The idea of the Make(Gal)
Way project was inspired by my sister who has a large electric wheelchair that she had difficulty in getting across the narrow, sloping single-footpath on the bridge in our village. She tried many avenues, contacting local healthcare professionals and politicians, and the local council surprisingly, but happily replaced the old footpath with a new, level, wider one. The upshot of that was she can now go into the town, meet friends and go the shops without having to drive out along a busy national road. It has been life-changing, but this is just one anecdote on exclusionary design. This is one of a multitude of examples of disaffordance suffered by people with disabilities or additional mobility considerations – these range from everyday incidental, accidental inconveniences and microaggressions right up to systemic exclusion by design or non-affordance. D. E. Wittkower labelled these
“direct and (b.ii) indirect discriminatory effects, where in the former the discriminatory effect arises from user exclusion from object functionality, and in the latter the discriminatory effect arises from differential user access to functionalities rather than outright exclusion.”
In line with the Kerb Cut effect, following the adaptation of footpaths in what might now be known as Guerilla Urbanism, or the development of tactile paving in Japan, widening that bridge footpath provided a universal benefit, making footpaths more accessible to many other people in the town. I agree with Rittel and Webber on their point that
“The kinds of problems that planners deal with – societal problems – are inherently different from the problems that scientists and perhaps some class of engineers deal with, planning problems are inherently wicked.”
As I consider urban planning with particular regard to accessibility a Wicked Problem of the highest order, we were not trying to directly fix the problem, but to highlight it, raise awareness and hopefully force a paradigm shift of how people look at the built environment. Certainly once I started thinking about exclusionary design and disaffordance, I was unable to forget that just because I could easily traverse an area and access all necessary services, not everybody else could.
When looking at the project, we considered human centred design principles, user experience and accessibility. It was decided the project should be of a finite length to maintain interest and momentum. The application was also designed to play to Galway City’s sense of civic duty and pride to encourage use. We went through a huge number of possible features initially, but scaled it back. We considered the number, needs and ages of potential users, visibility, legibility, haptics, feedback, colours and potential to add to the basic build with each mapping campaign. I also studied the current context, the past, the present and the future of accessibility in the city. The first iteration of the MakeWay app prototype is very simple, but in future could have the option of categorising different types of impedance, the severity of those impedances and user submitted photos. There is also the potential of having a website where more extensive data could be charted, possibly for use in a geographic information system (GIS) collaborative map.
I also came across the idea of “critical cartography”, which has recently been investigated in Ireland by The Free*Space project in Limerick and others. This mapping of public places might serve more as artistic inquiry, as opposed to a data-gathering, but is still exploring access to public domain.
In Ireland Part M of Buildings for Everyone requires that new public buildings be accessible. That still leaves grandfathered features and protected structures that may not be adapted as one would wish. The European access city award was established in 2010 to encompass principles of universal design. Their 2016 survey found that 60% of 250 experts polled felt that smart cities were failing people with disabilities, so the future is not automatically inclusive. Even with smart technology and big data, so citizens must make data work for them, instead of working for corporations. Aimi Hamraie who has written extensively on critical design and mapping access said;
“user-contributed data can provide information quickly while simultaneously educating the public about accessibility best practices
“Some hope that this will spur the emergence of a new type of urban citizenship: the so-called smart citizen
, a technologically enabled community member who contributes time, labor, and device time to generate data about everyday life. Even if such a citizen does not identify as disabled, noticing and documenting the built environment can promote awareness of barriers that many people with physical, sensory, and mental disabilities face.”
I identified and researched a number of potential stakeholders. There have been 40 community based organisations associated with the umbrella group Access4All Galway. Some of the groups listed on their now-defunct website c. 2019 via the Internet Archive, included the Irish Wheelchair Association, National Council for the Blind, Citizens’ Information, People with Disabilities in Ireland, Galway City Partnership and Galway City Council. The organisation and associated groups are still active in the city, and on social media, but information there is less readily available.
Speaking to the profile of people in Galway city; in 2018 the Disability Federation of Ireland reported that 13% or 10,133 people had a disability in Galway, 4063 of these had difficulties with basic physical activities, 3591 had a difficulty with pain or a chronic condition, 1382 with deafness or serious hearing impairment and 825 with blindness or a serious vision impairment. This is a huge cohort of people that the city was not originally designed for. For wider context, Europa.eu put the number of people with disabilities in the EU at 87 million.
Ultimately the project seeks to promote design justice and universal design, the core tenets of which respectively are;
Design justice rethinks design processes, centers people who are normally marginalized by design, and uses collaborative, creative practices to address the deepest challenges our communities face.
“The design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.”