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10th European e-Accessibility Forum
e-Accessibility in a connected world

30 May 2016, 9am-6pm
Cité des sciences et de l'industrie, Paris

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How to build accessible smart cities without frightening people

Ross Atkin Associates

Speaker's information

photo Ross Atkin

Ross Atkin holds masters degrees in both Industrial Design and Mechanical Engineering from the Royal College of Art and University of Nottingham respectively. He has worked on technological development in industry at major UK manufacturers like Dyson and on academic research at the Royal College of Art. He maintains a design and development practice concentrating on the interfaces between disability, technology and the city, working for world-leading manufacturers like Stannah and Marshalls, major disability charities like Scope and municipal authorities. Ross has been working with pervasive computing since 2007 and actively developing Internet of Things products since 2011. He is currently working on a series of connected products in the smart city and assisted living spaces including Responsive Street Furniture which was nominated for the Design Museum's Designs of the Year award 2015.



Since 2009, Ross has been shadowing disabled people as they navigate streets and other public spaces as part of a succession of research projects commissioned by public bodies and major vision impairment charities in the United Kingdom.

The first shadowing project was called Sight Line and focused on producing a document that helped explain the needs of street users with vision impairments to street designers. This research led to a set of design improvements to the signs and barriers used at on-street construction sites. These improvements included additional information provided in high-contrast visual, tactile and digitally accessible forms.

In 2012, as part of a participatory access audit for the City of York, Ross applied the shadowing methodology to a group of disabled people with different impairments. In the process of recommending accessibility improvements to the City it became apparent that many design decisions were a trade-off between the needs of different disabled people. For example, a huge group of people with walking difficulties would be advantaged by more seating better distributed along walking routes. However, because of constrained footway width, that seating would present a barrier to wheelchair and scooter users.

At the same time Ross was working on a research project for Scope, a major UK disability charity, looking at digital accessibility. The project underscored the value of adaptability in digital technology for all disabled people.

Working on the two projects at the same time revealed a stark contrast between the way accessibility was managed in the built environment and the digital one. The streets were designed with a one-size-fits-all approach, with the final configuration being an awkward compromise between different people’s needs. Conversely digital devices, applications and websites were designed to adapt to the needs of different users, giving each one an experience tailored to their specific needs.

Ross realised that, using Internet of Things technology, this principle of adaptability and responsiveness could be applied to the built environment. Bluetooth technology could be used to identify individuals to items of infrastructure which could then respond, providing tailored assistance. The concept was pitched to Marshalls, a leading manufacturer of street furniture and paving and a collaboration ensued. Marshalls line of ‘Intelligent Street Furniture’ is the result of that collaboration.

Watch Ross Atkin's presentation on YouTube. For subtitles, please use the CC button, and if you require a transcript do not hesitate to contact us at contact[at]braillenet.org.


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