What is a Curb Cut and the Curb Cut Effect?

Photo Description: A busy city sidewalk along side a busy city road. A person in a wheelchair using a curb cut to get on the sidewalk after crossing the street. (PHOTO// James Coleman on Unsplash)

Imagine this: You are going down the sidewalk in your wheelchair, on your way to visit your favorite shop, you need to cross the street and — BOOM! — you cannot get off the sidewalk to cross the street. That is what a curb cut is used for. It is a slight incline that goes from sidewalk to the road! In fact, along with the invention of the curb cut came the “Curb Cut Effect”.

So where did curb cuts originate? Let’s go back to the 1940’s. In 1945, the first known curb cut appeared in Kalamazoo, Michigan. However, the major known time era of the curb cut’s popularity was in the early 1970’s. Michael Pachovas and some of his friends, all of which use wheelchairs, went to a curb in Berkeley, California and made a makeshift ramp out from hand-poured cement. Police threatened to arrest the men, but never did. In the 70’s, Berkeley, along with most cities, was not very accessible. The Architectural Barriers Act of 1968 required government buildings, and government buildings only, to be accessible. However, the streets in the cities were not accessible, and actually were more of an obstacle course. After the continued advocacy and accessible rights movement continued in Berkeley, the city installed the first official curb cut in 1972. Now, virtually every city in America, both urban and rural, have curb cuts installed for accessibility!

The Curb Cut Effect

The Curb Cut Effect is a phenomenon of disability-related features or objects, like the curb cut, that is now used and appreciated by a larger group of people other than who it was originally designed for. In terms of curb cuts, many people use them when crossing the street. A few major groups of people that use curb cuts are parents with strollers and crossing the street, delivery drivers, bicyclists, skateboarders and anyone who walks down a sidewalk and crosses the street.

5 Other Examples of the Curb Cut Effect:

  1. Closed Captioning
    Closed Captioning was originally meant for deaf people, but now many people use it regularly.
  2. Transcripts
    Transcripts were also originally meant for deaf people, but many people use them to skim over the content without listening or watching to the content in it’s entirety.
  3. LED Flash for phone alerts
    LED Flash is apart of the accessibility features on phones. People use it to know when their phone goes off while on silent. It was originally intended for deaf people to know when their phones had a new notification.
  4. Text-to-Speech
    Text-to-Speech is another accessibility feature on many devices and programs and is used to easily get information without physically typing it. It’s original purpose was to assist people who could not easily type.
  5. Bold text
    Bold text is used to make words easier to read for those with vision loss. Now, many use it to indicate a title or important information and is available on most programs and devices.

Thanks for reading, have a fantastic day! Love you all!

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