Domain: Research

Themes: Inclusive Design, Culture and Participation

Exploring mobility access in urban contexts across the world

Despite the existence of disability laws and accessibility rules in different parts of the world, good mobility access for disabled people is not often a reality. PhD student and wheelchair user Anna Landre has joined the GDI Hub to explore the issues and possible solutions to this.

Wheelchair users and other members of the disability community face spatial and social barriers on a daily basis, wherever in the world they live. Building structures, communities and cities that are inclusive is vital, but it doesn’t always happen, despite increasing awareness of the issues. Moreover, a lack of accessibility can be the case whatever the starting point is in terms of a country’s development, infrastructure, and laws that are already in place.

As part of tackling this issue, local and city governments need better tools to evaluate and audit mobility access in urban contexts.

Making access fair and inclusive

In response to this, PhD student Anna Landre is focusing her PhD research on this theme.

“Many countries in the world, no matter the level of development, have these beautiful disability laws about how everything must be accessible, but you just don't see it reflected in reality, whether it's London or Sao Paulo or Freetown. There's a lot of work to do to bridge that gap between what's written on paper and what happens in the real world. And as a wheelchair user, I'm especially interested in fixing that.”

Landre did her undergraduate degree at Georgetown University in Washington DC, focusing on Regional and Comparative Studies of Latin America and Africa, with a minor in Disability Studies. With an interest in the things that connect the disability community across borders, Landre was keen to continue exploring the global context of disability. She went onto the London School of Economics on a Marshall Scholarship, to do a graduate degree in International Development and Humanitarian Emergencies. As the war in Ukraine broke, Landre worked with a local disability rights organisation to evacuate and provide aid to disabled Ukrainians too. “That has added a new lens to my work, thinking about what mobility barriers and difficulties mean in an emergency,” Landre said. “We’re having more of these emergencies due to climate change and other difficulties, so this is another important aspect to consider for the disability community.”

Landre joined the GDI Hub to do her PhD for the one of a kind opportunity to explore some of the issues facing the disability community. “I’m not sure I would have done my PhD anywhere else,” she said. “The GDI Hub is the perfect confluence of my interests, with interdisciplinary work and people from all different backgrounds. We have the same big picture goal of wanting to improve the lives of disabled people worldwide.”

The opportunity to have this springboard as a disabled researcher is also meaningful for the disabled community more broadly. “It's really critical that we are not only promoting codesign, collaboration and consultation of disabled people, but in fact leadership and research by disabled people too,” Landre said. “We so often see non-disabled designers with the best of intentions, creating inventions for disabled people that we don’t have a practical use for, or didn’t quite ask for. We need to put our resources into the areas the disabled community most needs, as opposed to just where non-disabled people want to do research.”

Next steps

To commence her PhD, Landre wants to tap into some of the technical expertise at the GDI Hub to explore how technology might be able to solve some of the mobility issues in urban settings. She is keen to use aspects of digital mapping, artificial intelligence and crowdsourcing to identify where mobility and access issues are. For example, to identify and highlight when a pavement is broken or inaccessible. The idea is to find ways to make it easier for city and local governments to rectify the issues.

Beyond her PhD, Landre wants to work with disabled communities in different contexts across the world, to understand and facilitate what they feel is needed in their lives. “Community building in this group is so important,” Landre explained. “We’re a relatively new social identity to be recognised – politically, legally, and in so many other ways. We need to work to strengthen those ties, because we're so much stronger when we act as a unit. We can learn a lot from other movements to do this – like the contemporary LGBTQ community that has made huge strides in unity and recognition over the last few decades. For the disability community, inclusive development, design and community building is key and resonates with me – I very much consider this group as my people.”