The TRIPS project undertook a series of workshops to create a series of co-designed transport concepts that would enable people with a disability to travel independently by reducing barriers to mobility. The concepts developed were divided into big “disruptive” ideas that sought to wipe the slate clean and suggest ideas that could have the most significant impact and incremental ideas that offered a more straightforward solution to a specific barrier.
In the final part of the workshops, those attending reviewed the ideas and design concepts. They began to think about them critically, exploring their feasibility from a political, economic, social and technological perspective to suggest the barriers that made implementation more difficult.
The five most significant barriers identified were:
Financial and economic
An instinctive reaction to many of the proposed designs was that the cost of implementation was likely to be great. Whilst any innovation was likely to incur expenses; there were also some savings to be made through the designs; less dependency on human labour, environmental savings and increased usage were all factors that might offset some of the costs. In some cases, the extent to which innovation was based upon existing technologies directly impacted cost. Equally, the extent to which the innovation brought more comprehensive benefits to all travellers reduced the investment cost per user.
Such investment, regardless of benefits, was only likely to occur if inclusive mobility and the community were benefits had political and social support. The role of disabled persons organisations is not simply making politicians aware of the need and solutions, but building a persuasive business case, was vital in addressing the challenge.
In many cases, the innovations were technically and economically feasible. But key stakeholders within public bodies and transport operators had lacked sufficient awareness of the challenge and the potential resolutions. Without understanding what was possible and the most significant impact, it was difficult for bodies to act. Often information about what was available was only available in academic journals or only in English. Making such resources and ideas more widely available and accessible would help to stimulate awareness.
At an early stage of the design process, all the stakeholders were encouraged to dream and imagine solutions. As a result, all of the ideas addressed barriers, but some were more feasible than others. As discussion and debate expanded, it became important to make sure that we understood upon which emerging technologies the concept was based. Even a top-level understanding of the foundations of a design was critical in helping rate the ease of implementation. However, of all those discussed, this was the most fluid of barriers. Concepts that might have appeared to be science fiction less than a decade ago are already being tested.
Perceptions of added value
The extent to which a design solution offered broader added value to a community was a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the extent to which a solution made travel easier, more comfortable, safer or faster for all travellers was seen as adding considerable weight to the case for implementing a design concept or innovation. Even a partial extension such as maintaining independent travel for the elderly added value to the design. Equally, the extent to which a design had added benefits to the community also enhanced the case. Design that reduced city congestion facilitated increased safety and reduced environmental impact were all highly regarded as additional benefits that would increase social pressure for change and unlock investment.
However, there was also an awareness that pressure to prioritise innovations with added value and benefits could detract from the focus of increasing mobility for those with disabilities. Concerns were expressed that loss of focus could lead to solutions that failed to address the central challenges encountered and mean that real change did not occur.
In the discussion, it became clear that understanding the extent of barriers and considering how to mitigate them was an essential part of planning. Understanding that whilst anything is possible, some things are more probable and feasible than others was a major contribution to prioritising change and the investment of time and effort required to make a concept a reality.