Tag Archives: accessibility

Mapping the Accessible Path

Access map screenshot showing sidewalk steepness at 0.5%The Data Science for Social Good (DSSG) team, a group out of the University of Washington, has been involved in an effort to improve mapping of the pedestrian way. By making use of the work from the OpenSidewalks project, they created AccessMap – a trip planning tool for people with limited mobility. With this tool, people can find the most accessible path through a network of sidewalks connected by curb ramps and street crossings.

At this time, the tool has only been implemented in Seattle, but the group plans to expand to other locations. The data used for the project is a compilation of the following elements with sources noted:

  • Base map – OpenStreetMap (OSM)
  • Sidewalks and curb ramps – Seattle Department of Transportation
  • Street crossings – DSSG Team
  • Elevations – National Elevation Dataset, USGS

When a user clicks a sidewalk segment, the steepness or grade is displayed. The screenshot of the map above shows a sidewalk segment along 1st Avenue between Madison and Spring streets at a 0.5% grade. Sidewalk segments are also colored coded to indicate the grade with red exceeding the required 5%, yellow just below the requirement, and green meeting the requirement. Clicking a street crossing or crosswalk displays the steepness or running grade along with a "Yes" or "No" to indicate whether or not curb ramps are at the corners.

To plan a route using the map, the user types in their origin and destination in a manner similar to how other mapping programs work. The difference is that Accessmap has a drop down tool for the user to designate a limit for maximum uphill and downhill grade and the need to avoid construction and require curb ramps. Different mobility assisted devices such as wheelchairs or canes can also be designated. Below is an example of a planned route.

Planned route example on accessmap

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Gamifying and Crowdsourcing ADA Inspections

The Makeability Lab at the University of Maryland is on a mission to "collect street-level accessibility information from every street in the world and enable design and development of a novel set of location-based technologies for accessibility." In order to achieve this goal, they set up an interactive website where people can inspect, identify, and label accessibility issues along sidewalks and at curb ramps.

The accessibility issues generated by this site are fairly basic, but would still be very helpful to cities interested in quickly and easily identifying issues. Currently the site is focused on auditing infrastructure in the Washington, D.C. area.

The group also plans to use the inspection data collected to "create new types of map-based accessibility tools, such as AccessScore, an interactive map of a city's accessibility, and RouteAssist, personalized routing algorithms based on a user's reported mobility level."

In addition, they are using the labels people assign to issues to develop algorithms to allow the computer to automatically find accessibility issues in the future.

So far 218 people have inspected almost 400 miles or 37% of Washington, D.C. If you are interested in volunteering your efforts, you can visit their website at http://sidewalk.umiacs.umd.edu and click on the "Participate" button.

Project Sidewalk Participate Screen

 Before beginning, you'll be offered a quick tutorial. You can also create an account to track your contributions. Here are a few screenshots taken while I inspected about a half mile of sidewalk in the Bellevue neighborhood of Washington, D.C. The first shows a section of heaved and cracked sidewalk I labeled as a surface problem. You can see I was able to choose this option from the group of issue icons located above the street-view image.

Project Sidewalk Surface Problem

When you place an icon on the image, a box pops up as shown in the screenshot below to allow you to choose the severity of the problem. The site gives some guidance on this, but there is still a lot of judgment in assigning a rating. Initially I wasn't going to give this specific problem the worst rating, but then decided the slope looks severe enough I don't think a wheelchair would safely navigate across the heaved section. Below the rating, there is a space for a more detailed description of the problem.

Project Sidewalk Surface Problem Rating

The screen also shows which neighborhood I am in, where I am at on the street, how many miles I have audited and labels I have placed. As you complete assigned sections, the site summarizes your progress as shown below:

Project Sidewalk Mission Summary

Finally, you can view your dashboard to see your overall contribution to the site. Below is my current status after only working on it for a short time:

Project Sidewalk Dashboard

As you can see on my dashboard, the locations of the problems I found are displayed on a map. A zoomed in view of this is shown below. I was not sure if there was a way to see everyone's contributions, but if so, this would be very helpful to a city engineering or public works department in managing their sidewalk or street repair program. It would also be helpful if the data could be extracted from a given area so it could be overlaid in a city's GIS with other data such as land use, destinations such as schools and hospitals, and locations of capital improvements and developments.

Project Sidewalk Map Zoomed

Because the site is so easy to use, cities could also partner with schools and ask students to participate in inspections. This would help to engage students in their community and build awareness of the needs for and barriers to accessibility.

From what I can tell, the group also has the code for the site over on GitHub. Their license grants permission to make use of the software according the terms specified, and instructions for setting up your own development site are provided in a README file.

You can follow the group's progress through their Twitter feed: @umd_sidewalk.

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Getting to Know PROWAG

Non accessible construction in the ROWA clearer understanding of ADA design seems to be on the horizon. Today, the U.S. Access Board released a formal set of proposed guidelines for accessible rights-of-way, also known as PROWAG, at a public briefing and press conference. This document, once adopted, will finally provide the elusive guidance those of us in the design community have been looking for since the passage of the ADA in 1990. And with a better understanding of how to best design compliant infrastructure, we will be able to better construct improvements that increase accessibility and meet the terms of the law. Unlike the new construction shown in the photo to the left.

Those of you interested in reading through the document will find it embedded below or at the link to the guidelines in the paragraph above. Accessibility Online is also hosting a webinar on August 9, 2011, to provide information about the guidelines. According to their website, the webinar "will provide an overview of the NPRM, including major issues addressed in the notice such as alterations to existing facilities, existing facilities that are not altered, and allowances for typical roadway geometry. Time will be allotted for questions and answers."

After reviewing the guidelines, you can submit any comments or suggestions before November 23, 2011, by following the directions at the beginning of the document. So far the main comment I will submit is based on something I heard at a seminar I attended at the Illinois DOT earlier this year. The presenters shared with us a requirement of providing a minimum 5% running slope for the curb ramp. This means ramps must now fit within a tight range of 5% to 8.33%. No one in the room could figure out why this was a requirement and less than 5% would be a problem. Design and construction of a curb ramp meeting all requirements is probably the most challenging and misunderstood element in the entire guideline so adding design restrictions without good reason exacerbates the problem. If there is a reason, then it is worth doing, but so far no one has provided one. I'd be interested to hear viewpoints on this requirement from others. Or if you want to share any other observations or information about the new guidelines or about accessible design in the right of way, feel free to comment below.

Proposed Accessibility Guidelines for Pedestrian Facilities in the Public Right-of-Way, July 26, 2011

 

 

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Climbing the Uphill Battle for ADA on a Non-compliant Curb Ramp

Curb RampMy primary involvement in ADA has been as an engineer designing and building infrastructure in the right of way and in years past, as a building inspector approving private development. During my career, I have always made a dedicated effort to learn about and meet the requirements of this federal law. But it's been a challenge shared by many other building and design professionals due to the lack of guidance materials and solid instruction from federal and state agencies. Fortunately over the last year that has changed for us in Illinois with state and federal agencies providing more training. But as frustrating as it has been for us, I can't begin to imagine how it is for those who have a disability and need to use these facilities. And today, I came up against another completely unbelievable hurdle.

The law was passed in 1990, and it has taken 20 years for the design community to receive clear guidance on how to comply with the law. The effect this seems to have had is that many engineers look upon the law as a joke thinking why comply – next year federal and state agencies will change it again. Or they ignore it or only partially comply because it must not be important enough if it has taken this long to put achievable guidelines in place. And they do not normally interact with the community most affected to see the impact of their decisions.

So one hurdle is just convincing engineers they need to follow the law. Our state has come out with the opinion that if a professional engineer knowingly designs or builds or approves a non-compliant ramp, they will pursue taking away their license. This is serious for someone who relies on the license for their job. Yet, when I share this with other engineers they do not believe it or think it could happen.

Fortunately there are engineers out there who do care and try to comply. I wonder sometimes what makes the difference. For myself, my dedication has built up over time as I better understood the requirements and particularly as I began to interact with those who have disabilities. They have really been the ones who helped me understand the importance of each regulation. Not complying does truly cause them hardship and at times it is painful and severe. It makes me wonder if we should be requiring a certification for ADA design that includes training and interaction with disability communities and groups.

Anyway, as difficult as all that has been to work through, today I got a call from a couple in our city complaining about a curb ramp we installed. They didn't like the design because they felt it would make it difficult to mow. I had tried to explain in two emails and out on the site that we were obligated to construct the ramp in that manner due to federal law. That the city risked liability and loss of use of road funds for highway improvements should we choose to ignore the law. And I added the part about losing my license. But they would have none of that. They questioned why other ramps are non-compliant, but it's difficult to convey how and why we got to this point over 20 years in just a few minutes. So they could not understand.

But in the end, I could tell by their attitudes, the bottom line for these people was that they were going to force the city to put in a ramp they liked no matter what. They obviously had total disregard for the law and our need to comply. They even threatened calling the newspaper and the state of Illinois to "tell on us." Which didn't make sense to me – were they going to tell them we put in a compliant ramp they don't like? Of course both they and their child had no visible disabilities.

All I could think was if I feel this frustrated and helpless just trying to build compliant infrastructure, how must someone feel who has to try to use non-compliant infrastructure? I can't even imagine telling someone with a disability, we chose not to comply with the law because these people thought it would cause them some difficulty in mowing around the ramp. We might be able to some day have designers on board, but how will we ever get healthy people with no disabilities to accept the need for compliance when all they care about is not having a minor inconvenience in mowing? And how can people have such total disregard for others?

 

 

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