Pandemic Urbanism

May 14, 2020

How can we plan post-pandemic cities to be more accessible to people with disabilities?

By Abigail Cochran (
Ph.D. Candidate, Department of City & Regional Planning, University of California, Berkeley

The author will give this presentation at the Pandemic Urbanism Symposium in a session titled “Post-Pandemic Mobilities,” from 2:00 – 3:00 PM on May 29, 2020.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, options for getting around have drastically changed for everyone, but particularly for people with disabilities and other transportation-disadvantaged groups who are less likely to be drivers, and more likely to rely on public and shared services than others. Transit and paratransit services have been heavily reduced in many U.S. cities. For-hire vehicles, like taxis and app-based ridehailing services (e.g., Uber and Lyft), are less available and have suspended their more affordable, pooled service options. Transportation changes, as well as physical distancing recommendations and stay-at-home orders, severely limit opportunities for individuals with disabilities to access essential services and perform necessary tasks, like grocery shopping or seeking medical care. Furthermore, reduced travel and participation might exacerbate negative mental health outcomes associated with low mobility, like feeling isolated, particularly among vulnerable groups including people with disabilities and older adults.

Between March 20 and April 6, 2020, I conducted over 20 interviews with San Francisco Bay Area residents with disabilities to ask how they were coping and adapting to the COVID-19 response measures, faced with far fewer opportunities to travel and interact. I found that circumstances of the pandemic are exacerbating many of the difficulties accessing transportation, essential goods and services, and information that people with disabilities always face. These results have important implications for how planners and policymakers think about redesigning services, like transit, such that they are more accessible to people with disabilities, and everyone, now and looking ahead to a post-pandemic future.