As data analysis drives on, it is not necessarily helping places become more accessible and inclusive for people living with a disability.
A Financial Times report has detailed how James Thurston, vice-president for global strategy and development at G3ict, a UN Group, thinks cities are unsure how to actually enhance their accessibility offering.
Thurston explained: “Cities do not know how accessible they actually are and how to improve. We were seeing amazing new smart solutions and technology products being developed in incubators and deployed by cities — but without any real thought to how or whether they work for all people.”
The FT went on to detail how none of the innovations for smart cities are fundamentally inaccessible for people with different mobility, sensory and communication needs but do carry the risk of exclusion in some cases.
The report exemplifies how New York City was sued in 2016 by the National Federation of the Blind after the city installed touchscreen kiosks that provided pedestrians with directions, WiFi and phone-charging capabilities, but did not include functionality for people with visual impairments.
Megan Lawrence, a senior accessibility technical evangelist at Microsoft, visited more than 70 cities last year to promote inclusion as a fundamental feature of smart cities.
Commenting on it in the FT, she said: “All cities can make accessibility a key part of the procurement language. As they think about innovative new technologies, it has to be through a lens of inclusion.”
Concluding: “Humans have an incredible ability to crowdsource and share information that people with disabilities need to know.
“But now we have the opportunity to use high-resolution imagery, IoT sensors and streetscape databases created for autonomous vehicles. Technology could be a force multiplier to reduce the barriers for people with disabilities.”