Disability, Accessibility in Sustainable Urban Development

Africa, April 3 2017

ETHIOPIA: The construction development in Ethiopia is remarkably growing from time to time. Every morning, it is usual to see the rising of various infrastructural developments. This is the result of the fast and sustainable growth of the country over the last two decades.

inaccessible pedestrian walkwaysThough the development would be so holistic, it is appropriate to ask: has it given proper consideration to the benefits of persons with disabilities? Many doubt that. Ethiopia has of course a carefully designed constitution which gives protection to the rights of persons with disabilities. The country has also declared and ratified human rights documents related to the groups. The law has guaranteed all citizens to be equal regardless of the various conditions and circumstances.

Moreover, the country has construction laws that enforce infrastructure sector to be considerate of persons with disabilities in their projects. In the current reality in many cities of Ethiopia, some progresses have been observed on giving due consideration to persons with disabilities in infrastructure development over the last few years . But much is remaining to be done in the future.

The policy makers and practitioners in development as well as those working in the field of disability are so critical about the current progress and practices through considering opportunities for change.

Importantly, the New Urban Agenda needs to ensure that future cities, towns and basic urban infrastructures and services are more environmentally accessible and inclusive of all people’s needs, including persons with disabilities.

Urban environments, infrastructures, facilities and services can impede or enable, perpetuating exclusion or fostering participation and inclusion of all members of society. Persons with disabilities face widespread lack of accessibility to environments, roads and housing, to public buildings and spaces, basic urban services such as sanitation and water, health, education, transportation, and emergency response programs.

Barriers to information and communications, including relevant technologies and cultural attitudes including negative stereotyping and stigma also contribute to the exclusion and marginalization of persons with disabilities in urban environments.

Too often, urban environments have served as a barrier to the inclusion and participation of persons with disabilities in economic and social development in cities and communities. Lack of accessibility contributes greatly to the disadvantaged and vulnerable situations faced by persons with disabilities, leading to disproportionate rates of poverty, deprivation and exclusion among persons with disabilities.

Inaccessible infrastructure and transportation denies persons with disabilities access to community services and facilities and hinders their participation. This inaccessibility contributes to social exclusion, lack of access to education, livelihood activities, and health care.

And all people need to have access to public spaces and any other place a person might need to go for work, play, get education, business and services, etc. Physical access includes things like accessible routes, curb ramps, parking and passenger loading zones, elevators, signage, entrances and restroom accommodations.

Signs, public address systems, the Internet, telephones, and many other communication media are usually oriented toward people who can hear, see and use their hands easily. Making these media accessible to people with disabilities can take some creativity and ingenuity. People with disabilities were, in the past, often denied access to services of various kinds from such human services as child care or mental health counseling to help in retail stores to entertainment either because of lack of physical accessibility or because of their disabilities.

Discrimination in hiring on the basis of disability as long as the disability doesn’t interfere with a candidate’s ability to perform the tasks of the job in question is illegal.

Everyone has a right to get education appropriate to his/her talents and needs with having the right to fully participate in community life, including attending religious services, dining in public restaurants, shopping, enjoying community park facilities and the like.

In general, public and government facilities, cities and towns, educational institutions, employers and service providers should make reasonable accommodations where necessary to serve people with disabilities. Ensuring access for people with disabilities is a must and many countries of the world have supported it within their law. It’s a matter of fairness and respect. People with disabilities have the same rights as others, including the right to fully participate in community life.

Many people with disabilities in every walk of life are competent at important jobs, and some even do remarkable work. Denying them adequate access to employment, education, or services wastes human resources and hurts the society. For commercial operations of any kind, accessibility means that people with disabilities can become customers, increasing sales volume and profits. They also add to the diversity of the community, and that diversity makes everyone’s life richer. Access for people with disabilities improves access for everyone. Making public spaces and facilities physically accessible for people with disabilities also makes them more accessible for people who may not have disabilities.

Any new building used as a public facility (e.g., parks, sports stadiums, other public facilities) must be accessible. Minimally, the design should be functional to accommodate people with different abilities, but good design can make accessibility total and essentially invisible.

We need to be attentive in including and carefully considering those groups during the times of renovation, repair made to a public facility of any kind. It’s important that designers, builders, and people with disabilities themselves, organizations concerned with disability rights, legislators and other public officials, enforcing agencies, employers, educators, organizations that provide public services, the court system, when necessary, architects and planners and developers to think about how best to provide access.

Social aspects, such as non-discrimination in employment and service delivery, and equal treatment in all situations of people with and without disabilities are also things that should be considered side by side with considering infrastructural development for persons with disabilities. And there are also political considerations: working to strengthen and enforce the laws that do exist, and working for laws to protect people with disabilities in countries that don’t have them. Perhaps the most important is raising the consciousness of employers, the community and of those who design and/or build facilities about the rights and needs of people with disabilities.

By Yared Gebremeden
Source: Ethiopian Herald

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