The story begins in 2015, when the City of Milan passed the Building Regulation article 77 that required all bars, shops, restaurants to provide easy access to people with limited mobility or disabilities (the National Institute of Statistic in 2007 assessed 13,189 people with mobility disabilities in Milan). This action was the instrument that City of Milan deployed to overcome architectural barriers and provide universal free access to public places by 2017.
In November 2016, 12 month after the law passed, the City of Milan assessed only 2.000 out of over 18.000 businesses were compliant.
Local organisations and people, including WeMake, started a co-design process to understand what was not working and find solutions.
From April to July 2017 WeMake and the Municipality of Milan ran a pilot in the DUC Isola neighbourhood that brought together shopkeepers, makers and people with disabilities to identify, co-design and implement low-cost solutions to improve accessibility to commercial activities of the area.
The pilot started with planning meetings which revealed the existence of two obstacles: the complexity of commercial regulatory procedures and the lack of clarity on how people could contact a shop and use a mobile ramp. They therefore co-designed a step-by-step support service for soliciting or confirming the presence of mobile ramps with the Municipality of Milan.
Firstly, a website was prototyped to facilitate the shops submitting data about the availability of mobile ramps to the municipality.
When the project team started talking to shopkeepers, they found that they were mostly willing to comply with the regulation and make their shops accessible, but they couldn’t afford technical expertise to implement a solution. WeMake was therefore able to take on a facilitator role and facilitate a process of co-design that included all the stakeholders, in finding technical solutions, including a means by which those with mobility issues could contact the shopkeepers to alert them to their arrival.
Through digital fabrication and open source technologies, they co-designed a device to be placed outside of shops that can let people know whether a mobile ramp is available. Together with the device, they also installed receivers inside the shops to notify the shopkeeper with light, sound or vibration that their assistance is needed.
Finally, a smartphone app was designed to notify the person with motor disabilities whenever they are near an accessible store and allow them to request assistance via their smartphone.
Through a process of co-design and agile prototyping, shopkeepers, people with disabilities, makers and the municipality of Milan were not only able to become aware of the different perspectives involved but also contribute to the development of a series of solutions to improve accessibility.
Small iterations, user research and interviews are a few of the tools that guided their design process. While those concepts and tools are well known within the maker industry, they are relatively new concepts for policy makers, regulators, and city municipalities. These techniques have huge potential when used by city administrations and policy makers.
Quote from a member of Municipality of Milan:
“Our mindset as an administration has changed due to Open Rampette experience and its influencing how other departments work too. We learnt to deal with people differently through the OpenCare approach”
Case study date: July 2018