New academic journal highlights accessibility at Expo 2020 Dubai

Two middle aged men overlooking a giant building site in the desert look through design drawings on a piece of paper.

A new academic journal released by the Springer Publishing Company this week has detailed feedback by disabled people (or People of Determination) on the accessibility of Expo 2020 Dubai.

Expo 2020, which was held in the United Arab Emirates between October 2021 and March 2022, was a client of Direct Access for the entire duration of the event with firm founder Steven Mifsud MBE being responsible for on-site accessibility queries as a Director of Accessibility.

Direct Access also provided construction consultancy, advising on the accessibility of the built environments before completion – drawing from international and newly released local design standards such as the Dubai Universal Design Code.

The theme of the Expo 2020 Dubai was “Connecting minds, creating the future,” which aimed at bringing communities and individuals together to shape a sustainable, smart, and connected future. It was the first Expo ever to be held in the Middle East.

According to the organisers, Expo 2020 Dubai was attended by over 24 million visits. Out of the 24 million, 107,000 were visits from people of determination and around 723,089 senior citizens, some of whom may have been users of accessibility services.

Eleven organisations that support people with disabilities were invited to take part in an open-ended questionnaire shortly after the event ended without pay or compensation. They gathered feedback from a wide range of disabled people, including an autistic person, two people with visual impairments, and four with physical impairments.

The most common sentiment from the data was the considerable efforts made to make the event accessible. The experiences of PwDs were positive, and there was an overall sense of gratification and appreciation regarding the accessibility of the event. These feelings extended to not only the infrastructure, but also the services offered, staff, volunteers, and representatives at each of the Expo pavilions.

Furthermore, the full range of interviewees stated that they visited the site between ten and thirty times before providing feedback on the site, with some of the participants describing Expo 2020 as the most accessible large-scale event they had ever attended.

According to the data, the accessibility services most employed and valued by PwDs were the sunflower lanyards, which are also known as hidden impairment lanyards. As the name would imply, these were used by PwDs to make staff and other visitors aware of the fact they have a disability that might not be immediately obvious, allowing the specific nature of their disability to remain on a need-to-know basis.

Our accessibility team was extremely proud to read this feedback – as the introduction of the Sunflower Lanyard Scheme came as a result of our campaigning for Hidden Disability Sunflower (the Sunflower’s parent organisation).

The feedback also highlighted the positive experience of PwD’s who worked at Expo 2020, with participants commenting on their enjoyment and learning from working at the event. Three participants had worked at the event in one of the pavilions (two were PwDs and one was an accessibility expert) and reported that they were “were extremely happy with their work experience, which had given them a sense of belonging and accomplishment: they had been active participants of a historical moment in Dubai”.

Direct Access was delighted to have played our part in facilitating the positive experiences had by local and international People of Determination at Expo 2020. Additionally, we were pleased to hear that guests appreciated another of our contributions to the site, the very first Changing Places facility in all of the Middle East, let alone Dubai.

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