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.