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Time for digital mapping to drive improvements

Time for digital mapping to drive improvements
18th November 2018 Ian Streets

Acknowledgement that accessibility is an international issue comes with an article from the website of The Atlantic, a magazine first published in Boston in 1857.
It’s a compelling, if lengthy, read which raises sme interesting questions about how to highlight good and bad practice in accessibility, and who has the right to do that.
The article by Aimi Hamraie, an Assistant Professor of Medicine, Health and Society and American Studies at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, monitors an accessibility map-athon. There is no online evidence of similar events in the UK, but it’s hard to believe they are very far away.
Hamraie tells how a group of people – “some rolling in wheelchairs and others walking” – gather with their smartphones to meet a co-ordinator who helps them log onto a app. They then visit restaurants, cafés and shops and log any evidence that suggests disabled people are welcome.
They’re looking for parking signs, wheelchair ramps, automatic doors, accessible loos and the like, and they log their ratings to build a database that can help others.
But Hamraie warns that such apps are only as good as the data they contain. She writes: “Bad ones risk making urban life harder, rather than easier, for disabled people.
“Some are carried out by, and with, their potential users: people who are disabled and who identify a gap in more mainstream mapping technologies. Others are supported by people with relationships to disability, such as family members or therapists, and still others by philanthropic start-ups and major technology companies.”
There is recognition that even if such a citizen does not identify as disabled, documenting the built environment can promote awareness of barriers that many people with physical, sensory, and mental disabilities face.
However there is also the “nothing about us without us” view. Hamraie notes that some map-athon participants might look for wheelchair access alone and ignore disabilities related to sight, hearing, cognition, chronic illness, learning, or chemical sensitivity. People who primarily move by walking might not be aware of the spatial parameters needed for a wheelchair to turn inside a small space, like a bathroom.
Her suggestion is that for digital-accessibility maps to work, they should be designed by “cross-disability coalitions” and consider the needs of all disabled people rather than those who have the same impairment.
Perhaps the most telling point is Hamraie’s observation that “apps can make cities more navigable, but they do not change the material features of that environment.”
She challenges digital mapping to do more than just record existing facilities and to drive improvements in politics, policy and design, concluding: “After all, to deserve the name, a smart city ought to be a better city, not just a more technological one.”
To read Aimi Hamraie’s article in full visit:


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