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Lisbon accessibility plan opening doors

Participants at the recent Mediate and Access2All joint conference heard what a number of cities are doing to improve access to public transport, including the city of Lisbon.

Lisbon tram © Peter Gutierrez
Working to make Lisbon
more accessible to all
© Peter Gutierrez

With most people now living in urban centres, social inclusion and accessibility have become priorities for the European Union. Educational, cultural and economic activities are all concentrated in our large cities, and the question is how to make sure public transport networks provide equal access to people with reduced mobility.

"We are making progress in helping to extend the benefits of public transport to those who have long been excluded," says Mediate project coordinator Evangelos Bekiaris, "but it’s a 'work in progress'. While some of us have already taken great steps forward, many cities in many countries have only just begun to grapple with this problem, and we all need to help them."

At their joint conference in London, the EU-funded Mediate and Access2All projects brought together public mobility players from cities across Europe. Among the speakers was Ana Sofia Antunes, Member of the National Board of Directors of the Portuguese Blind and Low Vision Associations. She explained how the city of Lisbon is addressing the problem of access for all.

"We are beginning to see the first real results of the city's pedestrian accessibility plan," she said. "By making specific modifications to key buildings, for example, we are ensuring that all of our citizens can get to school and find better employment opportunities."

Transport one element in larger scheme

The Lisbon plan is an all-encompassing framework that goes beyond making sure people can get in and out of busses. "There are still many barriers that need to be broken down," said Antunes, "and they aren't all physical. There are issues of anti-discrimination to be addressed. This means changing the way people think. And we need a solid and effective legal framework under which we can work."

Ana Sofia Antunes © Peter Gutierrez
Ana Sofia Antunes
© Peter Gutierrez

Measures being taken, she explained, include mandatory accessibility standards for both public spaces and private buildings. "We are removing barriers but also ensuring that new barriers are not created."

Making sure everyone is onboard

One of the most crucial aspects, says Ancunes, is that the city is executing its plan in a transparent and inclusive way, inviting public transport operators as well as representatives of specific user groups such as the vision-impaired and elderly associations, and members of the general public.

"Public participation is important," she asserted, "and we have seen the interest at recent public sessions hosted by the city. We have to continue to look for opportunities to change things for the better. Talking and working together can make a big difference as we take our first steps towards that change."