs of the end users, but more generally of all stakeholders including station staff. During this project, I also exchanged a lot with reception agents, security agents and staff of the Access Plus service. 

In short, to be a good designer, you have to think wide, not stay in a bubble. You must consider the experience as a whole. If you design a guiding solution, you must think about how the user will prepare his itinerary from home, the actual wayfinding solution, but also what happens after.

 

By working alongside with people with disabilities, did you discover difficulties, obstacles that you did not suspect?

 

When I led interviews and observations for the development of this wayfinding application in the metro of Marseille in France, I suddenly realized the diversity of uses among visually impaired people. Depending on how old was the person when the disability occurred, the mobility aid used (white cane, guide dog or nothing), residual visual abilities, the mastery of technological tools …, mobility approaches are very different.

But the accessibility of the environment is definitely decisive! I was recently very shocked watching a documentary of the journey of a person in a wheelchair. An elevator failure is enough for a 20-minute trip in theory to actually last more than an hour and a half. If the person is not aware of the failure, he must go back to the subway to continue his journey and turn around at another station. But in the absence of information on accessible stations, he must sometimes test them all before finding the right one. Hell! All these efforts to, sometimes, not even reach his destination.

Another example that also concerns mobility is free-floating scooters. When I see the number of abandoned scooters in the middle of the sidewalks and pedestrian crossings, I can not help but think of the visually impaired or wheelchair users. In this case, we see that the use has not been thought through. We thought about the need for quick mobility over short distances, the ergonomics of the application to unlock the system, in short, only the needs of end users. But at no time, we thought about the consequences of the commissioning of these vehicles on other users of the public space.

 

We clearly see that players are at the heart of the mobility and urban development policy. Do you have any advice for the stakeholders to achieve this?

 

Public authorities are in charge of the mobility and urban development policy. From what I know, although I may be wrong, there is no designer position in these instances. However it is up to decision-makers to choose the service providers who will execute the work or design solutions for the mobility of their citizens. They have every interest in favoring companies that have this approach, who practice innovation through the understanding of the needs. Even though it may cost a little more, the savings made afterwards and the service rendered really worth it. There is a tendency to focus too much on the possibilities of new technologies. But technology is useless if it does not answer a real need. And of course, innovation must fit into the economical context to have a chance to grow and live on. Usage, technology and economy thus form an inseparable triptych.

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 When I see the number of abandoned scooters in the middle of the sidewalks (…) I can not help but think of the visually impaired or wheelchair users. In this case, we see that the use has not been thought through. We thought (…) only about the needs of end users. But at no time, we thought about the consequences of the commissioning of these vehicles on other users of the public space.

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Lise Wagner

Lise Wagner

Accessibility Expert

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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...

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

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

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

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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.

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

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

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

 

“Due to an accident on the track, the metro will be stopped for a few moments, thank you for your understanding”, “Line 21 is diverted due to road work, exceptionally the bus will not stop at the next three stations”.

All these audio messages familiar to our ears and broadcast in our stations and in our public transports are essential to ensure comfort and safety of travelers especially in case of emergency or disruption. But the information must be accessible to the public for whom it is intended. The audio format, if it has the advantage of being direct, excludes all users with a hearing loss, ie 466 million people worldwide (source: who.int).

So how to ensure quality information for hearing impaired users when using transportation? Let’s focus on regulations, needs and existing solutions for deaf and hard of hearing public transport users.

Regulation and accessibility of passenger information

In the United States equal access to information of transportation is ensured with the Americans with Disability Act. Under Title II, agencies which operate at a local or state level are required to provide equal access to all services offered by the organization including public transportation. A public entity must ensure that its communications with deaf citizens are as effective as communications with others.

In Canada, The Guide to Accessibility for Intercity Bus Services states that  “Public announcements should be provided in both audio and visual formats, if possible, in all passenger service areas inside terminals.

In the United States and in accordance with the ADA, the National Association of Deaf (NAD) continues to advocate that all transportation systems (airline, train, bus, subway, etc.) make all audible information accessible by providing the same information in a visual format.

Different laws, for different services exists in different countries. The transportation network managers are responsible for their application at local and state level.

Understand the difficulties and needs of deaf people in public transport

In this regulatory context, where the rights of the disabled public are addressed, people who are deaf or hard of hearing still face accessibility problems, particularly when broadcasting audio messages in the event of an emergency or disruption.

This is compounded by other challenges such as trip planning, ticket purchase, orientation and interaction with travelers and staff.

If the deaf population is very heterogeneous, the perception of the surrounding world remains similar from one person to another. From the reduction to the renunciation of any form of mobility, we find mainly the following inconveniences:

  • difficulties in perceiving sound information
  • annoyance due to noise in degraded sound environments
  • loss of balance, fatigue, headaches, tinnitus etc.

When traveling, people with hearing loss need written support that is broadcast simultaneously with the spoken message, to ensure the same level of information and therefore security and service as the rest of the population. Also, to ensure their comfort, priority seating and a quiet environment should be provided wherever possible.

5 solutions to compensate for audio information in transport

The written format remains the most popular format for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, although it does not take into account the needs of people with reading difficulties due to a disability or a lack of knowledge of the language.

A study conducted by UNIVACCESS in 2018 identified universal solutions for public transport for people with disabilities, particularly for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Here are the 5 most frequently identified solutions.

#1. SMS alert

Among the solutions listed are universal solutions such as the SMS alert in case of disruption. This initiative, set up in cities such as Grenoble, Auckland, Geneva and King County, among others, allows users to follow the status of their mode of transport in real time or to receive specific notifications to a route, especially during disruptions.

#2. The light beep

Many cities around the world like Lisbon, Lyon or Singapore have equipped their metro and tramway doors with a flashing light inside and outside. The light accompanies the beep to prevent any crossing of the doors when they close.

#3. Information screens

Information screens are sprouting around the world, like in Manchester or Barcelona. Located on platforms, stations and inside vehicles and wagons, they provide users with useful and reliable written information. Most screens on board inform on the next stop. Some go as far as announcing the places of interest and the shops nearby.

#4. Training of agents in sign language

Some cities like Toulouse have introduce their agents to sign language. Although it is only practiced by a handful of deaf people in the world, its use in stations is a real asset for the users concerned.

#5. Traveler information applications

Different transportation operators thought the world have developed their proper mobile application warning of possible delays, train changes, platform numbers and even on board announcements.

The City of Barcelona for example provides users with an application calculating in real time the number of minutes remaining before the arrival of the next bus. The city of London offers a similar service thanks to a route calculator with simple and adapted choices.

MaaS: an all-in-one tool for tomorrow’s accessibility

What is MaaS? This article tells you everything you need to know!

MaaS-type applications such as Moovit and CityMapper will soon offer an all-in-one solution to promote the mobility of all public and private transport users. From travel planning, to ticket purchase, guidance assistance and real-time information dissemination, MaaS is emerging as the ideal innovation for people with hearing loss.

In conclusion

The dissemination of the right information at the right time is an asset for transport services. For people who do not hear or hear little, lighting, human and technological solutions (screens, SMS and mobile applications) have been tried and tested in many cities around the world. Knowing that after 50 years, one in three has hearing difficulties, compensating for audio information remains a major challenge for transport operators.

All these amenities are universal solutions that can serve the greatest number, disabled or not. Investing in the accessibility of deaf and hard of hearing people, is indeed a guarantee to the access of your network to the greatest number.

You want to make your public transports accessible to disabled people? Check out our article: Making Public Transport Information Accessible to Disabled People

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When traveling, people with hearing loss need written support that is broadcast simultaneously with the spoken message, to ensure the same level of information and therefore security and service as the rest of the population.

writer

Zoe Gervais

Zoe Gervais

Content Manager

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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...

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

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

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

NEVER miss the latest news about the Smart City.

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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.

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

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

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

 

Summer is here and holidays are coming up. Millions of us crowd to airports to fly to more or less distant destinations. And among us, people who are blind or visually impaired too! How do they get to their departure terminal, find their way in these disproportionate spaces, reach their check-in counter and then the boarding gate? In addition to passenger assistance services, technologies offer more and more possibilities to move independently and to enjoy the services of an airport in the same way as any other air passenger. Provided we take into account the specific needs of each and this is what we will discuss in more detail in this article.

Airport Assistance for Travelers with Disabilities or Reduced Mobility

When blind or visually impaired people make the decision to travel alone by plane, they may use airport assistance. They simply indicate their need of guided assistance during their flight reservation or by contacting the service directly at least 48 hours in advance.

With the regulation (EC) No 1107/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 5 July 2006 concerning the rights of disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility when travelling by air, the European Union transferred responsibility for passenger assistance to airports. In some countries such as the United States, however, it remains the responsibility of the airlines, which results in very disparate service levels.

Special assistance staff can help people with disabilities from the check-in counter on to the aircraft, as well as on arrival. Travelers who are blind or visually impaired are then accompanied to go through security and to the departure gate.

Reaching the Airport Assistance Point: A Major Difficulty for a Blind Person

Although special assistance starts at the check-in desk, how do you get there if you have low or no vision? Traveling to and from the transit point or the drop-off can be long and fraught.

One solution is to install call stations near these stopping points so that travelers with disabilities or reduced mobility can report their presence to the special assistance staff. This is what the European regulation advocates. But again, how do you find these call points when you cannot see? To be easily localizable, the call stations must:

⊗ Be visually contrasted with their environment

⊗ Be identifiable by an remote activated audio beacon

⊗ Be marked with a tactile path.

It will also be necessary to ensure the simplicity and usability: call button clearly visible and handy, sound return to confirm the consideration of the call, audio quality for communication.

Indoor Navigation Apps for Blind and Visually Impaired People

Checking in your luggage, passing through the security check, going to the departure gate and then on to the aircraft, the human assistance makes it possible to accomplish all this route easily and without stress. But blind and visually impaired people aspire to enjoy the same services as other travelers: going to restrooms, eating, shopping … This is even more important when the succession of flights requires them a long wait. In addition, the use of airport assistance requires anticipation that is not always possible (last-minute travel offers, unplanned business trips, family emergencies, etc.). That’s why being able to navigate independently in an airport with a visual impairment is a key issue.

Many international airports, such as Paris, Copenhagen or Houston, offer smartphone-based indoor navigation applications to guide travelers through their premises. These applications are generally based on Bluetooth low-energy beacons spread around the building, these same beacons that can transmit contextualized information.

But unlike what exists today, to guide the visually impaired, these applications must take into account their specific needs.

The user interface:

The application must be fully compatible with screen readers (VoiceOver for iOS and TalkBack for Android) and the zoom and comfort options on smartphones. All buttons, lists and other navigation items must be carefully labeled with explicit text.

Different input methods must be available: classic input, voice dictation or braille input on the screen.

Directions:

Visually impaired people generally do not have the ability to refer to a map or visual signage. The directions must therefore be indicated according to the position of the user, using either the clock face or provided in degrees.

Specific landmarks:

People who are blind or visually impaired rely on different landmarks from other travelers. These are essentially tactile or sound cues. Thus, the descriptions of routes provided by the application must mention these elements in a precise manner: tactile guide paths, warning indicators, audio beacons… These physical elements also make it possible to confirm one’s position and be reassured about the good course of the itinerary.

Wayfinding accuracy:

Although it is possible for sighted people to rectify the inaccuracy of navigation by glancing at the signage and their environment, this is much more complicated for people with low or no vision. Location accuracy is therefore an important factor in guiding a route and reaching the desired destination. But it is not the only one! Current technologies are not accurate within one meter. In order to fulfill the mobility objectives of end users, to ensure precise guidance and to lead them to their destination, other criteria intervene, in particular the accuracy of the instructions issued. Is the staircase ascending or descending? How many steps? Right or turning? Is there a door? A manual or automatic opening?

The involvement of end users in the project

Finally, the application must be customizable because the needs and user preferences vary from one person to another depending on their remaining visual abilities, their experience and their abilities. Any wayfinding application project should be the subject of a consultation of end users to identify their needs, but also of in situ experiments during development to validate the proper functioning of the system.

Today, the expertise acquired by professionals specialized in mobility of people with disabilities and the maturity of technologies make it possible to consider effective solutions for guiding people with visual impairments. This is the opportunity to offer them equal access to all services and freedom of choice in their daily lives, to allow them full participation in economic and social life.

media

Special assistance starts at the check-in desk. How do you get there if you have low or no vision? Traveling to and from the transit point or the drop-off can be long and fraught.

writer

Lise Wagner

Lise Wagner

Accessibility Expert

stay updated

Get the latest news about accessibility and the Smart City.

other articles for you

follow us!

more articles

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...

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

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

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

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.