Technology is moving at an incredible pace, and much of the talk about smart cities discusses how sensors, automation and energy-efficient buildings could change the lives of the residents. It also means that technology provides the opportunity for making smart cities inclusive for people with disabilities right from the design and planning stage. But will they?
The idea is for smart cities is to operate largely without human intervention, and while people will set the technologies to help smart cities function, automation will reduce the necessity for human staff. But consider touch screen purchases such as travel tickets for those with limited motor control as an example of when a smart city needs to be inclusive if a human presence is not there.
Even with the best intentions for inclusivity, things can go wrong such as placing a defibrillator for a beach behind a shed containing two community wheelchairs. Or the button installed for automatically opening a door that was too high for a person in a wheelchair to reach.
The point is that people without disabilities may find it difficult to understand the different challenges faced by those who are disabled – and so it seems obvious to include the views of disabled people in the planning processes and intended outcomes for smart cities. Before the professionals finish their plans, they need to be aware of and understand hidden barriers that people outside of the disabled community may not notice.
Some things are fundamental. For example, public conveniences. Generally, we’re not impressed, so how much more difficult must it be for a disabled user when the traffic flow is restricted, and the doorways are narrow? Nor do we tend to consider the necessity of braille for signage, or a text equivalent to audible feedback.
Obviously, we enjoy aesthetically pleasing surroundings, but this mustn’t pose an unnecessary barrier for disabled people. How do you negotiate a revolving door in a wheelchair? Wouldn’t a sign be helpful if a usually clear route has been blocked by construction or repair work? It makes perfect sense that well-planned smart city that assists people with disabilities, could benefit everyone – think of temporary disability through injury or age-related difficulties.
A bit of forethought gives planners a real opportunity to integrate improved access for everyone who visits or lives in a smart city. Starting now.
Lewis Reed Group
With over 20 years experience producing and selling wheelchair accessible vehicles in the UK, you can be sure that we can offer excellent customer service with a level of knowledge that is completely unrivalled.