A blog by the Accelerator Lab team in Azerbaijan
We all know the smartest ideas are often found on the ground in the ingenious ways people come up with to overcome the challenges they face. But it’s not so often an idea pops up from underground!
Jamila Mammadli has been taking the subway in Baku since she moved to the capital one year ago, travelling to and from her job as a specialist in digital marketing.
“I’ve been using a wheelchair since I was a child and I’ve always insisted on being as independent as possible,” she says. “But when I started using the underground here I had to turn to my friends to help me get to work.”
Millions of passengers use the Baku metro every year, but the public remain largely unaware of the challenges involved in taking public transport for people with disabilities.
“Many of the barriers we face just aren’t visible to most people,” says Jamila, “whether it’s stations without lifts or platforms and trains not designed for wheelchair access.”
These types of infrastructure barriers reduce quality of life for Azerbaijan’s over 600,000 people with disabilities, often excluding them from taking a full part in society and leading independent lives.
But while Jamila’s experience on the Baku metro made her feel ‘powerless’ at first, it also increased her determination to raise awareness and help bring about improvements.
“I’ve never been one to accept limits,” she says.
“When I was young, growing up in Goychay, there were hardly any role models. Most of the adults with disabilities shown on the television were involved with things like arts and crafts, but I wanted to be successful in something cutting edge. Then I took some computer classes and we had a teacher with disabilities who really inspired me.”
Jamila built up her knowledge of graphic design and copywriting and gained a job in digital media marketing in the capital. She soon came to see the shortcomings of public transport as an opportunity to apply her IT skills rather than an insurmountable obstacle.
“I started filming my journeys to work and back, capturing all the barriers that make the infrastructure so difficult to navigate for people with disabilities.”
Jamila’s video went viral – sparking the interest of the public and catching the attention of leading officials responsible for managing the Baku metro.
As a result, she was invited to take part in an already existing project being run by the Metro to identify ways to ease subway travel for all people with disabilities.
The Baku Metro’s ‘Accessible Subway’ project has already introduced a number of smart solutions, including providing specialized training for teams of subway staff to help with issues of mobility in stations and boarding trains.
Users can now contact the teams to request assistance simply by texting or phoning to specify their current location and destination an hour before setting off. Trained staff then meet them at the designated subway station and ensure they safely and easily board the train.
“I’ve been using the metro on my own for the past eight months now!” says Jamila. “I’m also getting about a lot more and I’ve joined a theatre group here. But the best thing is seeing how this scheme helps other people – elderly people and women in late pregnancy, people with impaired vision and hearing….”
Jamila’s story and the new service offered by the Baku metro are good examples of local initiatives that UNDP’s new Accelerator Lab is seeking out for possible amplification, enhancement with technology and potential for scaling up to address the wider problems of inaccessibility for people with disabilities.
To generate solutions and listen to the stories and priorities of those most affected by accessibility issues, we brought together people with a range of different disabilities to think of ways as technology could help improve their lives in getting around urban spaces.
We encouraged participants to share their visions of how inclusive smart cities of the future might look.
Ideas included hands-free access through apps to hospitals, schools and shops, as well as translation software for sign language.
Amongst the solutions generated with strong potential for immediate application, the following proposals stood out:
· Increasing the accessibility of the Baku metro for people with impaired vision and hearing by introducing an indoor navigation system to the ‘Accessible Subway’ app.
· Developing a map-based app to enable pedestrians with limited mobility to plan the most accessible routes through urban spaces.
· Installing braille in all elevators and reprogramming lift doors to allow more time for people with disabilities to enter.
At the Accelerator Lab we are always on the lookout for smart ideas at grassroots level that meet the development priorities of local communities as closely as possible while seeking ways to apply these solutions to leave no one behind.
Sustainable development cannot be achieved without significantly transforming the way we build and manage our urban spaces.
‘Making cities sustainable’, Sustainable Development Goal 11, means creating career and business opportunities, involving investment in public transport, creating green public spaces and improving urban planning and management in participatory dialogue.
Achieving these major aims start with small steps – listening to people, learning from those that use the city and taking their solutions seriously… in short, with dialogue.
So if you are working on tech solutions that can help improve the lives of people with disabilities, we’d love to hear about them at the Accelerator Lab in Azerbaijan.
Let’s make the image of a hands-free, interactive and citizen-centric metropolis become a step closer to reality!
Nargiz.Guliyeva@undp.org – Head of Solutions Mapping
Leyla.Seyidzade@undp.org – Head of Exploration
Jasur.Hasanov@undp.org – Head of Experimentation