Chicago to pilot tool to boost disability access for smart cities
- Chicago will be the pilot city for a new model designed by Smart Cities for All — a collaboration between the advocacy groups G3ict and World Enabled — meant to help cities evaluate how accessible digital and smart services are for people with disabilities, and help planners track progress.
- The Smart City Digital Inclusion Maturity Model, which was designed with Microsoft, analyzes a range of city functions — like communications, training and technology standards — and defines performance indicators and metrics towards expanding accessibility. It can be tailored for a city’s needs and existing infrastructure.
- The pilot, which will launch in Chicago at the end of this year, will include expert visits and culminate in a confidential report to city officials.
There is great potential in smart cities design to help people with disabilities get more access to jobs, health care or leisure activities, everything from improved on-demand transportation to wayfinding for the visually impaired. But that can only happen with adequate thought and planning, something that many advocates worry isn’t happening. In a March interview with Smart Cities Dive, James Thurston, vice president for global strategy and development at G3ict, said "very few [cities] are thinking about all of their citizens, including specifically, citizens with disabilities."
The Maturity Model is part of a suite of new initiatives announced by Smart Cities for All by last month to ensure that conversation happens before smart cities tools are put on the ground. The goal of the Inclusive Innovation for Smarter Cities is to "generate new knowledge and tools" to improve accessibility, with the potential for new technology or apps. The Maturity Model will help Chicago and other cities track ongoing projects, with an eye towards inclusion.
Chicago has been working on accessibility, with a goal of making its entire public transit system fully accessible with wider platforms and elevator access, and the city’s Department of Information Technology has been working on accessibility.
Importantly, advocates say they just want a seat at the table to ensure that technology isn’t outpacing their needs. In a recent interview with Smart Cities Dive, Blind Institute of Technology founder Mike Hess explained that he wasn’t focused on "mystical technology," but instead on broader applications of existing tools.
"It’s about being thoughtful in the software development life cycle, and making sure you’re able to capture all citizen input," he said. "That’s what the missing component has been."
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