Next week I’m attending the Smart City Expo World Congress in Barcelona. I have been an attendee, attendee and speaker at this annual meeting for many years and for the past two years input.
Gone are the days when it was enough to talk about shiny and new tech toys. Cities are eager to figure out how to be real people-oriented, including people with disabilities. On the input side, a topic I’d like to hear more about at Expo 2022 and beyond is how to make cities autism friendly.
A global phenomenon
in accordance with World Health Organization, one in every 100 children has autism spectrum disorder (ASD). USA Center for Disease Control That’s one in every 44 people in the United States. If we consider a conservative estimate of one in every 100 people, 40 million of the 4 billion people living in cities worldwide have ASD. According to UN projections, by 2050 we will have 7 billion urban dwellers, meaning that if the prevalence of ASD does not change, 70 million people will be living with ASD.
Autism is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder. This broad spectrum includes people with cognitive, speech and motor disabilities, people with milder difficulties who still have trouble speaking and socializing, and people with autism (such as Asperger’s syndrome) who can be like geniuses. The “good doctor” from the TV series of the same name, but cries, screams, yells, and fails to understand noise, light, smell, touch, and social interactions when exposed to stress, bright lights, loud noises, or unexpected events. Dealing with ASD in a hyper-stimulating environment like a city is like trying to share a file between a Mac and PC in 1985. I know this because I have a beautiful eight year old son with ASD.
Making urban space and community livable
Making cities livable for the millions of people with ASD is a global inclusive challenge. Cities in the UK such as Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Liverpool and Glasgow; Phoenix, Mesa and Austin in the US; Prato in Italy; and small villages like Clonakilty in Ireland are exploring how they can reimagine urban spaces and community services to be autism-friendly.
When it comes to urban spaces—shops, theaters, cinemas, restaurants, museums, public transportation, and even outdoors like streets and parks—unexpected sounds, lights, smells, and queues can cause sensory challenges for people with autism. . Adjust ventilation, acoustics, heating, lighting, create quiet spaces to recalibrate after stress, use visual cues that combine words and pictures, make accessible sensory guides the and social events Unexpected reduction and making available small kits with “stim” toys can go a long way to improving the quality of life of people with autism.
When it comes to the public, lack of awareness about autism can lead to judgment. For example, autistic people who talk to themselves in the library do not make friends. As a result, people with autism and their families feel isolated from social life.
Educating people who work in stores, restaurants, movie theaters, museums, libraries, schools, and health care facilities is essential. Business owners need to understand how to use the great skills that many autistic people bring to the workplace, e.g declarative memory.
Public institutions must play a role in providing coordinated support across family welfare programs, mental health services, job training and employment, and schools, to address the situation and needs of people with autism and their families at every point of interaction with the community. without requiring an explanation. administration.
How technology can help
Technology is not a silver bullet. Smart techno-solutions are enough in cities. Autism is the least suitable area for cookie-cutter approaches, as each person with autism is somewhere on the “spectrum” with their unique characteristics and needs. But technology can help.
When it comes to urban spaces, the use of location-based intelligence, digital twins and other tools can help map the least livable areas of the city for people with autism and plan alternative projects. Apps can be used to recommend sensory and navigation maps for people with autism.
When it comes to the public, online learning can help raise awareness. Apps can help people with autism communicate non-verbally.
Online services can be used for advance booking quick observation access to certain facilities to avoid the stress of queuing. And public administrations across the urban ecosystem need to expand reliable information sharing to do a better job of coordinating public services to support people with autism and their families.
I look forward to hearing and learning more about autism-friendly cities at the Smart City Expo and beyond. My son and tens of millions of people with autism deserve to be included.