Sydney voted in world’s top 10 most accessible cities

by Sophie Berrill
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Over one billion people are estimated to live with a disability, according to the World Health Organisation, and that number is increasing.  

Despite comprising about 15 percent of the world’s population, people with a range of disabilities have to navigate hostile built environments daily. In fact, it’s part of WHO’s very definition of disability.

Valuable 500, a global collective of 500 CEOs and their companies that innovate together for disability inclusion, led a travel survey of 3500 people with a disability in August to September 2022.

The Accessible Cities Report explored the top 10 world cities that were voted ‘most accessible’ by participants – and Sydney made the list.

“While no city can claim to be fully accessible – access needs are far too wide-ranging and diverse – there are several that deserve praise for the efforts that they are making,” the report begins.

Travel writer Martin Heng offers insights throughout to provide deeper context around the accessibility of each city from his own firsthand experience as a quadriplegic.

Why Sydney was highly rated

  • Sydney was a firm favourite with wheelchair users worldwide as the vast majority of its attractions are wheelchair-accessible and all new or renovated buildings must, by law, cater for wheelchair access.
  • Australia’s Australia Disability Discrimination Act protects the rights of people with disability and covers access to public premises and the provision of goods, services and facilities.
  • To complement these rights-based protections, Australia has a well-developed building code with detailed specifications relating to disabled access. 
  • The federal Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport, introduced in 2002, is updated every five years.
  • In terms of infrastructure, central districts and suburban centres are well endowed with kerb cuts and tactile surface indicators.
  • While some older buildings remain inaccessible to wheelchair users, most of the

city’s historic National Trust properties are at least partially accessible. 

  • The vast majority of Sydney’s main attractions are accessible by wheelchair. Many are also equipped with hearing loops and some can arrange (Australian) sign language interpreters.
  • The Legible Sydney Wayfinding System links central Sydney streets using more than 2100 tactile and Braille street signs, pedestrian-friendly maps, information pylons, new signs and digital technology. The tactile aluminium panels feature street names and building numbers in both Braille and large, raised lettering to allow touch-reading by people who are blind and close range reading for those with low vision. They have been placed next to push buttons at every signalised pedestrian crossing across the local area, replacing worn out rubber panels.
  • In an Australian airport first, Sydney Airport launched a partnership with Aira, a service that enables blind and low-vision travellers to navigate the airport using their smartphone. 

Limitations

Despite these achievements, the report says Sydney is still far from perfect. For example, while many restaurants and entertainment venues are wheelchair-accessible, a significant number have a single, annoying step at their entrance, and many lack an accessible toilet. 

The study was itself also limited by the location of its respondents, who resided only in the UK, USA, Japan, China, and Australia, and chose cities in their home country as the most accessible.

“This is undoubtedly because travellers with a disability need to be confident their needs will be met – failure in our case doesn’t just mean disappointment, but potentially disaster,” the report explains.

“Clearly, it’s much easier to get accurate information about accessibility in one’s own country, where you know not only the language but also systems, and how things work.”

Overall, the report provides valuable insight into what Australia does well and can do better to create accessible environments.

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