Universally Accessible Infrastructure and Inclusive Mobility for More Equitable and Prosperous Societies

According to the WHO, approximately 1.3 billion people are considered to experience some sort of significant disability today. This is nearly 16% of the global population and a very diverse group of people of different ages, gender, religion, race, ethnicity, or economic situation. International human rights law, and frequently domestic law, obliges countries to ensure health equity. This implies the creation and maintenance of accessible infrastructure including transportation systems and associated services.

Accessibility in transport means it can be used by individuals with various disabilities and mobility challenges. This translates into a more inclusive and equitable environment where everyone can benefit from transportation options without facing unnecessary barriers.

Why care for accessible infrastructure?

Accessible infrastructure benefits not only individuals with disabilities but their families, businesses, communities, and society as a whole. It is a building block for equality, independence, and social cohesion.

Accessible infrastructure is crucial as it:

  • Promotes inclusion and equity by allowing those with mobility challenges to participate in social life and opens opportunities for employment, education, interaction, and much more.
  • Is part of human rights as access to transportation is recognized as one of the fundamental rights.
  • Empowers people with mobility challenges, promotes self-reliance, and boosts autonomy.
  • Boosts social participation by facilitating involvement in social and recreational activities.
  • Opens employment opportunities by enabling persons with disabilities to commute to work and belong to the workforce.
  • Supports economic growth by attracting a greater number of customers to businesses as more people have access to goods and services.
  • Encourages tourism and travel.
  • Benefits the aging population as elderly people may develop mobility challenges.
  • Promotes public health as greater physical activity results in better health outcomes.

What does transport accessibility include?

Transport accessibility comprises a multitude of elements that facilitate access to systems and services. These may include but are not limited to:

  • Physical infrastructure– from ramps to elevators, accessible paths, priority seating, and tactile guidance.
  • Accessible vehicles– having low-floor entry, wheelchair spaces, audio, and visual announcements as well as accessible restrooms.
  • Accessible communication in transport– with sign language interpreters or communication cards
  • Innovative transportation technology– including assistive apps and accessible ride-sharing.
  • Trained Staff on accessibility– transportation system personnel need to receive specialized training on mobility challenges and how to assist people with disabilities.

Which countries to look up to when it comes to transport accessibility?

Most of the cities around the world have been experiencing enhanced road congestion. There is a growing recognition that the public transport system must develop in a way that offers real alternatives to car rides. This includes the creation and maintenance of such a transport infrastructure that can accommodate the needs of people with varied mobility challenges.

The performance of some countries in the development of accessible infrastructure has been remarkable. Although it is hard to define which one is “the best” would be hard since it would be subjective. We are showcasing some of the success stories below:

Japan – is well known for its attention to tackling mobility challenges. The country has been an undisputed leader in the creation of advanced transport technology. For example, Japanese train stations are equipped with elevator access, tactile guidance, and audio systems. What’s more, the country promotes universal transport infrastructure design available and used statewide.

Sweden – is a star for accessible public transport development with highly convenient subways, buses, and trams all across the country.

The UK – has developed remarkably and transformed its transportation infrastructure with mobility and accessibility in mind.

Germany – has been working towards turning its infrastructure more accessible, including offering barrier-free access in most of its train stations and using universal design principles.

US, Canada, and Australia could as well be considered as success stories besides their peer countries listed above.

Challenges with the creation of accessible transport infrastructure

The creation of accessible infrastructure touches various physical, logistical, social, and regulatory factors. Accessibility can be impacted by components such as funding, urban planning, population density, legal frameworks, or public awareness. The core challenges can include those listed below. Yet, the list is non-exhaustive.

Lack of available funding – as implementing accessible infrastructure requires substantial upfront costs, not all countries may be able to afford it. Especially, if there are competing priorities that government officials and policymakers need to juggle.

Infrastructure retrofitting – if the country’s infrastructure is old, it might be very complex to adapt it to the mobility needs of disabled people. Such a decision might require extensive renovation, and thereby corresponding financial resources.

Design consistency – for those countries, where urban and rural landscapes are highly diverse, it might be very challenging to ensure accessibility consistency across all transportation options.

Attitudes and stereotypes – the implementation and adoption of accessibility features may be hindered by a highly-stereotyped society with negative attitudes, manifesting in resistance to change.

Geographic specificities – Certain conditions, e.g., hilly terrain, extreme weather, or remote locations, can present challenges for the creation of accessible infrastructure.

System upkeep and maintenance – accessible infrastructure requires continuous maintenance that might be overlooked or underfunded.

Technical compatibility – the integration of new systems and technologies into already existing infrastructure has proven challenging many times in the past.

Diversified needs – as disabilities may take a variety of forms, it might be hard to design solutions that can fit them all.

Overwhelming regulations – introducing new guidelines, regulations, and transport policies might be difficult for transport planners and policymakers. Especially, when it comes to the enforcement of the new rules.

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