Constructing Inclusion Within the New Copenhagen Metro Line

Written by Viktoriya Feshak, Junior Researcher and ETHOS Lab intern >>>

Almost three months ago, when I came to Copenhagen for my internship at the ETHOS Lab, a long-awaited city phenomenon was introduced to the citizens: new metro line Cityringen. This project is envisioned to be “sustainable”, “stronger and more efficient” (The Copenhagen Metro, 2019); it operates with driverless train, equipped with user-friendly devices, and overall is very aesthetic. Moreover, this is a second, improved version of an existing metro and the construction of this project started two years after Denmark had ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), where they acknowledged to promote Universal Design in architectural policies (Grangaard S., 2018). Hence, expecting this metro to be an “improved version” in terms of accessibility/inclusion, I found it as a great study case and situated my inquiry around articulation of inclusion and materiality of the stations, focusing on how principles of inclusion manifest in Danish architectural policies along with Cityringen design process, and how technical, infrastructural configurations enact (dis)ability within the new metro line.

Danish Context and Participatory Design

Before dwelling to the materiality of the space, I wanted to elaborate shortly on two questions: how the concepts “accessibility”, “inclusion”, or “universality” manifest in Danish discourse around architecture, and to what extent design of Cityringen was participatory, comparing with its original definition?

While “Universal Design” in a Danish context is in line with the definition in the CRPD, it was not introduced to any architectural policies yet (as of 2018, Grangaard, S.). Instead, few existing architectural policies mention the term “accessibility”, predominantly focusing on “accessibility for all” or “for everybody” with no further elaboration on these categories. I wonder here, how “everybody” and “all” is defined and whether they are based on a carefully thought through idea on who they include?

In the latest architectural policy “Putting people first” (2014), which I would personally call as a ‘promising paper on architectural promises’, the Danish Government argues: “architecture represents the physical framework for how we want the society to be shaped”. This quote encourages me to analyze what society and which physical framework. They do refer several times to “accessibility”, mostly to ensure “all to participate”; “accessibility” as the means to combat social imbalances; “accessibility” as a prerequisite to the quality, etc. Yet, they mention only once people with disabilities and do not elaborate on how exactly “accessibility” and “inclusion” should be made. However, they emphasize accessibility when it comes to renovation or building new projects, where “physical accessibility has been a focus point from the start”. It is interesting and to some extent progressive framing, since accessibility is usually “integrated” in the latest stages of the project: for example, as a design parameter (Grangaard S., 2018). That is why I am so eager to see how it was put into practice in the construction of Cityringen.

One might argue that in order to ensure the environment to be inclusive or universal, the very design process should involve everybody. So-called “participatory design” is a well-known concept for Danes. This Scandinavian experience, also known as the Collective Resource Approach, Cooperative design, and more recently, Cooperative Experimental System Development (Gregory J., 2003), is often portrayed as a good example to follow. Although STS scholars have long argued that users are co-creators of the artefacts (e.g. Bijker and Law, 1992), participatory design approaches openly engage the users as co-designers throughout the whole design process (Massanari A.L, 2010).

I learned later from several interviews made during the construction (Melchert et al, 2014) about the design process and whose, which roles were defining in decisions towards accessibility. In fact, there were many actors involved in the construction of the Cityringen, and accessibility consultant with the accessibility panel (a group of ten to twelve people with different disabilities) was among them. Actor Network Theory (ANT) helped to identify what human and non-human actors were involved and which roles they played in the design process. I was mostly interested in the accessibility panel and consultant and how they shaped decisions towards accessibility/inclusion. Yet, it turned out, that, perhaps, the most defining actor with regards to accessibility was the “old” metro and its mock-up. Indeed, people with disabilities were encouraged to give feedback on shortcomings of the previous version and some of them were resolved or improved. However, all accessibility testing was made already before the Cityringen project took place, with an old metro. Moreover, people with disabilities were not invited to the co-creation of their own vision of technologies or design. To my impression, their role was limited rather to “testers” and “feedback givers”, than co-designers, as it is envisioned within the concept of participatory design.

 

Technologies of Mobility

 Now, I will immerse into the very materiality of the Cityringen stations. I will ask how particular devices and objects, which were made and tested, discussed and improved to make disabled people mobile, enact ability/disability in this context. I will map the gaps, or just map and observe how the system of interactions is made.

(I’m observing stations for few hours

I take pictures, notes, I map and draw,

I look for anyone with superpowers

To navigate in different flow.

No one. None. Entire day.

I see nobody. Where are they?

I need some help. I have no plan.

Hello, excuse me, Ms. man,

You are guide here, you must know

Do you see disabled at your post?

Yes and no.

I saw them once, perhaps.

They are fine here, never ask

For help.)

After several observations, I grouped my finding in two categories: “where is my ‘i’ (information independence)” and “ground as a basic form of support”. 

Where Is My “I” (Information Independence)

Tactile walking surface indicators (TWSIs) for blind or visually impaired people together with other assistive technologies are usually defined as tactual, acoustic, visual information to help travel independently (ISO, 2019). Hence, I take a stance where information = independence, and examine what kind of information is available for visually impaired people and to what extend they can independently navigate the stations. I imagine that for visual impaired people the most important information is perceived via the “extended touch” through a cane to the ground (Documaci, A., 2014), via audial signals and announcement, via tactile engagement with the objects. I challenge the available information for these people, its sources and whether they make a person independent.

Accordingly, there are only two “channels” available in Cityringen stations: tactile paving and audial information, coming from the centralized speaker and the info-device placed on the walls. The latter is the device, where any person can call and ask for needed information or assistance.

(is it easy to find device,

with no overview of the place?

it should be found on a way,

somehow, with a cane,

there is a blister floor in front,

inviting her: explore the wall,

with your hands)

There is no, however, any information written in Braille font, and I make an assumption that visual impaired person has limited options to engage with space, to get the needed information about the lines, rules, tickets. I assume then, there must be applications designed for visually impaired people, a digital form of perception that adds one more layer of instrumentality (Documaci A., 2014). It means that this space relies on additional, external devices for a person with visual impairments in order to navigate. I make an assumption that this space offers different information for visual-impaired and able-bodied, or to be more precise – limited information for the visually impaired. Hence, their independence is dependable. The navigation and use of the space depend not only on the tactile paving but the external applications, engagement with guides and the info-call-device.

 

Ground, Its Texture, Surface as a Basic Form of Support

Here, I pay a particular attention to the ground. How its surface, barriers, texture are translated to the information, how they navigate disabled persons throughout the space, or how they prevent mobility. I focus on the assemblages designed for visually impaired or people with residual vision. Rubber blister, plastic rounded bars, metal blister are materializations of the information enacted with a long cane and person’s imagination. With the “extended”, through a cane, and “imagined touch”, through mental maps, (Documaci A., 2014) the “alternative sensuous geographies” (Rodaway, P. 1994) materialize in a blind person’s movements. When these tactile paving might be translated to visually impaired as “wait”, “attention”, “hazard”, for people on the wheelchair or with crutches they might look as barriers.

While examining these objects on the ground I could not abandon the idea that they were designed by an able-bodied person and by been already tested before, they were integrated to Cityringen with the small improvements. I ask myself, how it could be otherwise: if people with disabilities were not merely “testers” and “feedback givers”, but co-designers? Nevertheless, these small improvements that designers made are noticeable, at least for me. Originally yellow paving, applied to make a high contrast with the surrounding surface, are here dark-grey and are placed on a lighter tone floor. Hence, the contrast could be still detectable for people with residual vision, comparing to the old metro, where tactile paving has the same color as the floor. Yet, original yellow is changed for any other color “for aesthetic reasons” in order to match the surrounding design. So, aesthetic reasons could outweigh functionality for disabled people. What other aspects are more crucial when it comes to the design of the place, where visually or visible for us disabled people are rather exceptional users? As one professor said, in Denmark, it is easy to get a car if you cannot move around and, perhaps, their moving around could be elsewhere.

 

Concluding remarks. This work is situated, limited and partial. I have immersed myself into this topic only for two months, I wish I had more. It is superficial yet unfolds some invisible sides of the place many of us enter every day. Instead of summary, I will attach my photos made in metro, to emphasize and provoke reflections

References:

  1. Assistive products for blind and vision-impaired persons – Tactile walking surface indicators, ISO 23599, 2019 .
  2. Copenhagen Metro Line, official website, https://intl.m.dk/
  3. Danish Architectural Policy – Putting People First, The Danish Government, 2014.
  4. Dokumaci A. Misfire, ‘Mis’perform, Manifest: Disability and Everyday life. Research Documentary, 2014.
  5. Grangaard S. A status of Universal Design in Danish Architectural Policies, AALborg University, 2017.
  6. Gregory J., Scandinavial Approaches to Participatory Design. Engng Ed. Vol. 19, No. 1, 2003.
  7. Massanari, A. L. Designing for imaginary friends: information architecture, personas and the politics of user-centered design. New Media & Society, 12(3), 2010.
  8. Melchert E., Bro HĂžy V., Pinegger V. The design process of Cityringen, Student Semester Project, 2015.
  9. Rip A. The past and future of RRI, Society and Policy, 2014
  10. Rodaway P., Sensuous Geographies: Body, Sense, and Place, 1994