By Angelo D’Urso
During the 2016 Paralympics, we once again witnessed how the human spirit can be strong enough to overcome most physical barriers. In defiance of their impairments, Paralympians were able to inspire the whole world with their achievements. However, many challenges are yet to be overcome in the day to day lives of millions of people with disabilities around the world.
According to the World Health Organization, one in seven people globally experience disability and 70 million require a wheelchair, but only 5 to 15 percent actually have access to one. Legislation such as the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) in the U.S. and other anti-discrimination laws in the European Union and other countries have created a framework in the past two decades to guarantee equal opportunities to persons with disability or reduced mobility. In addition to meeting civil rights, this legislation made it possible for people with disabilities to enter the job market, helping many organizations to advance and compete in the global marketplace with their talent.
Access to accessible buses, taxis and trains is an important aspect of community integration and citizenship. And equally important is the work done by companies in the private sector to ensure an increased level of accessibility in personal and public transportation. Ramps and wheelchair lifts have been making the journey of people with reduced mobility possible for over half a century, and are increasingly safer and more sophisticated. But many people with reduced mobility do not feel comfortable on a sometimes unstable platform, being lifted several feet from the ground onto buses and coaches; because of the extra attention that they receive from the general public who might be curious about the operation of such equipment, or perhaps because of the lack of training of drivers or operators in using ramps and lifts.
But despite all of these daily struggles to get around, technological breakthroughs are making the travel experience safer and more reliable for people with reduced mobility. Manufacturers such as Mobility Networks, based in Europe with offices around the world in Australia, Denmark, Romania, Italy, United Kingdom and our largest facility in Toronto heading the North American market, have developed lifts with larger and wider platforms to make the passenger experience more comfortable. The way that passenger feels when being transported is taken into account by a top engineering team, and as a result their lifts offer a smooth speed of travel, are equipped with side guards, handrails, and the StopSafe lift barrier that includes safety belts which provide maximum usage of the lift platform and extra safety for passengers. In addition, their equipment has minimum re-flective tape, which can have the appearance of commercial lifts when used in excess and is not appreciated by passengers. The same goes for warning buzzers with lower volume and different sound tones, plus discreet LEDs used in subtle ways wherever possible.
With the view of avoiding accidents, Mobility Networks have also developed the world’s first automatic door barrier, launched in the late 90’s, the new generation of barriers is more aesthetically pleasing, fitted with high visibility colors and decals. It protects both passengers and drivers when an accessible vehicle’s doors are open. The barrier arm can be automatically activated before a passenger lift is operated so that the vehicle door is appropriately blocked.
These incremental innovations in the accessible transportation industry have played a major role in making it possible for people with reduced mobility to engage in all aspects of social life, giving hope of a better future not only to those who are inspired to become Paralympians one day, but for a more equal and fair society.