What Cities Can Do to Improve Accessibility for the Disabled

What Cities Can Do to Improve Accessibility for the Disabled

16 June 2017

In a time when the modern global citizen seeks inclusion and the dissolution of prejudices for all—not just in the USA, but on a global scale—there is often a group that is widely overlooked in the equation. The old tenant of equal treatment for all might be strong for some, but for a disabled citizen looking to access public spaces and services, their needs often go unmet. Though many cities around the world have heavily invested their time and money in developing and improving public spaces for disabled use, a great many cities still lag behind the times and are in dire need of improvement.

With the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, the United States ushered in a new era of anti-discrimination for the disabled. Not only did the ADA mark an end to workplace and hiring discriminatory practices for the disabled, it also steered public development and improvement initiatives like handicapped accessible bathrooms, ramps to allow to public buildings, and changing elements of street structures city-wide. What followed was international recognition of the principles that the ADA called to the forefront of modern society, and adoption of new regulations to improve the lives of the disabled among us all. As the world began implementing necessary changes to improve public access, some cities made tremendous strides forward and have since reaped the benefits of disabled tourism. For others, the near-30-year journey to restructuring is still an ongoing one which has left many differently abled people out of luck.


Los Angeles Sidewalks

In April of 2015, Los Angeles came to an agreement with several attorneys for disabled Americans who had filed suits regarding the city’s broken and neglected sidewalks. The Bureau of Street Services released an estimate that was hard to swallow: nearly 40% of LA’s sidewalks were in need of repair. The streets, buckled, crumbling, and otherwise impassable have become serious navigation hazards, for many blind or handicapped peoples, leading to injury in some cases. Los Angeles has now promised to spend 1.3 billion dollars over the next ten years to address the problems, both critical and long term, and eliminate the backlog of repairs already on the calendar. The cost for sidewalk maintenance in LA will reach about $31 million dollars annually, but when you factor in the growth and potential revenue that can be gained by a city becoming more inclusive and reactive to the needs of citizens and visitors alike, it becomes a rather easy pill to swallow.


Milan: Becoming a Disabled-Friendly City

This year’s European Union Access City Award was presented to the Italian city of Milan for their efforts to improve accessibility for all, an undertaking five years in the making since Italy’s ratification of the UN’s United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Taking aim at addressing buildings’ architectural barriers, public spaces, and transportation to improve the both the quality of life and ease restrictions for the disabled, Milan has so far spent €25 million on repairs and projects including urban planning, education services, public spaces and additional public services, and has budgeted €43 million more for annual spending for further development. And their work did not go unnoticed by the disabled community. Recommendation after recommendation for tourists taking trips to Italy have all pointed to Milan as being a disabled-friendly city, and hailing it as a must-see destination.

If you are unsure if you live in a city that is working to create a safe, barrier-free and accessible city for the disabled, take note of how your city’s modern technology is evolving. For example, a city’s website should be designed with disabled users in mind. This might include information for visitors and/or accessibility features for blind people who want to explore the website. Are the sidewalk cutouts for wheelchair access present and in good condition? Are there raised street surfaces on sidewalks or leading into buildings to aid the blind while using canes? If you have ever attended a lecture or public event, did you notice whether there was a sign language interpreter present? The way in which a city makes attempts to include disabled citizen has a great impact on the lives of every citizen, and sets the tone for businesses and residents alike.

Private businesses can also help their cities develop their accessibility credentials by becoming more inclusive themselves. By thinking more broadly about how access can be improved to business facilities, features, and in the digital world. Businesses can become more inclusive by making simple modifications to assist disabled customers, clients, and employees. Beyond handicapped parking spots, employers may not consider how effective the installation of truncated warning tiles are for both the visually-impaired and the non-impaired as well. By offering a warning about a change in the path ahead, which even a sighted person may miss due to cell phones, reading, or other common distractions, your business can address the needs of the many, not the few.

Larger changes come about when cities take the initiative to change their attitudes toward progressive technology, urban planning, and design. By working to build an inclusive culture which takes into account the availability of programs, education, employment, and creates a barrier-free environment to facilitate access, cities and citizens collectively develop a city that is free of restrictions and allows for progressive modernization with everyone in mind. Innovation and inclusion work in tandem when it comes to city design, and though countless cities have taken strides to address the needs of disabled citizens, for many there is still work to be done. It all begins with open-minded thinking for all citizens of your community, and a commitment to improving the lives of every individual through removing barriers that allow everyone to participate fully in the development and culture of a city.