Mapping the inconveniences of urban life

A man in a wheelchair is separated from the crowd by a low concrete barrier Town access audits are not new, but these alone do not gauge accessibility for everyone.  Mapping the inconveniences of urban life for people with disability gives a better understanding of why isolated access features are insufficient to provide access for everyone.

Access features are required in new works and major refurbishments. That means a lot of infrastructure remains inaccessible in our cities. 

In a book chapter about the urban circle of life of people with disability, Katarzyna Ujma-Wasowicz explains her mapping project.  The project involved a diverse group of people with disability. The aim was to see how they navigate the built environment. This sounds like a simple and obvious thing to do, but few planners and architects do this. 

The mapping process

The mapping process involves the person with disability specifying a path from home to a destination and back home again. An auditor or researcher follows the person and takes detailed notes along the way. The results of these observations can inform decisions about the most critical rectifications needed. 

Ujma-Wasowicz acknowledges that designers think, “in best faith” about access for each disability group independently. At the end of the chapter she has a section on Post-Pandemic and Universal Design. Ujma-Wasowicsz notes that COVID has changed our behaviours but these changes don’t affect everyone equally. She proposes a universal design approach for design strategies in the summary. 

 “Therefore, a holistic approach to planning is necessary, where one of its elements should be audit of public spaces accessibility. The “urban circle of life” can be a useful tool for such inspection.”

The title of the article is, The Urban Circle of Life of People with Disabilities: Mapping urban inconveniences.  The chapter and the book, Mapping Urban Spaces is available online from Taylor Francis. It is open access

This is a wordy read, but worth the effort if wanting to replicate this process and model. Although some local councils have embarked on similar exercises, there is little written about them in the literature.