By Tuca Munhoz  - Accessibility Consultant, activist for the rights of people with disabilities in São Paulo.

I was greatly honored by the invitation to write this short text about the importance of accessibility on sidewalks, a much talked about and debated topic, but unfortunately, with little resolve. 

I would like to highlight two themes here that are very important to me when discussing accessibility and/or walkability on city sidewalks: one of them related to practical and everyday issues and the other of a theoretical and political nature. 

The theme of accessibility that I call ‘theoretical/political’ concerns the inseparability of Accessibility and Democracy. For all people, but mainly for us –people with disabilities – accessibility is an indispensable and essential condition for citizen participation, for everything that involves life in society, and everything related to personal development and, therefore, our contribution, as citizens, to the common good. 

Without accessibility, we – people with disabilities – cannot participate in and contribute to the common good. 

As I see it, this condition is closely connected, and even goes hand in hand, with the importance of Democracy in social life. It is with the establishment of all democratic conditions and principles that everyone can participate in and contribute to the common good. 

Without Democracy there is no such possibility. Without accessibility, there is no such possibility for a significant portion of the population, either. 

This is why, I believe, working for a society with accessibility also means working for a democratic society. And working for a democratic society therefore necessarily implies working for a society with accessibility. 

Our attention, as of people with disabilities who fight and work for accessibility, must focus on both sides of the same coin. 

On the other hand, we have practical, everyday, accessibility, and mobility concerns. 

And a topic that I consider of utmost importance is what I call the “Mobility Chain”, which is the mobility formed by links of accessibility, with a connection forming this chain. 

What I mean is that mobility, for all people, is formed by links/paths. For example: from home to the bus stop, accessibility to a vehicle, the use of the vehicle, including service, security and communication/information, the point of arrival, and the route to the destination. 

If any of these links is broken, it is very likely that the journey of a person with a disability will be impaired or even rendered impossible. 

Let me show this photo as a very concrete example of a situation I have faced recently:

Aphoto of a sidewalk with a tree in a bed and a bench

This is a sidewalk with a good quality flooring pattern, but with a tree planted in a larger than necessary bed, in the middle of this sidewalk; together with a wooden bench and a small pole, they completely prevent the passage of a wheelchair user, making the journey uncomfortable for other people. 

In other words, a link in the mobility chain was broken. It was a route I was personally taking, and had to take a huge turn and go along a stretch of street, exposing myself to risk, to reach my destination. 

I understand that accessibility must be considered from the concept of what I call Universal Mobility, and sidewalks are certainly at the core of this mobility chain. 

This project, developed in the city of São Paulo with the support of G3ict, the TCAT at the University of Washington, and Microsoft sponsorship, is a gift to all São Paulo residents, and will undoubtedly and enormously contribute to a more democratic and more accessible city.