suburban roundabout
27 Aug

Suburb Accessibility: How Can the Suburbs Become More Accessible for Individuals with Low Vision and Disabilities?


An accessible world is crucial for people of all abilities to work, live, and play. However, even in the most progressive cities, people with disabilities struggle to live their lives, which only gets worse in the suburbs and rural areas.

With an estimated one billion people to become urban-dwellers by 2050, many cities recognize the need to shift to more accessibility. Beyond the physical difficulty of navigating city and suburban obstacles, many individuals with disabilities must deal with a level of fear as they try to move through a world that is more or less inaccessible.

New technologies are emerging that offer more navigational power to individuals of all abilities. For example, the Melbourne Southern Cross train station has a “beacon navigation system” that provides audio cues to users via their smartphones. The system provides directions, notes escalators outages, and makes the train station accessible for individuals with low or no vision.

Individuals with disabilities face all types of barriers. From blocked wheelchair ramps to buildings without elevators, these barriers make physical navigation nearly impossible. Inaccessible bathrooms or hectic environments can be debilitating to individuals.

This begs the question: what makes a community genuinely accessible and livable for all?

Over the years, many people have asked variations of this question. In a 2003 study, AFB pondered what livability criteria would be for individuals with low vision. Through focus groups, interviews, and surveys, they came up with this list for livability.

  • - Getting Around
  • - Community Integration
  • - Safety
  • - Employment
  • - Education
  • - Arts and Recreation
  • - Cost of Living
  • - Access to Services

One country that’s stepping up its accessibility is Singapore. The recently won praise from the UN for creating an accessible “user-friendly built environment” to serve its quickly aging population. By 2030, one in five Singaporeans will be over 60.

To meet and serve the aging population, Singapore has started to follow Universal Design principles that were created by the Singapore Building Construction Authority in 2007. Some of these improvements include Braille directions on handrails, detectable warning dome tiles, and a hearing induction loop for those using hearing aids. Elevators have a longer time before doors shut, and public transportation is seeking to have barrier-free routes.

In Watertown, Massachusetts, within two blocks of the Perkins School for the Blind, individuals with low vision can take a walk along the Charles River without any help due to the quarter-mile Braille Trail. Stretched along the route is a guidewire that provides information to walkers such as nearby signage and benches. Walkers can experience ten interpretative displays in words and Braille, a sensory garden, a musical marimba-style bench, and an overlook to the river that allows fishing or just listening to the water.

Accessibility is essential for all. And many cities, suburbs, and rural areas can become more accessible by making changes to sidewalks, crosswalks, and public transportation.

Accessible Sidewalks

A livable community should have accessible sidewalks without barriers. Sidewalks need to be well maintained without trash cans and other debris on the pathway. Moreover, new telephone poles should not be placed on the sidewalk, and trees should be planted beside the sidewalk. This is a simple way to keep the sidewalk obstacle-free for individuals with vision or physical impairments.

Accessible Pedestrian Signals

Accessible pedestrian signals are a great way to help people with disabilities safely cross streets. These audible signals make it easier for those with vision loss to recognize that they have the right of way. Some audible pedestrians’ signals will also announce the road names, further empower the independence of individuals with disabilities.

Accessible Public Transportation

In Kansas City, Missouri, a new streetcar system includes a streetcar with level boarding at all stops, which makes it more accessible to wheelchairs, bicycles, baby strollers, and more. Each stop includes ADA reach ranges, push buttons for contacting customer service, and a headphone jack for private conversations.

Wide Sidewalks

Wide sidewalks are a vital part of creating an accessible community for individuals of all abilities. This type of walkway better serves individuals with mobility devices, and it can also provide plenty of room for individuals with no hearing to speak in sign language while walking. Sidewalks are commonly about three feet wide, but some guidelines suggest creating sidewalks that are 9-10 feet wide.

Detectable Dome Warning Tiles

Detectable dome warning tiles provide tangible clues to pedestrians about the sidewalk edge and crosswalks. This can keep pedestrians from walking into traffic. The detectable dome warning tiles often notify walkers of curb ramps as well. These are powerful communicators to the community that relies on sidewalks.

Creating a more accessible community for all is vital to making every individual feel independent and capable within their neighborhood.

At StrongGo, accessibility is what we do. The Tekway detectable warning dome tiles are durable and reliable – creating a world that is navigable for people of all abilities. Speak with an industry expert today by emailing csd@stronggo.com.

Sources:
https://www.aarp.org/livable-communities/getting-around/info-2016/community-livability-for-people-who-are-blind-or-deaf.html
https://visionaware.org/blog/visually-impaired-now-what/determining-the-livability-of-communities-for-people-with-vision-loss/
https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2018/feb/14/what-disability-accessible-city-look-like