When the nation targets support where it is needed most—when we create the circumstances that allow those who have been left behind to participate and contribute fully—everyone wins.
– Angela Glover Blackwell
You’ve probably never thought too much about the origin of curb cuts, but it’s likely that you have sought one out a time or two. If you don’t know what I am talking about, a curb-cut is the smooth slope that is cut in an elevated curb that allows seamless passage between the sidewalk and the street.
If you have ever ridden a bike, pushed a baby in a stroller, or pulled a heavy rolling suitcase, you have most likely, even if inadvertently, appreciated a curb cut.
Originally, curb cuts were created to make public streets accessible to wheelchair users, but now, everyone reaps the benefits of them whether they have a physical disability or not.
History of Curb Cuts
Today, curb cuts are on every corner, but it wasn’t always that way.
Curb cuts were first installed in Kalamazoo, Michigan in the 1940s to aid the employment of veterans with disabilities. As few as 50 years ago, a major curb cut project in Berkley, California was led by disabled activist Ed Roberts and the Center for Independent Living. These movements strongly promoted the value of curb cuts, but their installment was still often made on a voluntary basis by municipal authorities and developers.
In the 1980’s, disabled people in Denver staged protests by blocking traffic and taking sledgehammers to concrete curbs in order to demand curb cuts. Finally, the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law in 1990. During the signing, disabled demonstrators outside of the Capital left their wheelchairs and crawled up the marble steps in hopes that the demonstration would help to make sure the bill went through. It did. The Americans with Disabilities Act mandated access and accommodation for the disabled in all places open to the public including businesses, lodgings, transportation, employment.
What is the Curb Cut Effect?
The curb cut effect is a phenomenon in which disability-friendly features are widely used and appreciated by a larger group than the people whom they were originally designed for. The curb cut effect asserts that making an investment in one group can result the broader well-being of an entire nation.
Curb cuts were originally installed to make communities more accessible to veterans and wheelchair users. However, today curb cuts benefit more than just people in wheelchairs. Curb cuts also benefit people pushing strollers, wheeling luggage, riding bicycles, and even walking or running. The adjustment that was made to benefit the disabled ended up having an impact on safety and accessibility for all of modern society.
The term “curb cut effect” was coined by Angela Glover Blackwell and references how laws and programs designed to benefit vulnerable groups, such as the disabled and other minorities, often end up benefiting everyone. In a 2017 article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Blackwell discusses how the curb-cut effect not only helps to achieve equity for an underserved group, but often results in community-wide benefits.
“There’s an ingrained societal suspicion that intentionally supporting one group hurts another. That equity is a zero-sum game,” writes Blackwell. “In fact, when the nation targets support where it is needed most—when we create the circumstances that allow those who have been left behind to participate and contribute fully—everyone wins.”
GoodMaps and the Curb Cut Effect
GoodMaps is an indoor mapping and navigation company that was born out of the American Printing House for the Blind (APH) in 2019. GoodMaps was originally created with a simple mission: to further the cause of accessible navigation. Realizing that the mission of universal accessible navigation was limited by the lack of indoor digital mapping, the GoodMaps platform and company were born.
What began as a project geared towards accessibility for the visually impaired proved to be a benefit for all. Now, GoodMaps is changing wayfinding possibilities for everyone by tackling universal navigation with an infrastructure free installation process and sub-meter location accuracy. With fully inclusive technology, a new college student can find their classroom, someone with a stroller or wheelchair can find the elevator, an older citizen who has never been to the airport can navigate confidently and feel less anxious about traveling. The use cases are endless.
In today’s world, we rely on maps to guide ourselves places, locate areas we’re not familiar with, and get directions to exactly where we need to go. In a society that’s bursting with technological advancements, we expect to be shown, in real time, how to get from point A to point B. However, the indoors have not traditionally been mapped and most indoor mapping and navigation services are not very accurate or accessible to meet the needs of a variety of users. GoodMaps’ technology has the power to unlock experiences that were not originally thought too possible.
GoodMaps offers the confidence and convenience of fully autonomous wayfinding for all users, regardless of vision, hearing, or physical abilities. With GoodMaps, locations are equipped with accessible (and therefore inclusive) wayfinding that will soon be a must-have.
Digital indoor maps can provide valuable information to a wide range of industries, which goes far beyond visualizing their location. Below are just a few of the industries expected to use indoor maps as an integral part of their customer strategy:
- College and university campuses
- Shopping malls
- Theme parks
- Healthcare centers
Industries that use indoor mapping technology can connect, engage and interact with their customers, in turn making indoor spaces more efficient and easier for all people to navigate.
Why The Curb-Cut Effect Matters
The concept of curb-cut thinking is supported by the idea of equity. Not to be confused with equality, equity recognizes that each person has different circumstances, yet allocates specific resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome. Creating equity means promoting just and fair inclusion throughout society, all while creating conditions in which everyone can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential.
The “curb-cut effect” may be rooted in disability activism, but much like curb cuts themselves, the concept has proven to be widely applicable.
In conclusion, accessibility is not a barrier. When we don’t create equitable opportunities for the most vulnerable populations in society, we hinder the well-being of all people. Thinking and creating with all people in mind does not limit us, but instead pushes us to make the world better for everyone. The curb cut effect serves as an encouragement for us to make products and services that are universally accessible. When policies and practices create an equitable economy, the result is a healthy community of opportunity, and a just society for all.