Power tools: From traffic lights for walkers, to zippers for the impaired

This week we highlight developments that benefit individuals, but also policies that give control to underserved groups to take action together.

1. United States

Pedestrian-activated traffic lights are saving lives in Phoenix. Arizona is one of the highest-ranking states for pedestrian fatalities. In 2018, nondrivers made up half the car crash fatalities in Phoenix, where officials have since installed 66 pedestrian-activated traffic signals, called HAWK beacons, on busy intersections and multilane roads throughout the city.

Why We Wrote This

Empowering disadvantaged people takes many forms. In Phoenix, a type of stoplight saves lives by giving pedestrians more control over traffic. And in central Europe, two designers are enabling those with mobility disabilities to dress more independently.

Developed in Tucson, a HAWK beacon includes two red lights above a single yellow light with a sign facing motorists instructing them to “stop on red.” Unlike traditional traffic lights, the HAWK signals remain dark until they’re activated by pedestrians. Motorists have several seconds of both flashing and steady yellow lights to come to a complete stop, before the beacons activate the double red lights and allow pedestrians to cross. Pedestrian signals are similar to those at typical crosswalks. Early research into the HAWK beacon found driver compliance rates were higher than with other forms of traffic management, and a federal study found the beacons reduced pedestrian crashes by 69%. In Phoenix, pedestrian deaths have fallen by a third since 2018.
ABC15, Federal Highway Administration

Josiane Kouagheu/Reuters
Agro World Group founder Boris Youdom Kamgo leads an aquaculture class near Douala, Cameroon, in June.

2. Cameroon

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and Cameroon’s Ministry of Livestock, Fisheries and Animal Industries are helping people rebuild their lives through aquaculture. Many Cameroonians have been displaced by climate change, poverty, and insurrectionist violence in the country’s Far North Region. Fishing is popular on Cameroon’s coastline, but officials saw an untapped potential for inland aquaculture to provide livelihoods and help stem food insecurity. Through aquaculture, participants are able to farm and sell fish even when they move away from the coast. More than 3,000 farmers and pastoralists have participated in training programs since March 2019, with FAO providing fishing equipment, fish feed, and other technical assistance. These projects were funded in part by the U.N. and Irish Aid.

Some refugees and other displaced people who participated in the program had no fishing experience, while others had aquaculture businesses before fleeing their homes and were glad to return to the trade. That includes Florence, a single mother originally from the northern village of Zebe, where local fish stocks diminished under climate change. “I can now breed fish myself and sell my products to create a better life,” she said of her recent training. “I now know how to manage a fish farm, while ensuring the health of my fish.”
United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization

3. Slovenia and Croatia

A Slovenian and Croatian startup is creating functional, fashionable clothing for people with disabilities. Few clothing brands design with mobility impairments in mind, leaving many of Europe’s 5 million wheelchair users choosing from unflattering, uncomfortable, and unstylish items. Fashion designer Maja Simunovic and industrial designer Hedvig af Ekenstam aim to change that by working with wheelchair users to design clothes that are easy to put on and reflect current fashion trends. Their brand, UCQC (Unique Comfort Quality Clothes), is backed by the Worth Partnership Project, a European Union initiative that offers financial support, legal aid, and business coaching to innovative, transnational collaborations in Europe’s lifestyle sector.

Today, UCQC features several soon-to-be-stocked items on its website, including T-shirts with longer backs and jeans with lowered pockets for easy access. The UCQC jacket, which has an adaptive magnetic zipper with loop pulls, was one of the first items designers worked on. “It was my first time closing my own coat in seven years. So that was a big thing for me,” said Slovenian Paralympian Luka Plavčak. “I think overall it’s a much needed product in the disabled community.”
EuroNews, Worth Partnership Project, UCQC

4. Israel

Israel welcomed its first deaf Knesset member. Shirley Pinto, a longtime advocate for people with hearing loss, was sworn into the Israeli parliament in sign language and spoken Hebrew. The Yamina lawmaker replaces new Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana under the Norwegian Law, which allows newly appointed Cabinet members to temporarily step down so another candidate from their party can take their place in the Knesset.  

Ms. Pinto entered the political arena in 2019 when she joined the New Right party, later known as Yamina. In her maiden Knesset speech – the first in the nation’s history to be delivered in sign language – she spoke of the lack of accessibility and general awareness of people with disabilities in Israeli society. She promised to “continue to work with all my might, as I have in the past, for people with disabilities in Israel and to be your force in the Knesset with the goal of making Israel an accessible, equal, and inclusive society.”
The Times of Israel, YnetNews

5. Thailand

A cooperative housing program in Bangkok is helping families improve living conditions on their own terms. Under the Baan Mankong program, poor communities hold collective ownership of new housing developments, pooling resources to negotiate better terms on their leases and loans and make design decisions. “This flexible mechanism where the poor can directly access funds is different from other development projects where money is held by the government authority,” said Kasetsart University’s Supreeya Wungpatcharapon. “[The] network of communities is empowered to demand the right to the city.”

Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters
Canal-side communities, such as Bangkok’s Klong Toey district, are especially vulnerable to flooding.

Slum dwellers in Thailand are uniquely vulnerable to flooding and other impacts of climate change, often lack access to public resources, and live with the constant threat of eviction. Still, some families don’t want to relocate, and even with cheap loans and government subsidies, the program may not work for the poorest residents. However, thousands of households that have benefited from Baan Mankong say the new homes are life-changing. “We wanted a better life for ourselves, a better future for our children,” said Bani Chaosuwanphan, a community leader at a Baan Mankong development, “and these homes can give us that.”
Thomson Reuters Foundation

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