Empathy and Accessibility

Seattle Department of Transportation recently published an article publicising that their engineers participate in blindness and mobility simulation training.

A few years ago, I completed Transport for NSW’s similar course, Designing for Pedestrians and Bicycle Riders. It is run a few times a year in Sydney for transport planners and road engineers and anyone interested in learning more.

Part of the course includes navigating Surry Hills in a wheelchair.

I learnt a great deal about the NSW transport guidelines for walking, including the importance of kerb ramp design.

Old ramps with no guides, can inadvertently direct path users diagonally into an intersection:

Diagonal kerb ramp

New ramps have standard widths and often include directional guides to indicate the path of travel.

Transport for NSW guidelines for kerb ramps at intersection

The course provided me with the vocabulary and extra information that has helped me in describing pedestrian issues in more detail. I believe these details have helped in gaining better outcomes when reporting issues to local and state government.

Another interesting thing I came across recently was AGNES (Age Gain Now Empathy System) from MIT. A suit used by designers, engineers, and planners to better understand the physical challenges associated with ageing.

MIT’s AGNES – Age Gain Now Empathy System

The most interesting takeaways for me were the use of bungey cords and the destabilizing shoes.

I had often observed my grandparents’ physical difficulties, however, looking at how the AGNES suit was constructed allowed me to think in more detail around the forces and limitations involved.

You can check out the video here –

I am interested to hear whether there are other experiences out there that can provide more empathetic thinking to the community about accessibility. Let us know!

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