Accessibility means uninterrupted mobility, especially with persons with some form of disabilities – people in the wheelchair, using canes, walkers, rolling walkers with seas, forearm crutches, and those with reduced mobility reach their full potential.
Like many of us, these people also have the right to inclusive and accessible environments and equal opportunities in all aspects of life from leisure, education, and work.
By 2050, people with disabilities living in urban areas will reach 940 million, 15% of the roughly 6.25 billion total urban residents. Adding seniors with health impairments and parents who are using strollers, the number of people who will benefit from accessible infrastructure could still go up (Salman, 2018).
It is not just people with disability (PoD) who benefits from accessible infrastructure but also seniors, new parents pushing strollers or prams, and suitcases.
Seniors or people aged over 60 is the fastest growing and largest population group who will be requiring this infrastructure. Seniors who have various health conditions – diminished vision, hearing loss, and body pains essentially live with a disability. The extra space on the bus or subway elevator can also allow parents or families with strollers access.
The fact that accessible areas are intergenerational, serving parents, their young children, and seniors should push policy-makers to look at a broader lens that will reveal the actual beneficiaries (Donovan, 2018).
“It is important that upcoming policies and laws highlight where accessibility intersects with the wider public interest. The old way of discussing accessibility perpetuates the idea that it is a social compromise, instead of a social good”(Donovan, 2018).
Although some instruments and laws such as the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act, Britain’s Equality Act, and Australia’s Disability Discrimination Act in 1992 aim to boost the rights and access of people with disabilities, in reality, it could look very different.
A reporter asked people with disabilities from cities like Dundee, London, New York, and Caracas about their experiences when they go about the city. They find that accessibility can be very challenging. Some areas don’t even have accessibility, and sometimes unsympathetic able bodies can make it difficult for them to access facilities designated to them (Hunt, 2017).
Some cities have shown significant improvements and innovations when it comes to creating accessibility. Seattle city developed an app called AccessMap that helps people with a disability navigate and plan their route around the city. Singapore’s Universal Design encourages accessibility in new developments, public transport, buildings. Washington, DC has the world’s most accessible metro system, rail carriages, and bus fleet, and Sonoma, California, demonstrates what an autism-friendly design house looks like (Salman, 2018).
Denmark’s Musholm sports, holiday and conference complex have won multiple awards for the high accessibility of its facilities. Norway’s accessible co-housing community has won the ‘Design and Architecture Norway’s Innovation Award for Universal Design’ for its open and spacious design, allowing people with disabilities flexibility of movement and access to every part of the building and into the courtyard (Lowenkron, 2021).
Universal design is a concept that allows users, both abled bodies and those with disabilities, to have a say even before the design process starts. “The users’ influence and participation are the core investment in the building of a strong social community,” says Isobel Taylor, an architect at the firm Helen & Hard.
Cities and local councils have the power to enforce or create accessibility in public spaces. Providing access means inclusion and independence and not always needing staff to come and help, which can incur additional costs. Accessibility brings down barriers where people with disabilities and mobility issues do not become the center of everything but giving them freedom and independence to be themselves.
Integration of accessibility into infrastructure design, refit, rehabilitation, renewals, and maintenance makes good sense and should be included in infrastructure management professional’s good practice guides and implementation.
Salman, S. (2018, February 14). What would a truly disabled-accessible city look like? The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2018/feb/14/what-disability-accessible-city-look-like
Donovan, L. (2018, February 15). Who benefits from accessible infrastructure? Policy Options. Retrieved from https://policyoptions.irpp.org/magazines/february-2018/who-benefits-from-accessible-infrastructure/
Hunt, E. (2017, September 22). ‘I feel like a second-class citizen’: readers on navigating cities with a disability. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/sep/22/second-class-citizen-readers-navigating-cities-disability
Lowenkron, H. (2021, August 18). Creating More Accessible, Inclusive Buildings. Bloomberg . Retrieved from https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2021-08-18/how-universal-design-creates-inclusive-infrastructure