The role of Disability Rights Movements, policy regulations and smart devices in designing urban democracy in Europe
Currently developing ethnographic research on urban accessibility struggles and the creation, implementation, maintenance and supervision of sidewalk democracy projects as well as inclusive urbanism practices in Barcelona (in comparison with similar transformations in Europe). Focusing on the different knowledges being there mobilised–such as the different registers of value, the sensory practices of urban appreciation, and the articulation of bodily diverse experience–in diverse ‘documentation interfaces‘ (the different relational and more or less institutional or activist design situations of valuation: to frame, elicit or provoke into existence and discuss diverse bodily experiences and environmental/material affordances).
After having signed a collaboration agreement with Barcelona City Hall’s IMPD (Municipal Institute of People with Disabilities) I am undertaking fieldwork and archival work at the institute, as well as conducting interviews with different professionals and experts managing the implementation and supervision of accessibility arrangements in the city.
Without the inspiration of my colleagues and friends in Spain (mostly En torno a la silla & EXPDEM) this project would have been impossible to imagine. However, my special thanks go to David Pontille & Maggie Mort for their help and support in the many iterations and previous versions of this project proposal.
CONTEXT & AIMS
In the past two decades ‘urban accessibility’ has become a very important matter of concern in Europe, due to: citizenship struggles of different advocacy groups of people with disabilities or older people; and growing concern on the part of the policymaking institutions at European, state, regional and municipal levels over population ageing and the everyday higher prevalence of chronic illnesses. In fact, in the whole EU different regulatory bodies have started to promote different accessibility policies –such as building standards and specific sidewalk intervention norms– as a way to encourage social justice and equity values through the intervention of public space design. These endeavours are introducing new and very interesting socio-technical dynamics. Indeed, accessibility measures and values are creating new markets of urban infrastructures: new building standards (norms, handbooks, building procedures, etc.) and technological devices intervening in the urban space (such as in the increasingly important development of ‘smart’ urban accessibility solutions), requiring new forms of expertise so as to manage complex design and political regulations.
This project seeks to understand the epistemic, political and economic transformations accessibility measures are entailing, building on STS warnings over the democratic deficit produced by expert divides and the subsequent concern towards enhancing citizen participation in technoscientific issues. This will be done through mapping, analysing and comparing ethnographically the ‘valuation practices’ of different actors involved in urban accessibility issues in Europe (notably, Disability rights activists and technical experts such as architects and engineers). Special efforts will be put on the collaborative analysis and discussion of different versions of ‘what count as accessible public spaces.’
The main aim is to bring some light into the current dynamics of expertisation, as well as the socio-economic & epistemic transformations these ‘sensible’ infrastructural interventions might be implying. Such an approach might be of great ethical relevance in order to suggest helpful enhancements in the design and implementation of accessibility policies and measures for EU citizens’ social justice, equity and participation.
METHODOLOGY & CASE STUDIES
(a) Map of laws, acts, norms, regulations and standards on public space accessibility.
The analysis will begin by focusing on the different articulations, definitions, and versions of urban accessibility enacted in the different policy instruments, both at a European level and at state, regional and municipal levels.
POTENTIAL case studies
- Disputes or discrepancies between local, regional and state regulatory bodies: Barcelona’s norms and standards, and their transformation according to the development of the 2014 Catalan Law of Urban Accessibility & the recent 561/VIV Spanish state regulations
- Statewide projects and their different approaches to the standardisation, implementation, and regulation of maintenance: Germany’s DIN 18040 & DIN 32984 | France’s Loi 2005-102
- Attempts at creating a European framework for urban accessibility: European Commission’s project of the European Accessibility Act
(b) Ethnographic case studies and in-depth interviews.
b.1. In-depth interviews to advocates and professionals responsible for the construction of smart interfaces for the valuation of urban in/accessibility or the development of urban interventions
POTENTIAL case studies
- Smartphone in/accessibility mapping apps: Megafone.net & App&Town (Spain); J’Accede (France); Wheelmap (Germany); BlindMaps (Austria)
- Responsive and/or multi-sensory approaches to urban accessible design: Ross Atkin Associates (UK) | Modellbaukasten: Taktiles und visuelles Blindenleitsystem im öffentlichen Verkehrsraum (Germany) | Tracktile (Germany)
b.2. Observations of city hall supervisions of the implementation of accessibility laws and norms in projects of sidewalk reform/interventions
POTENTIAL case studies
- Following architects and urban planners in their daily activities (e.g. documentation practices, construction field-site supervision, etc.,) as well as interviewing the civil servants and private professionals there involved (e.g. municipal architects, urban designers, contractors & builders): Municipal Institute of People with Disabilities (Barcelona, Spain)
b.3. Interviews and observations of urban accessibility advocacy groups, following their technical work, political campaigns, design/media interventions for the sensitization of urban accessibility, and their urban accessibility interventions
POTENTIAL case studies
- Open source and collaborative making of personal and urban accessibility infrastructures and interventions: En torno a la silla (Barcelona, Spain) | SOZIALHELDEN (Berlin, Germany)
- Development of mediating artefacts and documentary interfaces for the communication of architectural design needs, or the sensitization of technicians to multi-sensory requirements: BBSB (Munich, Germany)
- Ongoing and organized political campaigns having urban accessibility issues at their core: Carrers per a tothom actions to regulate ‘shared streets’ and their problems for blind and partially sighted people (Barcelona, Spain) | ECOM‘s struggle for the open-access of accessibility norms and regulations (Catalonia, Spain) | European Blind Union actions to regulate silent electric cars (Paris, France & EU) | Association des Paralysées de France actions to assess and to enforce the full implementation of urban accessibility regulations in the country (Paris & Midi-Pyrénées, France).