Guide Dogs' Inclusivity campaign
Guide Dogs, the charity for blind and partially sighted people, wants to encourage greater collaboration with those planning our built environment.
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 that can or should be avoided.
Instead, it’s an enormous opportunity to future-proof 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.
But smart cities should not just be about the deployment of innovative technologies to increase efficiency or economic growth - the degree to which cities are smart also affects citizen wellbeing and the way people interact with 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, there is currently a convergence between innovation and policy thinking. In 2016, government 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 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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