Elizabeth Woyke in MIT Technology Review: “People with disabilities affecting mobility, vision, hearing, and cognitive function often move to cities to take advantage of their comprehensive transit systems and social services. But US law doesn’t specify how municipalities should design and implement digital services for disabled people. As a result, cities sometimes adopt new technologies that can end up causing, rather than resolving, problems of accessibility.
Nowhere was this more evident than with New York City’s LinkNYC kiosks, which were installed on sidewalks in 2016 without including instructions in Braille or audible form. Shortly after they went in, the American Federation for the Blind sued the city. The suit was settled in 2017 and the kiosks have been updated, but Pineda says touch screens in general are still not fully accessible to people with disabilities.
Also problematic: the social-media-based apps that some municipal governments have started using to solicit feedback from residents. Blind and low-vision people typically can’t use the apps, and people over 65 are less likely to, says James Thurston, a vice president at the nonprofit G3ict, which promotes accessible information and communication technologies. “Cities may think they’re getting data from all their residents, but if those apps aren’t accessible, they’re leaving out the voices of large chunks of their population,” he says….
Even for city officials who have these issues on their minds, knowing where to begin can be difficult. Smart Cities for All, an initiative led by Thurston and Pineda, aims to help by providing free, downloadable tools that cities can use to analyze their technology and find more accessible options. One is a database of hundreds of pre-vetted products and services. Among the entries are Cyclomedia, which uses lidar data to determine when city sidewalks need maintenance, and ZenCity, a data analytics platform that uses AI to gauge what people are saying about a city’s level of accessibility.
This month, the group will kick off a project working with officials in Chicago to grade the city on how well it supports people with disabilities. One key part of the project will be ensuring the accessibility of a new 311 phone system being introduced as a general portal to city services. The group has plans to expand to several other US cities this year, but its ultimate aim is to turn the work into a global movement. It’s met with governments in India and Brazil as well as Sidewalk Labs, the Alphabet subsidiary that is developing a smart neighborhood in Toronto….(More)”.