May 28, 2015

Helping the Disabled Get around the Smart City

Smart cities can be a place where the disabled feel more at home by giving better access to buildings, providing easier interaction with healthcare and other services or sending driverless cars to help them get around their neighborhood and beyond.

Most of the early discussions around smart cities have been about better use of energy, more efficient traffic flow, smart lighting and attracting business investment. But there is another angle that will make a massive difference to a significant market segment. It involves providing a smarter, more inclusive environment in which the world’s billion disabled people will be able to participate and become more involved, rather than being left out.

This smarter citizen angle is made possible by the advances in mobile technology and wearables, enabling the disabled to use technology to connect and interact on the same level as their able-bodied peers. These individuals with hearing, vision, physical or cognitive impairments will now be able to participate in their digital environment and be an integral part of their smart city.

It Will Take a Village
From the view of communications service providers (CSPs), enabling the smart city for the disabled will require a granular level of connectivity down to bus shelters or mailboxes in order for accurate location information to be combined with service availability. It will also require additional network investment, with 5G already being touted as the key technology over which smart cities will be connected. But to truly integrate the disabled will require strong collaborative efforts from formerly disparate organizations, such as transportation, retail, government, healthcare and education.

For example, a wheelchair user going to a meeting at a local government office will be able to identify the ideal route to the building via public or private transport and find the wheelchair accessible door. When the person arrives at that door, knowing he or she is disabled and coming for a meeting, the door opens and admits the individual. This combination of communications and systems holding the data on buildings, services and possibly individuals is extremely compelling.

From the CSP side, it represents a great opportunity to combine the personalization of mobile and the impending suite of services fueled by small cells and a more granular network.

Making Lives Easier
As communications becomes increasingly embedded in every aspect of our daily lives, business processes in areas such as healthcare and social services also benefit from the smarter environment connected to the digitized individual. Channels of communications aren’t just kept open but are amplified and expanded to allow high-quality video, voice and messaging to be adapted to the individual’s requirements, depending on a permanent or temporary disability or impairment.

Fewer trips to the hospital due to health professionals being able to monitor people in their homes represent significant economic savings to the community.  And the self-driving car is the probably the ultimate collaboration among information, services and the individual. Autonomous taxis will be able to show up outside a building, identify their customer and whisk them off to their destination. This will be liberating for many disabled people who rely on their family or caregivers to drive them around or who can’t get out at all.

At the end of the day, this collaborative approach to the smart city will benefit everyone. CSPs have a pivotal role to play working with all of the interested parties, connecting all of the moving parts, orchestrating the many information flows and making sense of the reams of data being generated.

Providing the extended digital infrastructure to handle this array of communications will give CSPs new customers and a new potential to link into different value chains, often through third parties, but always at the heart of the smart city.


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