The following images illustrate a range of factors that shape the urban experience of disability in the city.  These images provide snapshots into the ways planners plan for diversity in urban life.

Planning for Spatial Liberation and Civil Rights

Source: Independent Living Oral History Archive, Bancroft Library

Ed Roberts, enjoys mythic status among disability rights activists in the United States and abroad.  He was a polio survivor and often moved around the campus cased inside an iron lung.  His presence opened the door to more students with severe disabilities to enter.  Housed together in a wing of Cowell University Hospital, the “Rolling Quads” began an informal process of social learning that inspired a revolution in planning for diverse communities.  Activists organized and shamed the city of Berkeley into creating the nation’s first curb cut on Shattuck and Center Street.  These early victories emboldened the group to push for more substantial reforms towards a national movement for spatial liberation and civil rights.

Planning for Diverse Uses and Diverse Functionings


Image From Kevin Lynch, “The Image of the City” (1960)

“Situationist” artists and architects from the 1950s sought to capture the city as it was experienced by actual people, not as it was designed from the top down by architects and planners. Their approach helped give way to a new emphasis in planning on bottom-up citizen experience and input.  Bottom up planning techniques were utilized at this time in the city of Berkeley by Ray Lifchez and Fred Collignon in architecture and urban planning courses asking people with disabilities to map the city of Berkeley memory, revealing essentially the most accessible and “memorable” parts of the city.  Accessible maps and roads today built from Google Earth, Axis, Twitter traffic or bikeshare usage stem from this same tradition.  Check out a great video from AXS Maps below.


Planning for Inclusion from Rural to Urban


Courtesy Andres Duany

As a human condition, disability manifests itself in rural and urban environments, topographies, and settlements.  Transects are used by planners as a visual tool to divide landscapes into multiple uses, these uses should consider a broader range of social diversity.  The transects above, created by architect Andres Duany.  The above image illustrates the rural-to-urban gradation between nature and dense urban zones.  Planners should consider the multiple ways that access (physical access to public infrastructure, access to community based social services), can be ensured.  New Urbanists have increasingly adopted principles that benefit persons with disabilities; these include, walkability, aging in place, visitability, and approaches to universal design.


Planning on the Margins in Los Angeles


The story of Carol Reyes, an elderly homeless woman from Gardena, CA was released from the Kaiser Permanente hospital in Bellflower, CA.  Upon her release she was put in a taxi, which drove sixteen miles to downtown Los Angeles. There, the taxi was instructed to drop her off on Skid Row.  The landmark book Landscapes of despair: From deinstitutionalization to homelessness (Dear and Wolch, 1987) demonstrated 27 years ago how hospitals and jails in surrounding cities send persons with disabilities directly to Los Angeles’s Skid Row.  Steve Lopez’s series about a week on Skid Row also demonstrates the linkages between disability, mental health, and homelessness.


Planning for Citizen Participation


As a local government agency, the services and information of the San Francisco Planning Department should be accessible to and usable by people with disabilities. It is our policy to modify existing policies, practices and procedures when needed by a person with a disability in order to provide equal access to all San Francisco residents. In addition, our staff has an obligation to provide equally effective communication by ensuring that information transmitted through the department’s publications, meetings or website are equally accessible and available to people that have visual, hearing, learning, or cognitive disabilities.

If for any reason you feel that you didn’t receive adequate service from the department, we encourage you to complete a complaint form.

Americans with Disabilities Act Complaint Form

Please complete and submit this form with any related documentation to the Mayor’s Office on Disability.


Planning for Equity in Public Transportation

In the Netherlands several RET bus and tram lines are accessible to wheelchair users, but not all lines are accessible.  On these routes, they operate the Citaro-buses and Citadis-trams which have lower floors. Certain stops provide customers who use wheelchairs to access certain trains, leaving people with mobility disabilities reliant on only a portion of the city’s lines.


When looking at subway or metro lines similar challenges exist.  Incomplete access creates a fractured experience and limits the systems usability.  The following two examples illustrate this point perfectly.  The first image lists a few accessible stops on the Paris Metro and RER system.  The second image lists the 303 stops on a system that is 133 miles long.  Since the publication of these maps by the Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens (English: Autonomous Operator of Parisian Transports), an additional 5 stops have been made accessible.  A detailed map is also available to download.




Accessible taxis are another form of transportation.  After nearly 30 years of political and legal battles, accessible taxis will finally become a reality for those with disabilities in New York City.



In 2011, four disability advocacy groups decided to file a class-action lawsuit against the city for its failure to be in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act’s (ADA) policy regarding public transportation.  Mayor Bloomberg’s administration had repeatedly denied being non-compliant when it came to providing appropriate accessible public transportation options to wheelchair users. The city agreed to make 50% of its taxi fleet accessible by 2020.  The battle to create more accessible taxi transportation services for those with disabilities will leave its mark on the city.

Planning for an Aging and a Changing Demographic



Universal Design is an approach to home building, remodeling, and community development that centers on safety and ease of movement, both inside and outside of the home.  The infographic  above featured on AARP’s website, illustrates how accessibility is central to Universal Design.  The site notes the following:

Accessibility — For the community, universally designed community features range from curb-cuts on public streets and pedestrian countdown clocks, to easily accessible buildings, transit, and housing located near shops for goods and services.

Smart Homes — Livable homes come wired for the latest communications and security technologies.

Easy Living Standards — The features of Universal Design range from lever door handles and easy-to-grasp cabinet pulls, to no-threshold showers, zero-step entrances, and first floor living.