Learning through experience

A scene of the station showing people near the ticket barrier gates. Claremont College students from different disciplines joined the EnviroLab Asia 2019 Clinic Trip to Japan. A short video shows them checking out accessibility at Umeda train station and Ogimachi Park. The trip included time with Osaka Institute of Technology’s Robotics Department working on a project. They explored robotic technologies and universal design and created a model high tech recreational space for older people. The students conclude that barrier free places are not just for people with disability – it’s about including everyone. 

Abstract:  Studying Accessibility in Japan shows the research project led by Professor Angelina Chin (history, Pomona) with students who studied universal design and accessibility in Japan during the EnviroLab Asia 2019 Clinic Trip. The group also worked with the Osaka Institute of Technology’s Robotics Department.

Editor’s note: This is a video only publication – I couldn’t find any written material other than the abstract. The download button takes you to a high definition of the video, not a document. It is a very large file.

Inclusive Light Rail Project

Two older men with winter jackets look happy as they stand by the train.The Bergen Light Rail system is a good example of what can be achieved using a universal design approach. As with most projects this size there are detractors and resisters. But it was accessibility that brought people together to design one of the most successful town planning projects in Norway.  The rail system has brought many aspects of the city together. Not only is the light rail accessible, the whole city is more accessible now and further improvements are planned. People who said they never use public transport, now use it happily. The key is that the inclusiveness of the design is barely noticeable. Step free access, step free carriages, automatic doors, simple displays, and effective sound and light signals are good for everyone. The architect says it is the first public transport system in Norway that utilises inclusive design at all levels. 

“When the planning of the new light rail began in 2006, inclusive design was not stated as a requirement. Many regulations must be considered in a project of this scale. This led to noise and resistance from politicians in the city, which had to be overcome before the project could start. This was followed by discussions about accessibility, the locations of stops near transfer points, transfers to bus and train and step-free transitions. 

A collaboration with FFO (the Norwegian Federation of Organizations of Disabled People) was established at an early stage and the design team showed them drawings and discussed the ideas with them. This collaboration inspired many new solutions.”

The story is by Design and Architecture Norway and has a short video.  Norway has an overarching plan and policy – Norway Universally Designed 2025 and the update

 

When universal design isn’t enough

An orange tram is arriving at the light rail station.Norway, with its policy and strategies for universal design, has one of the best accessible transport systems. But physical access is not enough to encourage many non-users to catch the bus or train. So is there a limit to the level of accessibility that should be rolled out? There will always be people with disability and without disability who will never use public transport. So the measure of success isn’t getting more patronage from people with disability; it’s about maintaining current patronage and that of new travellers in the future – with and without disability.

Designing a more convenient, easy to use system is good for everyone, now and in the future. A good all round experience can encourage people to leave the car at home. That is, if the transportation takes them to where they want to go efficiently and effectively. 

The title of the paper is, Public transport and people with disabilities – the experiences of non-users.

Here is an excerpt from the conclusion: Lastly, our study raises the question of whether universal design or accessibility for all is a good policy objective in public transport. Many of our informants are unable to travel by public transport, even though the system is among the most universally designed available. They would not be able to travel by public transport even if implementation of the measures which constitute universal design today was close to perfect. We write this, not to deny that a good universally designed public transport system is an attractive solution, it will help many, but that there will still be some who will not be reached through the universal design agenda. Therefore, there will still be a need for individual solutions, which could increase the individual’s sense of freedom, participation in working life and value added in society among those who do not have physical and/or mental premises for travelling by public transport.

A related project is the Bergen Light Rail system.

Transport for All

Logo of Public Transport Victoria.The Disability Resources Centre’s report to the Victorian Government about the public transport system shows room for improvement. The key findings were related to the provision of travel information, priority seating, and parking. Negative public attitudes extended to harassment, abuse and even assault. Being treated with disrespect, or assisted inappropriately by transport staff was also an issue. There are 8 recommendations for the Victorian Government to consider. The title of the 49 page report is, Transport for All. It is unlikely that the findings are only applicable to Victoria. Other states might like to take note as well. An affordable and accessible public transport system is essential for all travellers in carrying out day to day life. As respondents noted, what’s good for people with disability is also good for everyone else.

It is useful to note that the Victorian Government provided funding for this report.

The Norwegian Government also has a report on why people with disability are not using their accessible public transport. It’s more than infrastructure – as noted above.

 

Airports and autism

People in warm clothes push their baggage at an airport.Airports and security procedures are stressful for most of us, but for people who are autistic it can be doubly so. Vancouver airport has introduced a simulated rehearsal program to help families with the whole pre-flight process so it becomes more predictable. People who are likely to be overwhelmed by the whole process like to know beforehand what is going to happen and how it all works. This could also include people who are new to air travel, especially now that most processes are automated.

The program includes the Vancouver Airport Resource Kit, which features a step-by-step storybook, interactive checklist, airport map and tips for travel. There is also a video series that helps travellers with autism prepare for the flight. Vancouver airport has an “Autism Access Sticker” that can be placed on boarding passes. The sticker ensures a smooth transition through screening and customs. It also communicates the specific needs of passengers to airport employees. The resource was devised in conjunction with Canucks Autism Network. See the video series below. Very well done – a good model that can be applied to all airports and people with autism.

Complete Streets: Health agencies play a role

Pedestrians are walking towards the camera. They are on a wide walkway. Some people are looking at their phones. They are dressed for warm weather. There are buildings on each side of the walkwayThe Complete Streets concept is about creating a safe place for all road users regardless of their age or ability. Transport and planning agencies usually have control over road and street plans, but public health agencies also have a role to play. Along with other stakeholders, health agencies can evaluate initiatives from a health, physical activity and inclusion point of view. A report from the US gives an overview of strategies and examples of how public health agencies, advocates and practitioners were involved in planning processes.

The report, published by University of Illinois, is titled, “Public Health Engagement in Complete Streets Initiatives: Examples and Lessons Learned”, is 18 pages plus appendices. 

 

More wheelchair users are flying

Aerial view of a large airport showing seating and shops.Requests for wheelchair assistance grew 30% between 2016 and 2017 according to IATA. Airlines and airports know they need to improve their operations as well as consider assistance for passengers who are mobile but have difficulty getting around airports. The first industry event on this topic was held in November 2019 in Dubai . Here are some of the issues they are attempting to address: 

    • Global policy consistency needed for work on accessibility and inclusion in aviation including airline/ground processes and government regulation
    • Better understanding needed for the requirements of travellers with hidden disabilities
    • Improved and standardised processes needed to streamline handling of mobility aids as the damage rate is too high
    • The importance of training was recognised, especially for passenger-facing roles, to ensure inclusive, empathetic and human-centric service is delivered to travellers with disabilities
    • Inconsistencies in security policies across airports and states for passenger with disabilities need to be addressed

You can also see the IATA Resolution on Passengers with Disabilities.  

 

New app for train travellers

A train is in the station and people are on the platform waiting to get on.People who are deaf and use British Sign Language (BSL) can now get help when travelling on ScotRail.  When a deaf customer needs help, rail staff can open an app that uses video call. The customer signs to an interpreter who immediately signs back.  The InterpreterNow app will give more confidence to travellers who use BSL. The more pleasing aspect of this story is that ScotRail is showing commitment to inclusion. For people who are hard of hearing, which is a significant portion of the population, just improving the quality of announcements would be a great help – or even having announcements. 

A related app by Google, Live Transcribe, is in its early release phase.  You can download it and give feedback before the design is finalised. This could be useful in noisy situations for people who have difficulty hearing, such as train stations, busy streets and noisy cafes. These types of app often need adjustment for different accents.

Editor’s note: This is a good app for people with good hearing. I’ve downloaded the Live Transcribe app for my phone. It should help for the odd occasion when I’ve seen a deaf person in the street needing help with something. It will be better than gestures and facial expression. 

Driverless Cars and Accessibility

A small black and white pod shaped vehicleDriverless cars will be about passengers not drivers. Although a subtle difference, it focuses thought on users as passengers rather than drivers. And this is important because there will be more diversity of users than there are currently drivers. But this raises other issues.

When it comes to assistance it is usually the driver that helps riders with disabilities with getting in and out, and pointing them in the right direction. An article from Intelligent Transport Systems discusses these issues and more in a matter of fact way. Policy makers and vehicle designers need to think across all these issues.

“A “fully accessible” and “fully automated” vehicle must address challenges beyond the purview of the vehicle, extending into transportation infrastructure. For instance, for individuals with disabilities to – in practice – independently utilize an autonomous vehicle, problems associated with door-to-door wayfinding, signage, and street-side pick-up/drop-off must also be dealt with. For those who face physical barriers, such as those with mobility or vision impairments, wayfinding around obstacles in the built environment to rendezvous with vehicles or to arrive to at transit/taxi stops will still be a
challenge.”

The report concluded that because of the magnitude of this demand, there is a good case for avoiding complicated and expensive retrofitting for accessibility.

Can AI make air travel more convenient?

Inside the cabin of an aircraft, people are queuing in the aisle to take their seats Artifical Intelligence (AI) has the potential to solve some difficult problems. One of these is the many inconveniences of air travel – the security checks, waiting at the gate, and the speed at which passengers board. An interesting article on FastCo website brings us up to date with what is emerging, and what we can expect in the future for air travel. The article covers problems with boarding processes, linking ground transport with air transport, and minimising poor passenger behaviour. How this will support inclusive travel and tourism is something still to be discussed in these articles. However, often mentioned are issues of privacy, potential for abuse, and algorithms based on prevailing societal biases, such as, racism, sexism, and ageism, among others.