Accessibility Data Collection: a Huge Challenge for Cities and Transit Networks

Accessibility Data Collection: a Huge Challenge for Cities and Transit Networks

The United States seen from orbit

Accessibility Data Collection: a Huge Challenge for Cities and Transit Networks

It has been around ten years since we massively adopted the use of GPS on our smartphones. But while this tool is extremely helpful for car journeys, it is much less efficient to calculate routes for pedestrians, and even less for wheelchair users. 

Navigating urban spaces with different abilities requires having access to specific, standardized, and comprehensive data about pedestrian pathways. However, this data is often unavailable. And when it does exist, it is partial and lacks consistency between territories. Are there curb ramps? How steep is the slope? Are there accessible pedestrian signals?

Numerous projects around the world aim to collect and harmonize data on pedestrian routes and in particular accessible routes. Let us look at the main initiatives that will make it possible to create more inclusive maps, GPS navigators and journey planners for all in the future!

Why data collection is so important to enhance mobility for people with disabilities?

Data collection has long been prioritized for streets and cars. Facilitating the mobility of pedestrians, especially pedestrians with a disability, requires collecting data on sidewalks, pedestrian crossings, and public transit networks.

People with disabilities need an accessible and seamless mobility chain to navigate independently. They need some specific features according to their mobility profile. Wheelchair users require wide pathways, lowered curb, and ramps or elevators to overcome grade breaks. Wholes or steps become intractable obstacles that ruin any attempt to move. 

Pedestrians who are blind or have low vision need a breadcrumb trail to keep their direction, tactile warning indicators before hazards, auditory bearings, and accessible pedestrian signals. 

People with an intellectual disability need safe and reassuring spaces, easy-to-read signage, pictograms, and colored markers. 

If one of the links in the mobility chain is broken, getting around becomes impossible. 

Today, navigation and routing applications do not take this data into account for the simple reason that it is insufficiently available. Therefore, data collection and harmonization are a major issue. How to describe accessible routes? What data to identify? How to avoid local variations? How to categorize it? How to make it available? 

Another challenge is to define mobility profiles. Manual wheelchair users do not have exactly the same needs as power wheelchair users. People with low vision do not have the same needs as blind people. Every kind of disability has its specifications, and every person their preferences.

OpenStreetMap and accessibility data

OpenStreetMap is a worldwide initiative to create and provide free geographic data, such as street maps, to anyone. Data is collected and recorded by volunteers all over the globe and can be used freely by service providers. Every citizen has the power and the tools to create a high-quality feature-rich map of their country, their states, their communities, and their neighborhoods.

However, most maps do not contain relevant accessibility information. Tags and keys are missing. OpenStreetMap aims to be the best world map for disabled users – by keeping track of important tags like wheelchair accessibility with Wheelmap, and by creating accessible versions of the map. It is important that OpenStreetMap’s data is open in full because it makes these things possible – to process a world map into a guidance app for the blind, or a map of only wheelchair-accessible places. 

The OpenStreetMap Wiki page about disabilities shares advice and good practice to create accessible maps. It gives tagging principles for disabilities. 

For blind or visually impaired people, mapping should include following information:

⊗  Tactile paving,

⊗  Accessible pedestrian signals (APS) with sound or vibrating indications,

⊗  Pedestrian crossings with islands,

⊗  Public transportation stops with platforms,

⊗  Audio signage,

⊗  Elevators with or without braille writing or embossed printed letters,

⊗  Handrails with braille writing or embossed printed letters,

⊗  Tactile maps,

⊗  Meeting locations of organizations of the blind and visually impaired,

⊗  Shops for optical glasses, eye doctors and hospital departments for eye diseases,

⊗  POIs that offer special products for the blind,

⊗  POIs that offer special accommodations for the blind like cinemas with audio description, museums with audio guides, restaurants with audio or braille menus, etc.

Keep in mind that accuracy is essential. If you indicate a public facility, precisely indicate the entrance and not the middle of the building.

For wheelchair users, people with reduced mobility or walking impairments or pushing strollers, mapping should include:

⊗  Access ramps,

⊗  Steepness of slopes and superelevation, 

⊗  Accessible restrooms, 

⊗  Handrails,

⊗  Elevators,

⊗  Accessible shops and businesses,

⊗  Accessible transit stations,

⊗  Accessible parking spaces,

⊗  Accessible accommodations: extra-wide cash desks, lowered counters, special shopping carts, fitting rooms, etc.,

⊗  Location of play equipment for disabled children, etc.

Keep in mind that wheelchair users have different abilities to go long distances and up slopes whether they use a manual or a power wheelchair. Information about distances and steepness of slopes should therefore be very precise. A user should have the possibility to avoid routes above a certain percentage grade.

For people who are deaf or have hearing impairments, mapping should include:

⊗  Induction loops,

⊗  Locations where there is sign language translation or cued speech,

⊗  POIs with special accommodations for deaf people: cinemas where movies are subtitled, theaters with special headphones, sound amplification systems, etc.

Maps designed for deaf people do not exist yet.

OpenSidewalks, a project to share data on the built environment in the US

Since 2015, Dr. Anna Caspi, director of the Taskar Center for Accessible Technology at the University of Washington (UW), and Nick Bolten, a Postdoctoral fellow in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering, have been working with stakeholders on the OpenSidewalks project to improve the collection, organization and sharing of data on the built environment to promote equity and inclusivity in transportation. The project aims to establish consistent and detailed standards for monitoring data on pedestrian pathways and their connectivity within multimodal transport networks.

Using data collected from sidewalks, ramps, and traffic lights, Caspi and Bolten developed AccessMap, a web application launched in 2017 that provides personalized routes to pedestrians based on their mobility profile. Maps are available for three Washington cities: Seattle, Bellingham, and Mount Vernon, and Expansion is underway for Austin, Texas and San Jose, California.

The data collected as part of the OpenSidewalks project is not only useful for people with disabilities but also for city planners and mobility authorities who are responsible for ensuring fair mobility for all. This pedestrian-centric approach is part of a revolution in designing the city.

Pedestrians have a wide variety of needs and preferences. This is the reason the AccessMap application not only offers the choice of a static profile but also other characteristics specific to each of us. Labeling a path as “wheelchair accessible” would not make sense if we do not consider the variety of abilities among wheelchair users. 

Because pedestrian data has typically been so neglected, the OpenSidewalks project needs to tackle many issues at once: defining data schemes, creating data organization and applications, and proving their utility. 

NeTEx, a European standard for data about public transport networks

The accessibility data collection is indeed a global issue. Now let us look at how it is treated in Europe. 

NeTEx stands for “Network Timetable Exchange.” It is a European technical standard (CEN) for exchanging Public Transport Network, schedules, and related data. It covers three topics: the Public Transport Network topology, Scheduled Timetables, and Fare information.

NeTEx schema can be used to exchange Data about the Accessibility of services, stops and vehicles to passengers with disabilities or reduced mobility (passengers traveling with young children, elderly people, or passengers carrying heavy luggage).

The NeTEx public transport network model can be used to describe accessibility of all modes of transport: rail, bus (urban, suburban and regional), metro, ferry, etc. Accessibility data includes physical limitations, facilities, and assistance services. This data is aimed to enrich trip planners and offers the possibility to plan a route compatible with one’s abilities. Some member countries of the European Union have mandatory requirements to collect and harmonize accessibility data. 

The data can be classified into four categories:

Accessibility of sites, e.g., stations and stop places, including buildings and parking areas.
Data include for example elevator dimensions and controls, step heights, handrails, number of steps in a staircase, ramp gradients, etc.

Accessibility and connections: this set of data considers the fact that people with reduced mobility may need extra time to change services, either because they move more slowly, or because they must take a different path. This information is crucial for journey planners.

Accessibility of navigation paths: several navigation paths can be associated with the same connection. A navigation path is made of path links recording the characteristics of a path section. This can include elevators, tactile ground surface indicators, stairs, lighting, handrails, etc.

Accessibility of journeys: this category includes facilities and vehicles. Data related to vehicles are for example wheelchair access equipment such low floor access, on board wheelchair, and even assistance services. 

In this article, we wanted to show you the initiatives in favor of the collection of accessibility data around the world. This is a major issue and that the standardization of data is crucial. But it is also a huge challenge for cities and transport networks to succeed in this collection. This must undoubtedly go through participatory solutions involving all citizens, as the mountain to be climbed is so high.

Want to know more about issues related to the mobility of people with disabilities? Check out these articles:

Removing Traffic Lights vs Pedestrian Safety: a Guide to Inclusive Streets

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

How to Maintain Pedestrian Accessibility When Carrying Out Street Works?

Published on 29th November, 2021

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A blind person using a cane is walking towards a staircase

Manual wheelchair users do not have exactly the same needs as power wheelchair users. People with low vision do not have the same needs as blind people. Every kind of disability has its specifications, and every person their preferences.

writer

Lise Wagner

Lise Wagner

Accessibility Expert

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Hearing Impaired People: a Multitude of Profiles for Different Needs

Hearing Impaired People: a Multitude of Profiles for Different Needs

Hearing Impaired People: a Multitude of Profiles for Different Needs  Did you know that hearing impaired people have several profiles and that the way they identify themselves is important? You may be familiar with deaf and hard of hearing people but for each of...

Hearing Impaired People: a Multitude of Profiles for Different Needs

Hearing Impaired People: a Multitude of Profiles for Different Needs

Hearing Impaired People: a Multitude of Profiles for Different Needs  Did you know that hearing impaired people have several profiles and that the way they identify themselves is important? You may be familiar with deaf and hard of hearing people but for each of...

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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.

Accessibility for All: Why Removing Barriers Benefits Us All

Accessibility for All: Why Removing Barriers Benefits Us All

View on a rotunda, a great example of accessibility for all

Accessibility for All: Why Removing Barriers Benefits Us All

For 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 citizens, all have a part to play in creating a safe and comfortable place for everybody.

Because that’s what accessibility for all aims at: improving everybody’s lives, starting with some of the most vulnerable populations. People with disabilities face a whole different world than the one “able” people live in.

But we share common points and situations where accessibility for all takes its full meaning and truly improves our lives whether we are shopping, commuting, using our phone, wandering in a museum or the streets…

Let’s see what accessibility can do for us all! And how we can design it to suit us! You’ll discover that some technologies we use every day come from accessible solutions!

What’s accessibility for all?

Accessibility for all suggests that we are all concerned about this concept, regardless of our profile. Thus, whether some of us are visually impaired or have motor issues or are simply older or have none of the above, accessibility represents a goal for all of us to reach.

A reminder of what accessibility entails: enabling everyone to have access to everything. It occurs when obstacles are removed. For example, when an elevator is installed instead or in addition to stairs in a building for wheelchair users or when adapted equipment is provided such as screen readers for visually impaired people to use their smartphones. 

Consequently, the goal of accessibility is to find accommodations so that people with disabilities can have the same experiences as any other person, whether they’re in a public venue or at home. 

Taking into account that accessibility is about making sure people with disabilities have the same chances and access as anybody else, can there be one solution to suit everybody? Especially since there are a lot of different disabilities and types. 

Well, that’s universal design’s take: one solution that meets everyone’s needs. Let’s take the example of a video. If it both has audio and captions, it can be as accessible for visually impaired people as it is for those with a hearing impairment. Plus, if the language used in the video is clear and easily understandable, people with an intellectual disability can also enjoy it. As for users with no disabilities, they can watch the video on the subway without bothering other riders simply by muting it and reading the subtitles.

Considering that in 2019, there were 3.97 billion Internet users in the World, a number constantly on the rise, digital accessibility for all is more than necessary. 

And it’s also mandatory as stated in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Making sure a video is captioned is just one task among others. Another useful tip we can all follow is providing alt text for online images. In that way, blind or visually impaired users aren’t excluded. They can easily access the same content as any other user.

For those who would like to know more on this field, check out our article: 

Digital Accessibility: Why? For Whom? How?

How to design for all?

Now that we all acknowledge that there are indeed solutions that can be accessible to everyone, only one question remains: how can we design for all?

What’s to keep in mind is that accessibility for all concerns and impacts all aspects of our lives: the college we study to, the shopping mall we do our Christmas shopping in, our place of work, the restaurant that serves our favourite meal, the museum that enlightens us, the public transit we use to commute every day… To sum up, the very city we live in.

For people with disabilities to get around freely and in complete autonomy, how can designers, architects and city makers conceive a city that’s accessible to them and ultimately to all?

By applying one simple rule: when it comes to designing a venue, a park or a subway station, always put yourselves at the shoes of users with disabilities. Show empathy and open mindedness to understand their needs and meet them. And also, think of accessibility at the earliest stage of your design process.

This means asking directly to those involved: associations representing people with disabilities. What are their needs? What can you do to make them heard? You’ll be sure to implement solutions that are truly useful and helpful for all. 

Focusing on a user-centered approach is one of the key components of inclusive design. A concept that provides accessibility for different groups of people. Inclusive design acts as in between accessibility and universal design. But what matters here is that there’s constant research and feedback from users with disabilities to make sure that the solution perfectly meets their needs.

And for the urban planners among you, designing for all can be a simple thing such as lowered sidewalks. They’re essential for wheelchair users and pedestrians with reduced mobility who use a walker or a cane to get around in the city without any difficulties. But lowered sidewalks are also useful for people carrying luggage or pushing a stroller or even for children.

Every little thing implemented counts, especially regarding accessibility for all. If you take the example of the European Union, since 2010 they’ve been rewarding the most accessible European cities with an access city award.

This award represents the perfect opportunity for candidate cities to shine and show how they’ve enhanced equal access and inclusion for all their inhabitants. From ensuring barrier-free accessibility in buildings, streets and natural spaces to providing accessible buses and metro networks and easy-to-understand information. 

Check out this year’s initiatives with this downloadable report on Examples of best practices in making EU cities more accessible!

It’s true that cities from all over the world are renewing themselves and are rethinking what they can provide their citizens with. New York City is living proof: the Big Apple happens to be a trailblazer in the latest innovations regarding inclusive mobility!

Indeed, New York City’s bold take on mobility issues has permitted it to implement an indoor navigation app designed especially for people with disabilities. The app Evelity, installed at Jay St-MetroTech subway station, provides step-by-step instructions according to the user profile. For blind and visually impaired users, Evelity gives audio instructions but for deaf and hearing impaired users, the app gives textual information. The optimized routes it offers enable wheelchair users to avoid being confronted to stairs. As for users with a mental impairment, Evelity gives easy-to-understand information to help them get around without having to depend on someone else.

This type of solution demonstrates exactly what accessibility for all means: a one-size-fits-all solution! Because if Evelity guides users with disabilities in a complex venue, it can also help any other type of users find their bearings in an unknown and maze-like facility.

Examples of solutions that were first invented to help disabled people but are now commonly used today

If the app Evelity isn’t currently being used in every major public transportation system of every large city, other solutions which were first designed for people with disabilities are now part of everyday lives. You’ll be surprised by some of them!

The remote control: we use it without even thinking. Can’t move because your cat is taking a nap on your knees but you want to change channels? That’s simple: just use your remote control. Thanks to it, we barely need to lift a finger to watch TV. And that’s what its sole purpose has been!

Indeed, the wireless remote control was first invented in 1955 for people with limited mobility by American engineer Eugene J. Polley! An invention that also improved the lives of the elderly and is now a convenience for all of us.

The typewriter: well, alright, we may not use it anymore but we can sure look at it as the computer’s ancestor. Francesco Rampazatto, an Italian inventor, created a typing instrument in 1575. The device was composed of cubic wooden embossed characters to help blind people communicate with others.

The telephone: we all know it was invented by Scottish engineer Alexander Graham Bell in 1876 (of course we all knew that). But what may be less known is that Alexander Graham Bell was strongly involved with the deaf community having a wife and a mother that were both deaf. He taught people with a hearing impairment and that’s his work with them that gave him the idea of “electronic speech” that turned into the telephone.  

The office scanner: another invention that emerged from meeting the needs of disabled people. In 1976, American engineer Ray Kurzweil invented a reading machine to transcribe written text to blind people after meeting a blind man who told me he’d like books to tell their stories. To do so, Ray Kurzweil had to conceive a flatbed scanner and a text-to-speech synthesizer, two technologies that were unheard of at the time. His invention evolved to turn into the office scanner many of us use every day. 

SMS text messages: even though the first SMS was sent in 1992 by one of the engineers who worked on developing this type of communication, British Neil Papworth, the idea of text messages actually emerged in 1984. Finnish engineer Matti Makkonen came up with it as a way to communicate with deaf people. Thanks to the work of both engineers, now billions of texts are sent each day worldwide!

For sure, without these groundbreaking innovations, our lives wouldn’t be what they are today. We use them on a daily basis and yet we probably take them for granted. But what an eye-opening experience to realize that these innovations emerged thanks to engineers who first focused on improving the lives of disabled people! 

We can only but wonder what other innovative solutions will see the day, solutions that benefit us all. Because it seems that inclusion was what guaranteed the success and the longevity of these major innovations from the two last centuries.

Why does accessibility for all matter?

Now, you’re starting to understand why accessibility for all is so important. And the key role of thinking in terms of inclusive solutions. 

As we’ve mentioned at the beginning of this article, over 1 billion people in the world have disabilities. That represents roughly the whole population of India! We need to remove accessibility barriers now!

Especially since there’s a growing aging population. According to the United Nations, by 2050 one in six people in the world will be over the age of 65. In 2019, it amounted to one in eleven. As you’ve realized, this type of population is concerned with accessibility issues and ultimately, accessible equipment: easy-grip handrails, contrasting and non-slippery stair nosing, universal pictograms… Seeing that we’re all getting older, we may need accessible solutions later on in our lives.

But it’s true that when we think of disabilities, wheelchair users are usually the ones that first come to mind. It’s simply due to the fact that people with motor disabilities have the most “obvious” disabilities, as in the most visible ones. The thing is that there is a whole range of disabilities and that most of them are invisible. It means that at first glance you can’t know if someone has a disability. It’s only when you see this person struggling at a task that you realize they might have a disability. For example, deafness doesn’t appear obvious when you pass strangers in the streets. 

Invisible Disabilities: 80% of Disabled People Are Concerned!

Disabled people and the elderly aren’t the only ones to be concerned by accessibility issues. Indeed, we can all at some point be in an incapacitating situation. How can you use the subway with a broken leg? How can you find your bearings in a venue when you can’t speak the language of the country you’re visiting? Or what does it happen when one of your relatives is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s? You may need to act as caregiver so what can you do to make the living conditions of your relative more suited to their needs?

That’s why accessibility for all matters… You never know what life has planned for you. Besides, it’s unfathomable to enjoy all the opportunities the world has to offer knowing that over 1 billion people experience difficulties accessing them! This way of thinking makes us grow, feel stronger as empaths and act to make the world accessible to all! We all benefit from accessible solutions, regardless of our profile. 

As Neil Armstrong would have put it, accessibility for all represents one small step for man and one giant leap for mankind. So are you ready to aim for the moon with us? Inclusion is within our reach!

Check out another area where disabilities inspire change and improvement:

Disability as an Innovation Driver for the Smart City

Published on October 15th, 2021

media

A wheelchair user and a woman using a cane side by side

When it comes to designing a venue, a park or a subway station, always put yourselves at the shoes of users with disabilities. Show empathy and open mindedness to understand their needs and meet them. And also, think of accessibility at the earliest stage of your design process.

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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Hearing Impaired People: a Multitude of Profiles for Different Needs

Hearing Impaired People: a Multitude of Profiles for Different Needs

Hearing Impaired People: a Multitude of Profiles for Different Needs  Did you know that hearing impaired people have several profiles and that the way they identify themselves is important? You may be familiar with deaf and hard of hearing people but for each of...

Hearing Impaired People: a Multitude of Profiles for Different Needs

Hearing Impaired People: a Multitude of Profiles for Different Needs

Hearing Impaired People: a Multitude of Profiles for Different Needs  Did you know that hearing impaired people have several profiles and that the way they identify themselves is important? You may be familiar with deaf and hard of hearing people but for each of...

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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

stay updated

Get the latest news about accessibility and the Smart City.

other articles for you

share our article!

more articles

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!

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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.

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Lise Wagner

Lise Wagner

Accessibility Expert

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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.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Inclusive design, universal design and accessibility: an inevitable triptych 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Inclusive design with a human-centered approach

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

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

⊗ Observing the user groups;

⊗ Analyzing the research;

⊗ Communicating with the user groups on the issue;

⊗ Offering a solution or a prototype;

⊗ Feedback from the groups;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

writer

Carole Martinez

Carole Martinez

Content Manager

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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.

Accessibility Toolkit: When Complete Streets Help People with Disabilities

Accessibility Toolkit: When Complete Streets Help People with Disabilities

Accessibility Toolkit: When Complete Streets Help People with Disabilities

 

After World War II, cars’ supremacy started to shape Northern American cities. Consequently men started to be more and more dependent on their personal vehicle to move around and roads were designed to the detriment of sidewalks, mass transit and bike trails. 

It was not until the early 1970s that some states like Oregon began to design the urban space with all users in mind to make transportation network safer and more efficient. This is how Complete Streets-like policy was born. Many jurisdictions have followed over the years.

Today, no less than 1,200 agencies at local, regional and state levels have adopted Complete Street policies in the United States. Depending on the jurisdiction, Complete Streets can be a non-binding resolution, incorporated into local transportation plans or a fully bidding law.

Meanwhile accessibility has never been such a strong challenge. According to recent studies, 1 adult in 4 lives with a disability which amounts to 61 million Americans (cdc.gov).

So what are Complete Streets policies and above all why do they matter for disabled people?

Complete Streets design elements

Streets are more and more congested. It can be hard for everyone to find their place, especially in city centers where pedestrians, bikes and motorized vehicles coexist. 

Complete Streets policies precisely aim at enabling safe use and support mobility for all users using various street design elements such as:

⊗ Pedestrian infrastructure: sidewalks, crosswalks, median crossing islands, curb extensions, pinchpoint, Accessible pedestrian Signals for visually impaired people, pedestrian wayfinding, greenery, and street furniture.

⊗ Traffic calming measures to lower speeds of vehicles: speed humps, speed tables, speed cushions, signage, and traffic lights.

⊗ Bicycle accommodations: protected or dedicated bicycle lanes, repair stations, and bicycle parking.

⊗ Public transit equipment: Bus Rapid Transit, bus pullouts, transit signal priority, bus shelters, and dedicated bus lanes.

Incomplete streets obstacles for disabled people

Cars’ supremacy left a legacy in Northern American cities. 

Car-centric roadways lead to uneven access to urban services. And it is all the more true for disabled people who most often cannot use cars. Cities that don’t offer Complete Streets measures in their busiest areas force citizens and especially disabled people to face huge challenges when getting around.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of what is causing difficulties to pedestrians with disabilities in “incomplete streets”-like designs:

⊗ Unpaved, broken, or disconnected surfaces

⊗ Lack of curb cuts and ramp

⊗ Ponding of stormwater and runoff streams near intersections

⊗ Lack of Accessible Pedestrian Signals (APS) at signalized intersections. This article goes into more details about this specific point.

⊗ Inadequate sidewalks or intersections design

⊗ Wide intersections with limited crossing time

⊗ Lack of escalators, elevators or ramps to overcome steps

⊗ Inaccessible bus stops

⊗ Large spaces without landmarks

⊗ Routes going nowhere

⊗ Inappropriate sidewalk obstacles

⊗ and the list goes on…

What benefits for disabled people?

Complete Streets design provides an environment where all street users, particularly the most vulnerable, can get around safely and efficiently. This means that regardless of the mode of transportation, the age, the ability, or the confidence level, streets are accessible, safe  and appropriate for the needs of all users. 

Ontario was the first Canadian state to adopt a Complete Streets policy to help disabled citizens navigate streets more efficiently. In 2017, Ontario’s Growth Plan encouraged equity by incorporating strong directives in order to build streets that meet the needs of all road users.

“In the design, refurbishment, or reconstruction of the existing and planned street network, a complete streets approach will be adopted that ensures the needs and safety of all road users are considered and appropriately accommodated.”

Moreover statistics show that pedestrian street activity increases support of local businesses and expands employment opportunities.

Streets are complete and accessible using mainly:

⊗ Tactile walking indicators;

⊗ Accessible Pedestrian Signals;

⊗ Push buttons accessible to wheelchair users;

⊗ Ramps and curb cuts

However, the legacy of years of valuing cars in Northern American society and the difficulty to change attitudes towards the most fragile people show that there is a lot of work to be done. 

Considering that major american cities have less than 1% of signalized intersections equipped with Accessible Pedestrian Signals, it leaves a lot of room for improvement!

Wondering which Accessible Pedestrian Signal to choose? Use the new APS comparator!

Find out more about this policy.

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Complete Streets design provides an environment where all street users, particularly the most vulnerable, can get around safely and efficiently.

This means that regardless of the mode of transportation, the age, the ability, or the confidence level, streets are accessible, safe  and appropriate for the needs of all users.

writer

Zoe Gervais

Zoe Gervais

Content Manager

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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.