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Equity is a little word but one that must carry huge weight as cities around the world pledge to build back better.

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Equity is a little word but one that must carry huge weight as cities around the world pledge to build back better.

At college, I recall a fellow student putting herself in the position of being a wheelchair user for several days to report on issues faced in day-to-day life as part of a dissertation. She unearthed a raft of challenges that simply hadn’t occurred to many of us, most repellant among them the hazard of navigating around dog poo on a pavement.

 

Okay, this was back in the 1980s, long before the days of poo bags and heightened social responsibilities. We all like to think this isn’t the issue it once was but those with disabilities still face challenges when it comes to daily life, especially on public transport.

 

Hats off, then, to the US city of Philadelphia for making accessible travel for the disabled central to its latest smart city challenge. Administered by SmartCityPHL, the Office of Transportation, Infrastructure and Sustainability and the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (Septa), the challenge invites teams of developers and designers to create augmented reality (AR) tools that will make transportation more accessible for people with disabilities. Winning teams will receive a total of more than $35,000 in cash prizes and pilot their idea with Septa and the City.

 

SmartCityPH is also requesting that people with disabilities share their experiences of navigating public transit through a survey to help inform ideas and solutions for the challenge. Emily Yates, smart city director, City of Philadelphia, said as the city reopens it wants to make sure that public transit is accessible to all residents and visitors. “We believe augmented reality can really help realise this goal and support an equitable recovery,” she said.

 

We know technology is a powerful enabler in all sorts of ways and, also this week, we saw electric vehicle company Bird team with Scootaround, a personal transportation solutions provider, to pilot an accessible mobility programme in New York City. Persons with disabilities will be able to find, reserve and pay for one of three accessible vehicle types using a custom rider interface available only in the Bird app.

 

Cities, innovators and transport providers must use such technologies to their full strength if we are to have a more equitable future, especially when it comes to mobility. It is a fitting time to highlight such issues. Cities around the world remain at different stages of the pandemic, but those regions that are opening up will see many more people out and about and returning to public transport.

 

Indeed, in the UK, not one but two mega sporting events reach their climax this weekend in the shape of the UEFA Euro Finals and Wimbledon. It will provide a welcome taste of what life used to be like for some. But remember that, for others, pre-pandemic life wasn’t all it was cracked up to be when it came to getting around. Let’s work together to build the accessible and equitable future everyone deserves and as ever, we’re here to share your good practice and success stories as well as draw attention to the challenges ahead.

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