Equity and Inclusive Design

Photo of London floating bus stop with bicyclist in the lane that means they avoid parked buses but cut across pathway for pedestrians trying to get to bus stop
Photo from https://www.transportforall.org.uk/news/tfl-stop-building-floating-bus-stops-until-safety-concerns-are-dealt-with/

Floating Bus Stops represent what I distrust about Inclusive Design processes (compared to Accessible Design methods).

I was reminded by a speech this week by Lord Holmes (who is blind) in the House of Lords about the dangers of such bus stop designs for blind and visually impaired people.

Accessible issues

Accessible Design has issues. With a focus on impairments, rather than intents or even individuals, it can easily become just a tick box exercise of meeting certain specifications and standards. Yet it does recognise that people have essential design needs to perceive, decide and act. It is about autonomy and enablement. The Social Model of Disability sense of the environment is broken and needs fixing to enable people to do the thing they want to do.

Inclusive Stretches

Inclusive Design tries to stretch that but tensions appear in that movement. There are compromises and hierarching of needs. What is essential to a minority encounters what is convenient to a majority. Hard choices are made and they can be hidden by a fake sense of Equality.

Equity Matters

This is why Equity is important.

Floating Bus Stops are public design with intersecting intents and privilege. What is often missing in the Inclusive Design is an equitable balance of essential and convenient intents and needs.

It is convenient for bicyclists to be able to avoid the bus stopping problem in traffic. However, that designed swerve away from road thru shared space of pavement crashes into the essential needs of people with visual impairments (and many others) of being able to get to the bus stop simply and without anxiety. As with shared space schemes like Exhibition Road, by failing to make explicit the hierarchies of privilege in public spaces (cars > cycles > pedestrians), there is no consideration of equity and thus no design intervention to rebalance such inequities.

Anxiety not injury

Anxiety is the issue here rather than injury and death.

It is easy to argue about public environment design, especially that which adjacent to roads, in terms of explicit data of who is maimed and killed. However, some issues, like this, are intangible to explicit data measurement as it is about who is absent and what is not done.

People with physcial and cognitive impairments are less likely to go out and less likely to travel because of, not merely, the bad design and lack of affordances in the public environments but also the stress and anxiety of such environments. The effect of Floating Bus Stops is not the death or injury caused to people with disabilites but the unmeasured journeys not taken, the days out lost because people feel unconfident and unsafe.

This is why more conversations with more people is important. You need to explore what is done and not done. Equity is discovered in much harder and much more political events and discussions where the socio-technical imbalances of design are placed in front of people with a mixture of living experiences. What is convenient and what is essential needs to be explicit. How we balance needs equitably needs to be spoken about publicly. Inclusive Design which is not firmly based in Equity and founded in recognising essential accessibility needs will fail.

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