Barrier-free Zurich for all

· by Hoda Allahbakhshi · in Research, What's new

ZuriACT, a joint project of UZH and the City of Zurich for barrier-free and inclusive mobility, has systematically collected and enriched accessibility features in collaboration with the public. During the presentation at an international conference, the key ideas were captured graphically – in the sense of visual storytelling. Many thanks to the talented illustrator Roland Siegenthaler!

Existing digital services like Google Maps often fail to provide practical navigation guidance for individuals with mobility impairments or restrictions. Missing information on sidewalk inclinations, crossings, and ramps makes getting around in real-world conditions difficult or even impossible. People with limited mobility are constantly faced with unexpected obstacles.

Just to have a coffee during the working day, physical space can impose challenges in the accessibility for example for wheel chair users. Stairs at the entrance of an office building make it difficult for such an employee to get to a cafeteria outside the building.

Accessibility is a dynamic phenomenon

Accessibility can be influenced by various contextual factors, such as external factors like weather, sidewalk surface situation, stairs, and sidewalk inclination, as well as internal factors such as an individual’s unique movement capacities and behavior.

Facilitator or barrier?

External contextual factors such as curbs can have different roles based on internal factors such as individuals’ movement capacity. For example, a curb can be a facilitator for a visually impaired person, whereas it is a barrier for a wheelchair user.

Crowdsourcing to enrich accessibility information

Existing digital services like Google Maps often fail to provide practical navigation guidance for individuals with mobility impairments or restrictions. Lack of information on sidewalk inclinations, crossings, and ramps makes it difficult or impossible to get around in the real world. Crowdsourcing can help to enrich accessibility information. To this end, we used the Project Sidewalk web tool to collect data.

People with reduced mobility are a diverse group

Mobility restrictions may be age-related or situational – for example, parents with pushchairs or caregivers of wheelchair users – or they may be mobility impairments. People from all these groups have contributed to focus group discussions and sidewalk accessibility data collection and enrichment.

Listening to the needs and hopes of our participants

In our focus group discussion, participants shared their hopes for freedom of movement and autonomy, improved navigation for disabled people, improved infrastructure, consideration of the needs of deaf people, and so on.

Where to park a wheelchair user’s car?

“My husband is in a wheelchair. I need to find out where I can park the car. Then I need to know where the stairs are. I always go first and show him the way. It’s new for me, so I don’t have much experience,” said one of the participants.

At least as many challenges abroad …

“We were in Riga once and it was really bad. The whole city had uneven cobblestones. Thank God we have very little of that in Zurich. Melbourne is a good example: sidewalks with a slight gradient are a great help for disabled people,” said another participant.

Our participants on the pedestal!

Thanks to the dedication and effort of our participants, we have successfully collected 9136 data points on sidewalk accessibility in District 1 of the City of Zurich.

Champions in data collection

This large amount of data collected by our participants helps us to understand and improve accessibility in our city. We celebrated this success – and announced our champions in data collection. Once again, thank you for your contributions!

It was a pleasure to present the project at the World Information Architecture Day – and to have it captured so beautifully in these sketches. Thank you, Roland Siegenthaler!

ZuriACT (Zurich Accessible CiTy) was a pilot project and is now completed. It was a citizen science project that has been designed with the people and for the people.

Based on its success, the follow-up initiative ZuReach, short for «Zurich Urban Reachability & Accessibility Enhancement through Digital Technology» is now underway.

ZuriACT was presented at the World Information Architecture Day (WIAD) conference in Zurich on March 8, 2024. During the presentation, the most important ideas were simultaneously graphically recorded by Roland Siegenthaler.

Hoda Allahbakhshi, Project Leader, Geographic Information Systems, GIUZ & Digital Society Initiative, UZH

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