When architects or engineers set out to design a building, a critical element that they should think about, along with what the building will be used for, is access. This doesn't mean access for only fit, healthy, and able-bodied people. This also means access for the elderly, people in wheelchairs, or potentially those with baby buggies or other restrictive limitations.
The Government does its part to promote this goal by constantly reviewing legislation to improve the lives of people with disabilities. The Disability Act 2005 was created to support the social inclusion of those with disabilities. It states that "a public body shall ensure that its public buildings are, as far as practicable, accessible to persons with disabilities."
In Ireland, Galway is leading the way towards mobility and access for everyone. Galway County Council currently has a grant system that covers the basic costs of addressing mobility problems - those that are primarily, but not exclusively, associated with aging. This is partially because the demographics in Galway are changing. The population is getting older, and therefore taking care of aging citizens is becoming a fast-approaching concern for the city.
Overall, Galway is an example of fantastic urban design, though the city functions rather poorly in terms of accessibility for those in wheelchairs. Most of the streets are cobble-stoned, which makes movement throughout the city nearly impossible for someone in a wheelchair. Public transportation seeks to bridge this gap. Bus Eireann, Ireland’s national bus service, states that its policy is "to procure more accessible vehicles as part of our continuing program of fleet replacement." Their actions show the state's commitment to accommodating those elderly and disabled members of our community.
Their commitment can also bee seen on the city’s main thoroughfares and in its open squares, where one will find few stairs or steps. The city has placed an emphasis on using slopes and ramps to help people of all abilities be able to move freely throughout the city.
In recent years, Galway City Council has also installed new traffic lights with sound devices. This is meant to assist those who are blind or visually impaired. At this point in time, Ireland and Australia are the only countries in the world that have a sound device in traffic lights, again, showing the Irish Governments commitment to equitable living conditions for all residents.
While the above examples have undoubtedly improved access for the people and visitors of Galway, it remains to be seen whether or not Ireland is doing enough to plan for the shifts in its demographics.
Do you think these methods are enough to prepare for an aging population? What is your city doing to improve accessibility for all?
Credits: Images by Alan Bannon. Data linked to sources.