Tech breaks accessibility barriers in transport.

Tech breaks accessibility barriers in transport.

Overcoming Barriers to Universal Accessible Transportation with Technology

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), people with disabilities make up 16% of the global population. Unfortunately, they face significant challenges when it comes to transportation, with accessibility being a major issue. However, in order for mobility to be truly sustainable, it must be inclusive and cater to the needs of every member of society. This is where technology plays a vital role.

Jonathan Chacón Barbero, Senior Accessibility Software Engineer at Cabify, shed some light on the importance of technology in enabling universally accessible transportation. Chacón Barbero, who is blind himself, joined the ride-hailing scaleup in 2019 and led the development of its accessibility menu. With a career focused on accessible applications, he understands both the passion and the practicality of technology.

Chacón Barbero’s love for technology began at a young age. He recalls how receiving his first personal computer as a child ignited his passion for computers. Despite losing his sight at the age of 15, he continued his journey into the world of technology, focusing on software development. For him, technology became more than just a passion; it became a tool to overcome challenges related to his condition.

One of the biggest barriers to accessible transportation is the lack of awareness and social acceptance of disability. Chacón Barbero emphasizes that society as a whole needs to recognize and understand the importance of accessibility. Only by experiencing the challenges faced by individuals with disabilities can we truly grasp the need for inclusive mobility.

Inaccessible vehicles, poorly designed infrastructure such as curbs, crosswalks, and sidewalks, as well as a lack of signage and journey planning information, all contribute to the transportation challenges faced by people with disabilities. Negative attitudes from other passengers also play a significant role in discouraging the use of public transportation. Chacón Barbero shares his own experience with using taxi services, where the lack of direct communication between the driver and the user led to wasted time and money.

Thankfully, in recent years, there has been an increase in initiatives that leverage technology to address these accessibility challenges. For example, the city of Lyon has developed a public transport app that uses real-time data to assist disabled individuals in finding the most accessible routes. Startups like Wayfindr and Noteabox have also made significant strides in providing audio navigation and smartphone-based button pressing functionalities to aid visually impaired individuals.

Cabify, the ride-hailing company where Chacón Barbero works, serves as another example of how technology can enhance inclusivity in transportation. The company’s accessibility menu, which Chacón Barbero developed, offers a range of features to cater to different disability profiles. For visually impaired users, the menu allows them to inform drivers that they need assistance reaching the vehicle. In the case of individuals with hearing impairments, they can choose to chat with drivers instead of making phone calls. Additionally, important alerts can be received and played back via voice, benefitting various user groups. Over 110,000 users worldwide have activated one or more of these menu functionalities, with some non-disabled users finding value in features such as larger font sizes and chat options.

Despite these advancements, Chacón Barbero believes that there is still much work to be done. He plans to continue improving the app by adding new functionalities, expanding disability user profiles, and increasing the number of accessible cars. However, he also acknowledges that technology alone is not the solution. Social acceptance and awareness are equally important.

Eurostat’s statistics reveal that nearly 30% of the EU population with disabilities are at higher risk of poverty or social exclusion. Chacón Barbero hopes that society will become more inclusive and recognize that people with disabilities are not defined solely by their disabilities. He believes that younger generations can spearhead this change by embracing diversity and championing inclusivity.

In conclusion, technology is a powerful tool in overcoming barriers to universal accessible transportation. It allows individuals with disabilities to navigate their surroundings more independently and effectively. However, it is crucial for society to recognize the importance of accessibility and actively work towards creating a more inclusive environment. As Chacón Barbero aptly puts it, “The solution is technology for people and with people.”