At the Re-Access City! youth exchange in June, a number of 39 young people from 6 different European countries took part in various activities to gain insight into the difficulties faced by people with disabilities – visually impaired, wheelchair users, etc. – and to map out the mobility opportunities in our hometown, Odorheiu Secuiesc. We asked the young people, divided into four groups, to follow a pre-assigned route, which was different for each of the teams, with wheelchairs and white canes. Their task was to analyze the facilities in the neighborhood. Participants toured the city centre and found many instances where it was particularly difficult or impossible to get around as a disabled person. The main difficulties reported on the routes were sidewalks, ramps and cobbled sections. Sidewalks have mostly proved to be too narrow, with holes and defects in many places, making it difficult or impossible to cross passageways, and curb cuts are also inappropriate for people with disabilities. In public institutions, restaurants and shops, there are problems at the entrance, where there are usually only stairs and high thresholds. There are ramps in some buildings, but some of them are difficult to use and create additional obstacles for people with reduced accessibility. Last but not least, cobbled paths can be found in many parts of the town, but they are not suitable for wheelchair users because they are not properly maintained and can be bumpy, incomplete and therefore very dangerous for all pedestrians and disabled people. The most shocking event of the project has happened on the route that leads to the local train station, it’s a cobbled path and while one of the participants was trying to get to the station, the tyre of the wheelchair has exploded because of a pointed stone.
The output of the events experienced by the young people is not only a map demonstrating the different categories of roads and problems in our city, but also suggestions for changes in mobility and the writing of a guide, which was presented for the City Council and the local press. The Wheel Map for a Barrier-free city can be downloaded from here:
This is the guide to a more accessible city, created by the participants of the Re-Access City! 2021 Erasmus+ Youth Exchange:
- Repair sidewalks: Cities can improve their accessibility by keeping their sidewalk repairs efficiently up to date.
- Correctly constructed or repaired curb cuts: Curb cuts provide an easy way for people with disabilities to navigate from the sidewalk to street level,and are particularly good for those with low vision, or people who use wheelchairs. Without a well-built curb cut, a wheelchair could tip when trying to go from sidewalk to street level, and a person with low vision might misjudge the height of the curb and fall.
- Repair cobbled areas: Cobbled areas are an authentic and traditional stylistic feature of many neighbourhoods, but they need to be properly maintained and periodically repaired so that they are safe and accessible to all.
- Accessible public toilets: Many people with disabilities may choose not to go out because they have no access to usable toilets. Cities need to provide accessible bathrooms with accessible stalls and toilets. Cities that wish to become more accessible should plan for a certain number of accessible bathrooms in every area of the city.
- Social aspects: we must design the city so that all citizens without exception can share the same places, interact and interact. It is a matter of designing accessible spaces, parks, for example, banks must be accessible, and all services offered should be suitable for all people regardless of their physical or mental abilities. In addition, museums, should also be adapted with trained guides, just like the schools.
- Thinking carefully: before making major investments and changes, it is worth listening to the opinions and suggestions of people who are genuinely involved and have the experience to make a useful contribution to the changes planned for them.
- Education for understanding: informing citizens about the right attitude and assistance to people with disabilities. The general public should be much more attentive and understanding on the streets, as they often unnecessarily try to help or endanger people with reduced mobility through their inattention.
Conclusion: just because someone is physically disabled doesn’t mean they can’t have an opinion and be an equally fulfilled human being, they shouldn’t be excluded from decision-making and any social opportunities. In general terms, the city we live in directly influences our quality of life and our social relations, so it is important to create and maintain an environment that is liveable for all.
All of the above has been presented for members of the City Council and we are delighted to report that our project has initiated a conversation between disabled people and people in power, our NGO being the catalyst of this process.