How Direct Access is providing accessibility and sustainability at COP28

General aerial view of Terra - The Sustainability Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai during sunset.

COP28, the annual climate change conference, is scheduled to take place at the heart of Expo City in the United Arab Emirates in a matter of weeks now. The conference, which will see some of the most high-profile politicians, scientists, and environmental activists fly into Dubai to discuss sustainability, will be a key event in addressing ramifications of humanity’s carbon footprint, with many speculating that dozens of countries will push towards phasing out CO2-emitting coal, oil, and gas. 

Specifics of the agenda aside however, sustainability is the root of the conversation at COP28, and Direct Access has been tasked to ensure that both the conference and the wider Expo site surrounding it are as accessible and inclusive to disabled visitors as they can possibly be – because to build a sustainable future is to ensure that people of all creeds and backgrounds have access to the same experiences.

Sustainability through Accessibility

For the past 6 months, our Consultants have been on-site preparing for the conference, reviewing conceptual and schematic documents with architects, delivering audits of pre-existing architecture, amenities, and walking routes, as well as carrying out ‘mystery shopping’ style visitor journeys. The latter of which has focused on the delivery of guided tours of the wider site with various disabled people. This will help Expo address potential accessibility issues ahead of the conference, which has included visually impaired, hearing-impaired, and neurodivergent individuals. The site review involved reviewing multiple site elements for lighting levels, noise levels, sensory intensity, tactile elements (or lack thereof), signage, and any other potential elements that could affect the experiences of visitors.

Direct Access has also provided points of call for accessibility inquiries through all departments and assisted in the delivery of disability awareness training to on-site staff so that they are prepared to handle accessibility issues that could arise at a moment’s notice. Furthermore, we have installed functioning quiet sensory rooms throughout the site and inspected the Changing Places facilities – which we had previously installed ourselves for Expo 2020 Dubai, and were the very first to be seen in the Middle East region.

In addition to training, our detailed reports have informed the sustainability team at Expo City on how to create accessibility. In them, Direct Access has referred to the UAE’s leading accessibility document; the Universal Design Code as a foundational text for our recommendations, while also drawing on best practices from international standards such as BS8300, which provides recommendations on inclusivity, accessible design of buildings, and the spaces within.

Adding to the Legacy of Expo 2020

Expo 2020 Dubai was the largest world fair ever held in the Middle East region, and as such, it presented complex and varied accessibility implications. To address the range of problems that arose and improve upon them, the DA team took a look at what we could do better this time around, revisiting key areas such as the iconic Al Wasl dome, the legacy pavilions which remained after Expo 2020, and the various restaurants, visitor centres, and information centres which are key to the day-to-day experience of Expo City.

DA Access Consultant Jamie Rhys-Martin, commented “It has been a huge challenge for us to bring accessibility to a region which only a few years ago, for cultural reasons, generally did not consider accessibility audits as part of the construction process. But it has been incredibly rewarding for us to work with Expo City for a second time around on this incredibly important event. Sustainability cannot exist without factoring in accessibility. If the goal of COP28 is to address sustainable practices in a way that benefits and nurtures humanity’s future, generating accessible environments for everyone is key to that process, which is what the Direct Access team is best at providing”.

A man holds a large fold-up of a map and poses for a photo in front of a large colourful dome used for night time light shows. He has a tape measure attached to his jeans and is wearing a hidden disability sunflower lanyard.

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