Ensuring sustainable, safer cities and inclusive communities
There are one billion people around the world who have a disability: of these 800 million live in developing countries where they have limited access to health care, education and employment.
Inclusion through technology
A wide variety technological solutions are available today, to make sure that billions of people worldwide are not excluded – from smartphone technology for the visually-impaired to more affordable energy solutions for the poor. Minerals and metals are key to the construction and functioning of almost all of these.
Braille is a reading and writing system for the blind or visually impaired. The characters are formed of raised dots which are pushed into the paper by a special typewriter, enabling users to read the bumps with their fingerprints. Before the invention of braille, the blind were generally not taught how to read and write. Even though the use of smartphones is more practical and can aid people with different levels of impairment, braille enables people to be independent, access education and enjoy books without the need of electronic devices – comprising a lower-cost solution that does not require handsets, charging or an energy source. Use of braille has enabled the visually impaired to integrate into society, study, and have careers – with braille writers being key to enabling this. Braille writers are constructed in a similar way to regular typewriters, which are primarily made of steel. Zinc is another important material, as it is used for the plates used to print braille books, as well as in the manufacture of tactile signs.
Smartphones have pushed assistive technology to a different level, promoting the inclusion of people with a wide range of disabilities. By enabling greater independence, apps can empower individuals, improving self-confidence and wellbeing. For those with learning difficulties, examples include apps that can translate speech into text, vocalise calculations and improve spatial and working memory. For those with mobility difficulties, examples include apps that search for accessible places, parking spots and wheelchair-friendly toilets. Apps are now advancing to enable users with disabilities to be tracked in real-time to assist them when using the public transport network. This gives passengers greater independence when making journeys, while allowing staff to anticipate and respond to customer needs. Smartphones may contain over 60 types of metals in their composition, including rare-earth metals such as scandium, yttrium, elements 57-71 lanthanides, neodymium and dysprosium.
District heating is a system that supplies energy for a centralised settlement, such as a city or town. Many different energy sources are used for district heating production. These include waste, biofuel, heat pumps, landfill gas, natural gas, propane/butane, electricity, and fuel oil. Different energy sources may be used simultaneously in a plant, allowing for a stable and flexible supply of heat. Heat pumps are a cleaner source when compared to gas boilers, since they do not use fossil fuels to provide heat. Thus, the concurrent use of a district heating system with heat pumps combine low carbon generation with the reliability and the efficiency of a large-scale network. Successful schemes have been running in mainland Europe for over a decade, and are now starting to be deployed in the UK. Heat pumps can be also used for cooling, which is valuable to prevent overheating in summer. Materials used in heat pumps include aluminium, copper, zinc, magnesium, iron, and chromium. The pipes used for heat distribution are made of steel, which are insulated with a layer of foam and then protected with an external polyethylene pipe.