Accessibility is a key element for social inclusion and independent living, as an accessible environment allows everyone to move freely and independently. This is even more evident in urban areas, where the complexity is enhanced by the blending of architecture, facility, and services built in different moments. Accessibility refers to the possibility to access a place, an urban area for all and in all its aspects: places, buildings, shopping areas, public transport. It looks at how a place is inclusive, allowing people to reach each place they want without the support of a caregiver. Achieving urban accessibility equals to having accessible paths, roads, alleys, parks, etc. by all means – e.g., ramps, pathways for the blind people with tactile markings, traffic lights with sound marking, special equipment to light during the night on roads with STOP signposts, etc. In general, to define something as accessible in the city it must be easy-to-use or possible-to-use from all the citizens without exception regardless of disability, age, sex, ethnicity, etc.
As stated by the European Disability Forum, « an accessible environment is simply a better environment for all persons, whether they have a disability or not » and this vision is fully shared by Map4Accessibility Partnership. Map4Accessibility (M4A) project finds its origin in a blending of social inclusion, disability accessibility, civic engagement and ICT-enabled solutions. Its objective is to foster Higher Educational Institution (HEI) service learning through the implementation of various activities for community accessibility mapping and the improvement of the physical and digital accessibility of cities. Coordinated by the TUSCIA Viterbo University, the project enjoys a very committed partnership composed of universities, research centers, and NGOs (ARFIE, University of Catania, South-West University, ESCP Europe, Associação Salvador, Europroject company) who is engaged in the co-creation of a pan-European accessibility mapping tool highlighting both digital and physical accessibility at the urban level.
To increase the accessibility of cities, Map4Accessibility adopts a co-design approach involving all stakeholders in all parts of the process from issues identification and understanding to accessibility mapping and solution generation. Students from 4 High Educational Institutions (HEI) are being civically engaged in urban walks through a service-learning (SL) pedagogical approach to map barriers and evaluate public accessibility for people with different types of disability (e.g. motor, visual, hearing, intellectual). Furthermore, Map4Accessibility is currently developing an app to support disabled people in choosing the most accessible routes and places in their city, with respect to their specific needs. The Map4Accessibility app will be tested by students in 4 case study cities – Catania, Italy; Berlin, Germany; Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria and Lisbon, Portugal. Gathered data will feed the first release of the app.
More precisely, the specific objectives of Map4Accessibility are:
- The promotion of service-learning, community engagement and strengthen civic skills among higher education students;
- The gathering and sharing of best practices and expertise on digital and physical accessibility for universities and cities at large;
- The design of a pan-European accessibility mapping tool which provides information on the accessibility of public spaces;
- The promotion of an inclusive education agenda including both higher academic and a variety of other institutions to improve accessibility on multiple levels.
To reach its objectives, the project is organized around five work packages distributed in terms of leadership and participation on a competence basis, meant to produce 5 Project Results:
- PR1: MAP4ACCESSIBILITY SERVICE-LEARNING AND COMMUNITY MAPPING METHODOLOGY aimed at outlining the service learning and community mapping methodology to be applied within the project.
- PR2: MAP4ACCESSIBILITY GUIDE ON INCLUSIVE DIGITAL ACCESSIBILITY: an open
access guide on web accessibility based on project partner’s experience in web and app accessibility.
- PR3: MAP4ACCESSIBILITY MAPPING WEBSITE AND PROGRESSIVE WEB
APP (PWA): based on the app +Acesso para Todos, an accessibility mapping website and app will be adapted, codesigned and co-developed through service-learning activities with HEI students. The mapping tools, embedding Universal Design Principles, will aim to provide accessibility information at the city level.
PR4: APPLICATIONS OF SERVICE-LEARNING HANDBOOK: AN INNOVATIVE PEDAGOGICAL APPROACH TO ENGAGE STUDENTS AND TEACHERS FOR ACCESSIBILITY AND INCLUSIVITY: a best practice guide on how to implement
service learning as a pedagogical methodology in educational institutions (not limited to HEIs).
- PR5: OPEN ACCESS BOOK – MAP4ACCESSIBILITY – CO-DESIGN FOR ACCESSIBLE INSTITUTIONS AND CITIES: The final project result will be a digital open-access book including aspect related to: – identification of legally binding accessibility standards for buildings and within the city, – proposal of accessibility standards in the built environment which go beyond the legal norms, – proposal for urban planning on how to make key urban features more accessible, – best practices for digital accessibility.
The project has concluded its first year of implementation and has already provided important results. During this year the partnership has organized explorative walks in the countries involved to identify barriers and discuss solutions. The first Result is published, while the partnership is working on the Guide on Inclusive Digital Accessibility (PR2) and Mapping Website and Progressive Web App (PR3) … the next two years appear to be promising, stay tuned to know more!