Exploring the Smart Future of Participation: Community, Inclusivity, and People with Disabilities

This article by Bricout et al. (2021) focuses on how the use of technology impacts on the potential for civic engagement in smart cities, particularly for people with disabilities. It highlights new challenges to virtual civic participation and proposes a framework aimed at involving smarter communities undertaking blended bottom-up approaches to planning and connecting citizens with disabilities.

Date added 4 December 2020
Last updated 4 December 2020

This article by Bricout et al. (2021) focuses on how the use of technology impacts on the potential for civic engagement in smart cities, particularly for people with disabilities. It highlights new challenges to virtual civic participation and proposes a framework aimed at involving smarter communities undertaking blended bottom-up approaches to planning and connecting citizens with disabilities.

First, the article outlines how the COVID-19 pandemic has been a driver for an intensive mobilisation of more pervasive technologies and that it impacts on several aspects of urban areas and participation. Secondly, they note the implications this rapid evolvement of technology and ICTs may have on user groups such as citizens with disabilities and stress that:

“…enabling technology tends to evolve more rapidly than user adaptations or device usability, to the detriment of consumer participation and enlarging a digital divide” (p. 95).

That said, the article points out that universally designed technologies, that are adaptive to users’ needs could potentially enhance the societal participation of people with disabilities as citizens specifically. This could be achieved by shifting design approaches towards overcoming environmental barriers rather than ‘fixing’ individuals.

In terms of developing participation in smarter communities, the article suggests that smarter communities are conceptually more based upon shared interests, identity and values rather than on locale. This brings the article to propose the concept of volunteer ‘smarter communities’. This means citizens with disabilities can:

“…self-organize into voluntary smarter communities rooted in the experience of disablement, while also participating in a place-bound smart community” (p. 99).

The article proceeds to propose a new framework based on principles from Virtual Communities of Practice (VCoP) with the overarching goal of promoting community-driven leadership, member participation, collaboration, networks, problem solving and knowledge sharing to build capacity, that is, activities, resources and infrastructure aimed at strengthening collective objectives.

The article concludes that more inclusive smart technologies coupled with inclusive design approaches and more innovative community processes can in fact prompt community change for citizens with disabilities.

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