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Smart cities work for people with disabilities

6 November 2017

Smart cities, so named because they boast technology and design that make them work better for their residents, are getting a lot of attention — and government funding — in the U.S.

Some smart city elements are easily spotted: a bike-share network or crosswalk signals that count down the seconds before the light changes. Others are less obvious, but also help cities run efficiently, like traffic control systems that adapt to traffic patterns. Crowdsourcing, or more specifically the data it yields, helps city governments better understand citizen habits and needs.

While smart cities have existed in theory since the 1980s, their presence expanded in the past decade along with the rapid integration of technology into everyday life. By 2025, demand for smart city services is expected to grow by more than 30 percent across Europe, Africa and Latin America.

Helping people with disabilities
James Thurston of G3ict and Victor Piñeda of World Enabled tell a story of a South African man who used an app created by his city’s government to help people access public transportation. He tracked a wheelchair-accessible bus and rolled up to his stop just as the bus arrived. But he had to sit and watch it pull away because the app didn’t mention he would have to descend steps to access the bus stop.Stories like this are why Thurston and Piñeda created Smart Cities for All, an initiative to guide city halls and private industry partners toward inclusive thinking in urban planning.

As cities worldwide invest in technology, urban life could become more inclusive for people with disabilities.

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