Guide Dogs' Inclusivity campaign targets city planners

The charity for blind and partially sighted people wants to encourage greater collaboration with those planning our built environment.

Our cities will need to reflect the needs of those requiring support to move around.
Our cities will need to reflect the needs of those requiring support to move around.
  • Updated: 17 May 2017
  • Author: John Shelton, Smart Cities and Inclusive Ecosystems Manager, Guide Dogs

The future doesn’t belong to the young and able-bodied. It’s older, more urban and less mobile than you think. It’s also, to put it bluntly, blinder.

The numbers of those living with sight loss in the UK are set to double to four million by 2050. This will create enormous challenges for those involved in creating the built environment. But it’s not a challenge we can or should avoid.

Instead, it’s an enormous opportunity to futureproof your policies and projects by putting inclusivity at the top of the agenda for the benefit of all while profiting from a vastly under-serviced disabled community controlling £249bn in spending power.

The UK is leading the way in the development of smart cities where advances in infrastructure, digital technologies and open data are finding new ways to augment and improve the world we live in.

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But our smart cities should not just be about the deployment of innovative technologies to increase efficiency or economic growth - the degree to which our cities are smart also affects citizen wellbeing and the way we interact with our environments and communities in everyday life. In 2013 the then Department for Business Innovation and Skills noted that, ‘A smart city should enable every citizen to engage with all the services on offer, public as well as private, in a way best suited to his or her needs.’

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities requires parties to ‘take steps to ensure that disabled people are able to access the physical environment which embraces buildings, roads, transportation and other indoor and outdoor facilities.’

Undoubtedly, we are witnessing a convergence between innovation and policy thinking Government has published its UK Digital Strategy and a green paper setting out plans for the UK Industrial Strategy and the City Standards Institute has recently published new guidance for smart city development. While these documents address some of the mega-trends facing society they do not yet adequately accommodate the needs of the 12 million disabled people in the UK.

In 2014 The Office for Disability Issues noted, ‘The prevalence of disability rises with age. Around 6% of children are disabled, 16% of working age adults and 45% of adults over State Pension age.’

With so many people affected, inclusion for all sectors of society has to be an important metric to attain ‘smart city’ status and embedded into the thinking behind our infrastructure policies and investment decisions.

Sadly, many people with sight loss, people with other disabilities and older people are still unable to participate fully in community life due to public ignorance, poor design and bad service delivery.

Guide Dogs is seeking a more collaborative approach to the co-creation of inclusive environments where the interaction between people and their physical or virtual environments allows them to get around safely and confidently, with minimum fuss and maximum independence.

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