Exploring the Smart Future of Participation: Community, Inclusivity, and People With Disabilities

Exploring the Smart Future of Participation: Community, Inclusivity, and People With Disabilities

John Bricout (University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, USA), Paul M. A. Baker (Georgia Institute of Technology, USA), Nathan W. Moon (Georgia Institute of Technology, USA) and Bonita Sharma (University of Texas at San Antonio, USA)
Copyright: © 2021 |Pages: 15
DOI: 10.4018/IJEPR.20210401.oa8
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Abstract

COVID-19 is having an enormous impact on civic life, including public services, governance, and the well-being of citizens. The pace and scope of technology as a force for problem solving, connecting people, sharing information, and organizing civic life has increased in the wake of COVID-19. This article critically reviews how technology use influences the civic engagement potential of the smart city, in particular for people with disabilities. The article aims to articulate new challenges to virtual participation in civic life in terms of accessibility, usability, and equity. Next, the article proposes a framework for a smart participation future involving smarter communities that utilize universal design, blended bottom-up, and virtual community of practice (VCoP) approaches to planning and connecting citizens with disabilities to smart cities. Policy and ethical implications of the proposed smart participation future are considered.
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1. Introduction

The COVID-19 pandemic has occasioned a sudden and drastic shift to digital technology-mediated, pervasive, applications across broad swaths of society, including education, business, health care and government with effects that are anticipated to extend beyond the immediate health crisis (Bevins, et al., 2020; Blackburn, et al., 2020, Dimson, et al., 2020, Howard & Borenstein, 2020; Torous, et al., 2020). Researchers anticipate that COVID-19 will accelerate the adoption of new technologies and operational practices (Castka, et al., 2020). Technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), big data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), and a variety of tools for overcoming social isolation and enhancing digital lives, such as virtual reality, holograms and streaming video have been given a large boost by the pandemic (Mazzoleni, et al., 2020; Ting, et al., 2020). The increase in widespread digital technologies, while promising to enhance human capabilities, well-being and productivity, is also fraught with ethical challenges for the delivery of public services, governance and information tools for vulnerable and disadvantaged populations (Dubov & Shoptaw, 2020; Torous, et al., 2020). Disparities in digital literacy and access, affordability and usability, all facets of the digital divide, pose challenges for marginalized populations, and thus their redress must figure into any policy discussion of how advancing – ‘smarter’ - technologies can spur civic progress and participation.

The pandemic’s immediate impact on public health and economics fuels COVID-19’s role as a longer-term driver of more pervasive technology, leading to what is being termed a ‘new normal’ (i.e., Catska, et al., 2020; Torous, et al., 2020). It is reasonable to anticipate that this trend will accelerate movement towards further development of e-planning applications, with attendant benefits and challenges. Big data, AI, machine learning, and IoT are also anticipated to be drivers of data intelligence applications and use cases for ‘smart cities’ that incorporate information and communication technologies (ICT) and other technologies to foster infrastructure, services and culture in urban areas that promote citizen participation and well-being (Xu & Geng, 2019). The likely e-planning impacts are profound and merit consideration in the context of civic life. Particularly as vulnerable and marginalized populations, such as people with disabilities, experience the negative effects of COVID-19 disproportionately (Courtenay & Perera 2020; Kupper, et al., 2020).

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