Smart and sustainable cities inclusive of people with disabilitiesAn exploratory study using digital tools and participatory practices

  1. Rebernik, Natasa
Supervised by:
  1. Alfonso Bahillo Director
  2. Paolo Favero Director

Defence university: Universidad de Deusto

Fecha de defensa: 03 November 2020

  1. Konstantinos Lalenis Chair
  2. Diego López de Ipiña González de Artaza Secretary
  3. Georgios Artopoulos Committee member

Type: Thesis


Cities are still not sympathetic to the needs of people with disabilities. Even modern smart and sustainable city conceptualizations seem not to be fully ready to meet the requirements of a disability-inclusive city. Thus, disability inclusion is still not reflected in the real lives of people with disabilities. The main research question explored within this research is to what disability-inclusive city truly means and how can we make its complexity more comprehensive to relevant stakeholders for them to be able to respond with informed measures. In this context, I question which approaches, methods and tools could be used to enhance disability-inclusive city planning, design and governance. The objective is to design a novel methodological framework and useful practical tools for future urban research, practice and decision making. City is a complex system of subsystems that need to work together as a whole. I argue that due to the complex and diverse nature of disability inclusion and the city, and due to an overwhelming complexity within current political, legislative and standardization frameworks in disability domain, new holistic, integrative and participatory models are needed to help stakeholders tackle this complexity. Previous research has shown that cities still face an insurmountable amount of societal challenges, especially when considering the design of cities inclusive of all their inhabitants. To help them tackle these challenges, I first set a vision of a holistic approach to disability-inclusive city design. I conceptualize a disability-inclusive city as a holistically designed purposeful system of subsystems that respects disability inclusion as a basic principle. Using participatory research grounded on deep, slow and small-data-oriented ethnographic techniques, I further explore how these challenges appear and interact on the premise human-space-technology. I provide an exemplary novel methodological framework, a 4-dimensional model and a corresponding Combined Methodological Approach designed to help cities explore the needs, characteristics, opinions, aspirations, desires, constraints and attitudes of people with disabilities towards their disability, the city governance, the spaces they use and the technology that may help make a city more accessible. In the context of the contemporary digitalizing world with technology penetrating our everyday lives, I further explore which digital tools exist today and may help people with disabilities, city authorities and researchers in paving the way towards more disability-inclusive cities. I explore what these tools can do, how they can be used, what benefits they bring to disability-inclusive design and how they impact the lives of people with disabilities in the city. The fieldwork shows that technology may both, enable and disable people with disabilities while they use the space. It may be of great use and penetrate the physical world by adding additional layers of immaterial information to people with disabilities, but it cannot magically remove barriers for them. It may also change the disability itself and as such limit both the use of the spaces as well as the technology. Such in-depth participatory work shows how important it is to understand the complexity, diversity and individuality among citizens for an informed and responsive disability-inclusive design of both, cities and the technology. The proposed methodological framework responds exactly to this gap and provides a methodological contribution that goes beyond this research. Finally, by designing a novel Disability Inclusion Evaluation Tool (DIETool) with its component Disability Inclusion Performance Index (DIPI), I attempt to close the circle and respond to my initial vision of a holistically designed disability-inclusive city. The tool translates complex political, legislative and standardization requirements into a simple, comprehensive tool that guides cities towards an improved understanding as of where they are in terms of disability inclusion performance in each of the 20 areas of city life. As a unique evaluation and monitoring tool in the disability domain, it represents the final contribution of this research.