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Universal Design Conference: Accessible Neighbourhoods for pedestrians with sight loss

Be. Accessible was excited to be a Gold sponsor of Te Ao Tangata – Inclusive by Design. The Universal Design Conference was designed to get New Zealand’s thought-leaders thinking about four main areas: housing, neighbourhood, transport, and travel.

One of the neighbourhood sessions was led by Lui Greco, who spoke about 'Accessible Neighbourhoods for pedestrians with sight loss'. Lui resides in Calgary, Canada, and is the National Manager of Advocacy at CNIB, Canada’s primary provider of vision rehabilitation services since 1918. Lui works with federal bodies to remove barriers for people with vision impairments, in areas such as telecommunications, transportation, health, and financial services.

In this session, Lui spoke about an app that he is involved in developing to assist pedestrians to cross the road safely. He said, "intersection crossings can be extremely hazardous". This is due to a variety of reasons - kerb cuts alone don’t steer blind users in the correct direction, different crossings require different approaches to activate the button, and there are assumptions that the user has adequate mobility. Lui commented that in New Zealand, standards make sure that the audio prompt at crossings are easy to distinguish from any other potential sounds. "There is no way possible that you can confuse the audio signal with anything else".

The Canadian government is about to vote on legislating accessibility, and if this goes through there will be funding provided to improve on accessibility for facilities such as this. This is significant since the technology for safe pedestrian crossing hasn’t changed in 70 years! This also applies to other safety features such as being able to find the button, knowing how to activate the button, not being distracted by ambience, and having the button at a reachable height. The new technology 'Key to Access' allows pedestrians with vision impairments to activate the crossing buttons from their phones. The app only allows users to activate the button within five meters from the chosen crossing. This means that users no longer have to divert from their travel path in order to activate the button, making it easier to navigate the crossing. It also means they don’t need to worry about finding the button. Find out more about how the app works, click here. You may also find this Housing blog from the Universal Design Conference, where they explored how housing design enables safer communities.