3. Technology: accessibility, applications and smart cities

Technology is an essential tool for inclusion. It is everywhere these days and its design and implementation can and should be geared towards breaking down social and physical barriers of all sorts. And it is the basis of smart cities, a hope for integration that is not without its own risks.

Tomás Sánchez, researcher at the Munich Center for Technology in Society, presented one of the projects from the group “En torno a la silla” (Around the chair). It is a series of do-it-yourself co-creation workshops that allow people with disabilities to make their own low-cost, personalized solutions, while also giving them a place to interact. The question is how to implement the initiative on a larger scale. “Probably one option would be to get support from the Fab Labs,” commented Sánchez. “And an additional challenge is to bring designers into the specific problems of each of these people, he added. Because as mentioned Nicolás Barbieri, researcher at the Institute of Government and Public Policy, paraphrasing Leonard Cohen in a video from the same group: “Any system you contrive without us will be brought down.

Other ways of applying technology to benefit people with disabilities come from using their own medical records. This is the aim of the QVIDLAB project at Institut Guttman, presented by Joan Saurí. By collecting and analyzing large amounts of information on health and quality of life from patients undergoing neuro-rehabilitation, they aim to generate data that can be applied to clinical care and social innovation.

I dont know if introducing information technology in our lives is exactly progress,” said Jordi Tolrá, head of mSocial. “The debate lies in how to use it to make sure it is.” Tolrá presented several mobile apps designed to boost inclusion. One was developed by the Arrels foundation for the homeless so people can send a notification when they see someone sleeping rough. “The challenge is to empower the homeless. Many of them have mobiles and could easily access information and services and decide what to do on their own.” Another is the Vincles project for the elderly who live alone, giving them a way to contact others in their personalized circle of contacts, who they choose and trust.

There are also apps that help read instructions for medicines on a mobile when the writing is too small, as explained David Zanoletty, manager of the ONCE Foundation Department of Accessible Technology. Even “meta-technology” projects, which aim to identify the best model of mobile for people with specific needs.

The generalization of technology is the basis of smart cities, understood as sustainable cities that use information technology and connected structures to address the needs of institutions and residents. Barcelona aspires to become a digital city”, as commented Anna Majó, technical director of Digital Innovation at Barcelona Activa, citing projects like Decidim Barcelona, which aims to improve the quality of democracy and municipalism.

These concept cities offer many opportunities, as explained Giorgia Nesti, professor at the University of Padua. They should, in principle, foster business development, sustainability and participation. And they would allow for an approach to urban policy that includes fostering inclusion.  But they arent free of risks. “They could widen the digital gap, foster an excessively neoliberal ideology and lead to fragmentation,” she warned. This is why we must adopt “a paradigm of cooperation among the parties involved, encouraging their participation, voice and responsibilities.”   

The goal should be no less than full inclusion, said Luz Zelderloo, secretary general of the European Association of Service Providers for Persons with Disabilities (EASPD). “When we speak of a target of 95% accessibility, I like to say it would be like building 1,000 kilometers of roads with 5 kilometers of interruptions.