What would a truly disabled-accessible city look like?

Most cities are utterly unfriendly to people with disabilities but with almost one billion estimated to be urban-dwellers by 2050, a few cities are undergoing a remarkable shift

To David Meere, a visually impaired man from Melbourne, among the various obstacles to life in cities is another that is less frequently discussed: fear.

” The fear of not being able to navigate busy, cluttered and visually oriented environments is a major barrier to participation in normal life ,” says Meere, 52,” be that going to the shops, going for a walk in the park, going to work, looking for run, or simply socialising .”

That’s what makes an innovative project at the city’s Southern Cross train station so important to him. A new” beacon navigation system” sends audio cues to users via their smartphones, providing directions, flagging escalator outages and otherwise transforming what previously a “no-go” region for Meere.

” I no longer have to hope there’s a willing spectator or a capable staff member to provide direct aid ,” he says.” And on a very personal and powerful level it allows me to use this major transport hub in one of Australia’s largest cities with certainty and freedom as a parent with small children. It’s a real game-changer .”

Meere was one of the hundreds of millions of people with disabilities who live in cities around the world. By 2050, they will number an estimated 940 million people, or 15% of what will be approximately 6.25 billion total urban dwellers, lending an urgency to the UN’s declaration that poor accessibility ” presents a major challenge “.

For the physically or mentally disabled, hurdles can range from blocked wheelchair ramps, to buildings without lifts, to inaccessible toilets, to shops without step-free access. Meanwhile, for learning disabled people or those on the autistic spectrum, the cluttered and hectic metropolitan environment can be a sensory minefield.





  • Stairs, revolving doors, cobbles and steps on to trains are a few of the features that make it difficult for people in wheelchairs to access their cities

Although the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and statutes such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, Britain’s Equality Act and Australia’s Disability Discrimination Act aim to boost their entitlements and access, current realities on the ground can be very different, as Guardian City readers recently reported.

And yet, cities benefit from accessibility. One World Health Organisation examine described how, like Meere, disabled people are less likely to socialise or work without accessible transport. Cities also miss out on economic gains: in the UK the” purple pound” is worth PS212bn, and the accessible-tourism market an estimated PS12bn.

Some cities, however, are leading the way.

Seattle: a sidewalk mapping app


Mapping apps induce navigating cities a doddle for most people- but their lack of detail on ramps and fell kerbs mean they don’t always work well for people with a physical disability.

Take the hilly city of Seattle, where several neighbourhoods have no pavements at all, and many streets have a slope grade( or tilt) of 10% or even 20%.

The University of Washington’s Taskar Center for Accessible Technology has a answer: a map-based app permitting pedestrians with limited mobility to plan accessible roads. AccessMap enables users to enter a destination, and receive indicated roads depending on customised settings, such as limiting uphill or downhill inclines. The image above shows Seattle streets coloured by incline: green entails flat; red entails a slope of 10% or above.

For example, while Google Maps sends pedestrians from University Street station to City hall via Seneca Street, with its steep 10% grade, AccessMap sends them via Pike Street instead- a slope of less than 2 %.


  • OpenSidewalks is crowdsourcing info such as pavement thicknes and kerb drop-downs

It also supplements data regarding Seattle’s Department of Transportation and the US Geological Survey with datum from mapathon events. Now the Taskar Centre’s pertained OpenSidewalks project is taking it farther by crowdsourcing extra datum, such as pavement width and the location of handrails.

Singapore: universal design


By 2030, one in five Singaporeans will be over 60, with this” silver tsunami” driving awareness of ageing and disability benefits. The city may not historically be known for all-inclusive practises, but has recently won kudo from the UN for its accessible ” user-friendly built environment “.

The Universal Design principles drawn up by Singapore’s Building Construction Authority have encouraged accessibility in new developments since its launch in 2007.

CapitaGreen, in the central business district, is a 40 -storey office block that has won a host of UD awards. Completed in 2014 at a cost of S $1.3 bn( PS700m ), the Toyo Ito-designed structure features column-free spaces and a low concierge counter to help disabled people move around the building more easily.


  • Braille directions on handrails in the award-winning CapitaGreen office block

Lift doors stay open longer, handrails flank both sides of staircases, and the chairs have grab manages. A hearing induction loop enables clearer communication for those using hearing aids, while Braille directions, tactile the guidelines and easy-to-read pictographs help the visually impaired. Routes into the office from underground pedestrian walkways and two Mass Rapid Transit( MRT) stations are barrier-free.

Singapore’s MRT has furthermore been working to improve accessibility over the past decade. The 30 -year-old nework has been becoming ever more lifts, wider gates and tactile guidance, and more than 80% of the 138 stations have at least two barrier-free routes.

The title of world’s most accessible metro system, however, probably goes to Washington, DC. All 91 subway stations are fully accessible, along with its rail carriages and the entire bus fleet.

Sonoma: autism-friendly design


People with autism can be hypersensitive to sound, illuminate and movement, and become overwhelmed by noisy, cluttered or crowded spaces. Sweetwater Spectrum, a $6.8 m supported-housing project in Sonoma, California, aims to address this.

The site, which opened in 2013, includes four 4-bed homes for 16 young adults, their home communities centre, therapy pools and an urban farm- all designed by Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects according to autism-specific principles recommended by Arizona State University to promote a sense of calm.


  • Inside the Sweetwater Spectrum housing project

Along with simple, clear lines, the homes are designed so residents can clearly see spaces across thresholds. Noise is kept to a minimum thanks to quiet heating and ventilation systems and thoughtful design, such as locating the laundry room away from the bedrooms. Fittings and decor reduce sensory stimulation and jumble, with muted colours, neutral tones and recessed or natural light.

Korsor: sport for all


The Musholm sports, holiday and meeting complex in Korsor has won numerous awardings, most recently from the International Olympic Committee and the International Paralympic Committee, for its 2015 redesign of the basic 1998 site.

At the centre of the venue, owned by the Danish Muscular Dystrophy Foundation, is a vast, circular athletics corridor, with an aerial ropeway and climbing wall for wheelchair users and an incorporated pulley system. Outside, a 100 m ramp spirals up from the base of the hall to a sky lounge.( The ramp can also be used as a wheelchair racing way .)

The 24 hotel rooms each have ceiling hoists, electronic curtains, beds that can be automatically raised or reclined, adjustable height sinks and accessible toilets. By the waterside, a private bathing jetty is wide enough for wheelchairs and accessible via a ramp.


  • The multi-purpose athletics hall in the Musholm complex

” Accessibility is necessary felt but not watched ,” says foundation director Henrik Ib Jorgensen. Musholm, which expense EUR1 4.5 m( PS12. 9m) to build, is operate as a social enterprise.” Lack of accessibility, other people’s hypothesis, body ideals and a lack self confidence among people with disabilities are often the biggest hurdles for diversity ,” he adds.” We wanted to create a place where there is space for changes .”

Denmark is also home to what is widely regarded as the world’s most accessible office build. The House of Disabled People’s Organisations in the Copenhagen suburb of Taastrup is the shared headquarters of some 30 different disability groups. Built in 2012 for 178 m krone( PS21m ), the Universal Design includes drive-through lifts so wheelchair users don’t have to turn around, and small, tactile knob on railings so blind people can easily tell which floor they are on.

Chester: an accessible historic city


Chester in north-west England is renowned for its two-mile circuit of Roman, Saxon and Medieval walls and its elevated walkways, called Rows. But the city’s historic status belies its role as an accessibility champion: last year it became the first British city to win the European commission’s Access City award.

The Rows are accessible with ramps, a lift and an escalator, while the council’s 15 -year regeneration strategy prioritises accessibility in new developments.

Take the PS300m Northgate shopping and leisure development, to be completed by 2021. The site will include accessible stores, eateries, housing and a 157 -room hotel including eight accessible rooms with ceiling hoists. The hotel will include a changing places facility for people with complex or multiple and profound disabilities.( Unlike criterion accessible toilets, these include a height-adjustable changing bench, adjustable sink, a toilet designed for assisted use and hoist .) Chester already has six such changing places facilities, including one at the recently opened bus interchange, and more are planned around the city.

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