The goal of every organisation providing services is to strive to meet the expectation of its customers. While digitising parking lots, we repeatedly asked ourselves the question of what types of problems do drivers struggle with when they are parking their cars. Our attention was drawn to people with disabilities. Intending to investigate the problem further, we began cooperating with the Polish foundation “Polska Bez Barier,” which supports people with disabilities in Poland. We connected with one of its members, Sławek Florkowski, who agreed to test our mobile application NaviPay in two locations, Centrum Zdrowia Dziecka and Novotel Warsaw. In addition to sharing his thoughts about our parking application, Sławek also participated in an interview about challenges people with disabilities encounter while driving.
Magdalena Malinowska: Let me start with a general introduction of you and the disability that has become an inseparable part of your life. I know that today you lead an active lifestyle, play rugby, ride a bicycle, conduct accessibility audits and participate in many initiatives, but please tell me what the beginning was like. What exactly happened?
Sławek Florkowski: The beginning was tough, the way beginnings usually are. However, with the support of my family and friends, I quickly got back in shape. You rightly brought up my active lifestyle. I wasn’t able to sit still, and this feeling stays with me until this day. Motorisation has always been my passion. At the age of 16, I passed the driver’s test. As a teenager, I rode a motorcycle on a track in Poznań, and I was making my dreams come true. I was developing in this area, and I didn’t expect it to turn my life around by 180 degrees — when I was 21, I had a motorcycle accident. Diagnosis: quadriplegia, but I’m alive, and that’s what matters. The passion has stayed with me.
MM: The skills too. You’re a fantastic driver.
SF: Thank you. I remember that when I first got behind the wheel after the accident, it was a bit different, but it still brought me joy. After a long multi-kilometre drive, I got home in the morning. My dad’s facial expression was priceless.
MM: How often do you drive?
SF: Often. Practically every day. I feel confident behind the wheel. Some people don’t feel comfortable driving around the city, but this does not apply to me. The length of the route does not matter to me. Still, on warmer days I prefer a bicycle.
MM: In that case, we must meet up for a bicycle ride by the Vistula river! What do you think are the biggest challenges for people with disabilities when driving a car?
SF: Other drivers. Parking on a spot designated for people with disabilities for “just a minute.” In these situations, I have a stream of epithets on my mind. From the perspective of a person without disabilities, this doesn’t seem problematic, but for someone in a wheelchair, this creates a major problem. Not only is the number of designated spaces not enough and in many cases the infrastructure inadequate, but this “just a minute” can be really irritating. Here I would also like to mention couriers and people who leave electric scooters lying around. People are not aware, or maybe they have just never thought about this, that a person in a wheelchair driving a car needs an adequate amount of space in a parking lot.
MM: From the perspective of a person with a disability, what would you like to show other drivers who are using the parking lot?
SF: That’s easy! Let them try to fold a wheelchair on a parking spot not designated for people with disabilities. Once you organise something like this, show me a video of it and record their reactions. I’m curious about the outcome.
MM: Will do! What is it like when it comes to receiving help?
SF: It is said that over-zealousness is worse than fascism. It’s simply best to ask: may I help you, and if yes, then how? Sometimes the set up of the wheelchair to which someone has gotten used to matters and wanting to help will not necessarily achieve this goal.
MM: In its simplicity, it seems obvious, but paradoxically it is not. The topic of helping people who use wheelchairs often leaves some people perplexed. Why do you think that is?
SF: From a lack of education and awareness. There’s nothing I can add to this. The understanding of our social group is distorted.
MM: I can’t disagree with you on that. Coming back to the topic of parking lots, what’s the worst thing that happened to you while parking your car?
SF: A heavy question. The barrier. It closed on the roof of my car because I didn’t manage to exit in the specified time, which is usually too short. That’s always stressful. Just like a poorly placed ticket machine and problems with scanning the ticket.
MM: You mentioned the scanning of parking tickets, so I will take advantage of this to smoothly transition to the technological aspect. What kind of systems make parking easier?
SF: Any automation. Starting with parking sensors, through assistive cameras, and ending with mobile applications which provide information about how to get somewhere and whether I will find an available parking space there or which enable mobile payments.
MM: You had the chance to test out our app NaviPay. What can you tell me about it? In what ways did it help you with your parking process?
SF: It definitely shortened the time of the exit. I didn’t have to figure out the ticket machine. Paying for parking is usually a challenge. The screens are often at such an angle that I can’t see anything while sitting in a wheelchair. Not everyone can raise their hand up high, and using a wallet is also a test of strength–reaching for coins or taking out a credit card are not easy tasks. I won’t even mention approaching the cash machines, which are often too tall.
MM: I’m happy to hear that we could help. You checked out two different forms of parking automation: one based on a controller and another based on cameras. What differences did you notice?
SF: Yes, as I mentioned before, every automation increases my comfort. Your app is very intuitive and easy to use. Both forms are great, but the one based on cameras is much more comfortable. I didn’t have to collect a ticket, and the barrier opened on its own based on the recognition of my car’s license plate. The quickness of it all surprised me. Not to mention that this is a much more environmentally-friendly option than printing paper tickets. The flow with the camera definitely stole my heart.
MM: Thank you for the feedback. Is there anything else you would like to add?
SF: Only that I’m keeping my fingers crossed for you guys.
MM: That’s very kind! Thank you for these words on behalf of the entire team.
Translated by: Klaudia Żychowska