Accessibility – Human City Beijing Studio

Skills: Design Research
Sep 2016
Workshop, city observation, user Research

A rapidly urbanizing world calls for both humanistic and technological approaches to the twenty-first century city. In this collaborative Tsinghua-Stanford workshop, we examined sustainable urban development at a human scale.

We learned from local communities, meet with sustainability experts, and collaborated with multi-sector stakeholders to understand people’s behaviors and interactions with the city. Through field research, experiential learning, we learn about the human needs of diverse user groups.

Experience Prototyping

We thought the best way to understand the challenges of accessibility was to use experiential prototyping. We borrowed a wheelchair from the Qinghua Disabled Persons’ Federation and experienced the stigma, shame, and inconvenience of Beijing city planning.
We wanted to understand what the obstacles to accessibility were. We wondered if they were structural or social.

Wheelchair Experience

Wheelchair Experience


uneven ground
stairs, not many ramps or elevators
no signs to explain accessible routes

Wudaokou Subway

Wudaokou Subway


we noticed 3 things while observing the social interactions of wheelchairs in Beijing.

observation 1:
elderly people walking, while pushing an empty wheelchair
observation 2:
elderly people sitting in wheelchair on side of the road
observation 3:
elderly people being pushed in wheelchair


Interview for Empathy

After we focused on the disabilities, we turned our topic to the migrants. Even though the migrant workers can walk without a wheelchair, Beijing is inaccessible to them in many ways. We made an interview to some migrant young salespersons in Dazhalan area, about the feeling of their lives in Beijing. Many of them have spent more than 5 years in this city, and still didn’t get the registered permanent residence of Beijing, which is called HUKOU in Chinese.

Without a HUKOU of Beijing, these young people have no access to enough education, medical and other resources of this city, and thus most of them decide to leave from Beijing to their hometown after they make enough money. And we all know when they said “enough” money, it’s only enough for a better in their hometown but, obviously not in Beijing, which is another reason for them not to stay in this city. The high expense, especially the high housing price, have become an obstacle blocking the migrants from truly living in the capital of China. The housing price of Beijing has risen over 1000% in the first ten years of the 21st century, which results in a vicious circle that more and more rich people come to Beijing and invest in the real estate, causing a ever-lasting increase of the housing price, forcing the poor people or even the middle class of the society to give up settling i this city. Additionally, the broadening gap between the rich and the poor is not the only thing troubles the migrant, just like the HUKOU of Beijing could not bring you the benefits of education or medical resource, but also some invisible profits, including something mentally.


Interviewing migrant workers

Really had a good time with all the friends!


Thanks to my teammates: Aitran Doan, Shelby Marcus, Sherry Zhou, Wang Zihan, Xu Liang


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