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Improving Accesibility

How do we help everyone reach their destination?

Introduction

Getting around can be a challenge for anyone, but particularly for people with disabilities and the elderly population. What does this mean for mobility in San Diego? First of all, approximately 17% of San Diegans have some form of physical, sensory, mental, or cognitive impairment that affects their mobility. Aging also affects one’s ability to move freely around the city; and individuals over the age of 60 represent the fastest growing segment of the population. In fact, the number of San Diego’s senior residents is expected to double by 2030! How can we improve accessibility in San Diego with the specific needs of people with impairments and elderly people in mind?

Sensory impairments: How do you move around if you cannot see or hear?

people wearing google glasses in an auditorium
Most of us take our eyes and ears for granted. For those with sensory disabilities, navigating the city can be a challenge. For people who are blind and others with poor vision, it can be difficult to walk through urban environments and to take public transit. San Diego’s Metropolitan Transit System has outfitted all stations with raised letters and braille plates identifying the route and direction (North/South/East/West), but challenges remain. For example, even stepping onto a train can be intimidating. How do people with sensory impairments overcome these everyday barriers? How can the signage at our metro stations be improved? For individuals who are deaf or hearing impaired, the challenge may be a lack of auditory cues. For example, a deaf individual might not hear a big truck bearing down or loud sirens from an ambulance. However, people with partial hearing may have difficulty crowded or loud environments, where the background noise can drown out important messages. How might we improve safety when auditory clues are not available?

Mobility impairments: How do you navigate stairs in a wheelchair?

wheelchair facing stairs
A person with a mobility impairment (e.g., requiring crutches, a cane, or a wheelchair) often has difficulty with stairways and high curbs, and avoiding these physical barriers may take them in circuitous routes, which might even be more treacherous in rainy and winter conditions. The lack of convenient, accessible, and affordable forms of transportation for disabled people is a major problem in San Diego. How might we improve access to our city for people with mobility impairments?

Though before reinventing the wheel for this Mobility Challenge, it is important to note that there are several existing services in San Diego available to people with mobility impairments. These services include the San Diego Volunteer Drivers Coalition and the ADA Paratransit shuttles. Ride sharing applications, like Lyft’s Accessible Vehicle Dispatch service, have made it relatively easy to plan trips across town. How might we improve this existing infrastructure to better serve people with physical impairments?

Aging and technology: How might we help seniors order a Lyft or Uber?

rideshare car on sidewalk
Mobile phone based applications have made it easy to reserve a ride, order a meal, and find the hottest events happening right now. But, seniors are often the last demographic to adopt these new technologies. Though there has been progress, these services simply have not been adapted to cater to older populations. Uber and Lyft are transportation/rideshare companies that have been growing at an incredible rate in recent years. They take advantage of the convenience of technology and make travel much easier to arrange, but if our seniors don’t think it’s approachable, their mobility options will be severely limited. How might we adapt ride-sharing and other applications—or ordering meals or finding events and volunteer opportunities—to make them more approachable and enjoyable for seniors?

Active lifestyles: How could we help older residents feel fit and energized?

people jumping on a beach
Seniors who are physically active and able to get around independently have greater flexibility, muscle strength, balance, and bone density—all of which help them recover more rapidly from illness and injuries, and live longer, healthier lives. What transportation services or initiatives might we imagine for our cities senior residents? Staying active is an important part of staying healthy, but it can be difficult even for those of us who don’t contend with some of the consequences of old age. Without access to reliable transportation, the elderly may have reduced options for mobility and as a result be less inclined to stay active and social. In order to encourage active and social behaviour from our elderly population, it’s important to identify some of the challenges that are posed to them, such as disabilities, or even lack of understanding of the available technology. What kind of opportunities might arise while working to provide accommodations to an aging population?