Europe is an urban continent. The vast majority of the EU population – four out of every five people – live in a town or city. For the roughly 80 million EU citizens who have some form of disability, navigating the bustling maze of a city can pose all sorts of challenges. People with disabilities would often like to be more mobile and independent, so are there better ways to design cities so they are more accessible for everybody?
There might be no wheelchair lifts on local buses, or no Braille on signposts, or perhaps there are annoying steps that block people in wheelchairs (or people with prams, or mobility strollers) from entering a building. Should city planners and architects consider these issues more carefully? And, where there are accessibility challenges, can technology help us overcome them?
On 1 March 2015, Debating Europe attended an event in Brussels hosted by the European Disability Forum and Google. The event brought together innovators and tech entrepreneurs from across Europe, and explored how technology can help people with disabilities to live more independently.
We saw presentations from some of the teams taking part in Google’s Global Impact Challenge, which is awarding grants to nonprofit projects working towards greater accessibility through technology. We spoke to some of the people around Europe who are designing and building such technology, and we asked them their thoughts on making cities more accessible places.
How can technology make cities more accessible? We put this question to Katherine Payne, Marketing and Communications Lead at the UK-based Wayfindr, an app which enables people with visual impairments to navigate urban transport systems, retail spaces, and other indoor environments using beacon technology.
Despite research suggesting that almost half (43%) of people with visual impairments want to leave their homes more often, navigating the confusing maze of a modern city can be a huge challenge. Technologies like Wayfindr can potentially help open up cities to people with disabilities, making independent living much easier.
Here’s the video of Katherine Payne’s answer:
And the full text transcript of her response is below:
Cities can be made much more accessible for disabled people through technology. There’s websites like Euan’s Guide, which is almost like TripAdvisor for disabled people. It allows you to review the accessibility of a venue and comment on those things.
Then there’s also much more exciting developments, such as the things that beacons allow us to do, which means that we can start using systems like WayFindr to open up indoor spaces to disabled people, people with vision impairments, or other access requirements. Which allows us to open up new journeys and new areas to people.
How can cities be made more accessible? Can new technology help us to achieve that goal? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!