By Colin Yang
March 12, 2018
With the global rise in the attention to accessibility, many countries have promulgated laws and regulations on accessible standards in public buildings and facilities. However, the question of how to implement them has remained largely unsolved.
Taipei, the capital city of Taiwan, is now taking a novel and entrepreneurial approach to the issue of accessibility. In 2015, an app named Taipei Friendly Restaurants was developed by the Corporate Strategy Development Center and the Department of Social Welfare in Taipei. The app developers invite people with all types of disabilities to perform inspections of restaurant accessibility and provide feedback on how well restaurants meet their needs, such as whether there are ramps for wheelchair users and whether the inclination is comfortable, how high or low the tables are, or whether there is signage for people with visual impairments. They also consider how convenient the venture is for families carrying strollers and whether the restaurants provide phone charging ports among other accommodations.
The restaurants that meet all of the accessible requirements based on the inspectors’ feedback earn a ‘Friendly Restaurant’ badge and will be listed on the app and the Friendly Restaurant website so that potential customers will be able see how accessible the restaurants are with a detailed description. Those restaurants that fail to meet the requirements can choose whether to alter the built environment or have another inspection.
This model adds additional incentive for restaurant owners to provide an accessible dining environment as restaurants listed on the app can better promote their business and reputation. Seeing the economic value of inclusion is one of the best ways to convince business owners to take the initiative. In just about two years, the Friendly Restaurant app is all over Taiwan and it now expands to Hong Kong. It is also expanding to other services such as Friendly Hotel and Friendly Tours by using the same key principle: allowing people with disabilities to examine the built environment, facility, service, or product and providing feedback that helps businesses improve accessibility.
Although Universal Design is not promoted through the work of the Friendly Restaurant app, they are employing one of the most important rules in the process of Universal Design: user experience. It empowers people with disabilities to be equal consumers who are suddenly able to impact accessibility and reputation in the restaurant space. This gives people with disabilities a voice and restaurant owners a cost-free assessment and an opportunity to reach new customers when access is improved.