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What Have We Learnt About Building Post-Pandemic Cities for All?

Mobility is a fundamental aspect of cities; and a city only evolves when all of its inhabitants can fully participate in it. Inclusive urban mobility and accessible technologies are some of the best allies to forge cities for all and to improve the life of seniors and people with disabilities.

Since their Greek origin as polis, cities were forged to create efficient, liveable communities — owing to advantages such as access to safe water, beneficial geographic locations, and strong social settings. Cities reduced transport costs for goods, people and ideas by bringing them all together in one spot; while centralizing protection, opportunities and development levers.

Still, nowadays some of the most important challenges humanity faces today and will face in the future — including COVID-19, social exclusion, discrimination and marginalization, and the climate crisis — happen in cities. Over the next years, with 68 percent of the people in the world living in them, cities will shape every aspect of global development — including the manner in how human rights are won and implemented. That is why Cities for All — the global campaign for inclusive and accessible cities — advocates fostering human diversity, social inclusion and equality as increasing priorities for a truly sustainable future.

An inclusive and accessible city is a place where everyone — regardless of economic means, gender, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual identity, migration status or religion — is enabled and empowered to fully participate in the social, economic, cultural and political opportunities cities offer. Today, persons with disabilities and older persons make up 25 percent of the global population — projected to represent 2 billion persons by 2050. Hence, fighting against existing barriers and allowing their effective inclusion will represent an enormous opportunity.

For people with disabilities, their potential for engagement and participation in urban life is limited — driven by lack of access to services such as transportation, public spaces, employment and education. Mobility is a fundamental aspect of cities; and a city only evolves when all of its inhabitants can fully participate in it. The lack of proper access to transport or public services seriously undermines the economic stability and health of those with reduced mobility or any kind of cognitive impairment — including seniors. It is vital in this context to build public-private partnerships providing customized solutions to transform the urban fabric and design multimodal programs — such as policies that promote universal accessibility and improve access to urban areas, safe public spaces or social inclusion programs. We have to work together to eliminate all barriers; since in the future, not only more people will live in urban spaces, they will also live longer.

Many public authorities and companies have already implemented solutions to facilitate access to transportation for people with disabilities. In New York City, the MTA offers free travel training to all travelers with disabilities, so they can learn to use the bus and subway independently. They can also refer to the MTA Guide to Accessible Transit. In London, all black cabs are wheelchair accessible. Some of the newer black cabs are also fitted with induction loops and intercoms for hearing aid users.

At Cabify, we have offered an app and service that is 100 percent accessible to the visually impaired since 2019. Latest updates of our app include the activation of a menu for accessibility settings and an optimization for screen readers such as TalkBack (Android) or VoiceOver (iOs); and we have trained our drivers on protocols to assist visually impaired passengers.

We have teamed up with NGOs such as the CNSE (State Confederation of Deaf Persons) and EmancipaTIC (association promoting inclusion for the elderly) in order to best understand and cater to the needs of these communities. Over 33,000 users with established accessibility preferences on their smartphones currently use Cabify; and with the aim of ensuring their access to mobility, we are permanently keeping accessibility matters front and centre during the design of every app feature.

Inclusive urban mobility and accessible technologies are some of the best allies to forge cities for all and to improve the life of seniors and people with disabilities. When technology is accessible, each user can use it in ways that best work for him or her. Accessible technology is either directly accessible — whereby it is usable without additional assistive technology (AT) — or it is compatible with AT. For example, a mobile smartphone with a built-in screen reader is directly accessible, whereas a website that can be navigated effectively by people with visual impairments using a screen reader is AT-compatible. Significant advances in machine learning and artificial intelligence in recent years are creating new possibilities. Live Transcribe, for example, is an Android app that captures real-time speech and lets users read what people around them are saying.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown and placed even greater emphasis on the importance of freedom of movement. This crisis has deepened pre-existing inequalities — exposing the extent of exclusion, and highlighting the imperative to tackle disability inclusion. People with disabilities are one of the most excluded groups in our society and are among the hardest hit in this crisis; it’s difficult for the disabled to travel, even when there is no pandemic to contend with; while communicating without lips to read is an extra challenge for hearing-impaired people. Blind people have also faced barriers, such as distancing measures that make it impossible to hold on to a person when needed.

These facts may be daunting, but it is in times of need that innovation flourishes. To better ensure universal access, the World Economic Forum and Hyundai Group are collaborating to examine the core principles for inclusive mobility — as part of the Inclusivity Quotient project, which seeks to expand financially sustainable mobility for the socio-economic development of underserved people. Under the COVID-19 framework, we launched Cabify’s accessibility protocol to adapt our service — which is unique in our sector at the global level; and delineates the best approach to ensure a safe, best-in-class service for senior, blind and deaf riders.

Inequities lead to the formation of transport-disadvantaged groups — such as elderly, disabled and low-income people. Accessibility must consist of a continuous vision — adapting to new technologies, cities and society. We do not know the challenges that lie ahead, just that mobility will remain a crucial universal right; and we must work towards developing urban mobility plans that take into account all accessibility needs.

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