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Exclusive: AT&T president talks 4 keys to unlocking inclusive smart cities

08 Sep 2017

Article by Chris Penrose, president of Internet of Things Solutions at AT&T

Imagine a city where a person in a wheelchair can chart a route to the local park using curb cuts and avoiding barriers. She can then connect to the park’s Wi-Fi, receive upcoming events notifications, and take e-lessons about the trees and flowers in bloom.

These aren’t pipe dreams. They are smart city solutions in action – aspiring to use technology to put people first. And the sooner we can realise these aspirations, the better. The BSR Calculation based on U.S. Census Bureau, 2014 showed that in the top 100 metropolitan areas of the United States, nearly 25 percent of citizens are over the age of 65 or living with disabilities. The Internet of Things (IoT) can help advance more inclusive, accessible cities so our ageing population can enjoy a better quality of life.

There are four keys to unlocking smart cities to advance more equitable and positive outcomes for people who are ageing and people living with disabilities.

  1. Engage partners and stakeholders: It goes back to the old adage of walking a mile in someone else’s shoes. We must listen first to learn from our ageing communities and those living with disabilities. Incorporating their perspectives and expectations into smart city planning will help ensure solutions align with their needs.  
  2. Design for Inclusion: We need to consider the citizen experience at every touch point within the city. For example, how will people with disabilities and ageing citizens interact with websites, mobile apps, self-service kiosks, smart meters and other emerging devices? Designing smart city technologies for equitable, flexible and intuitive use will help ensure inclusion for these communities.  
  3. Promote Adoption of Technology: Providing technology access alone isn’t enough. We must also look at ways to help encourage, educate and expand technology adoption. Without adoption, we’ll fail – and there is a real risk that the benefits of smart city technologies will be limited because of adoption barriers. By offering training programs – both online and in-person – we can start breaking down the digital divide that often prevents those who are ageing or living with disabilities from realising the benefits of this technology.  
  4. Foster the Entrepreneur Ecosystem: The next big smart cities breakthrough is still on the horizon, and entrepreneurs and innovators are our city’s new heroes. Beyond enhancing the accessibility of city infrastructure and services, there are opportunities for city governments to directly support innovation and entrepreneurship to benefit these communities. Publicly funded incubators and open data portals are just two examples of how city governments are already doing this.

From the private and public sectors to civil organisations, community groups and social entrepreneurs – we all play a vital role in advancing an inclusive vision for smart cities. By integrating aging and accessibility considerations from the ground up, we can build more inclusive cities that allow us all to connect to good.

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