Accessibility links

Putting access on the agenda: ensuring mobility for people with disabilities

Whilst developed countries have made progress in making transport services more accessible for people with disabilities, developing countries have lagged behind. However, the human rights approach to disability – seeing every citizen as entitled to be included in social and economic opportunities – is slowly gaining acceptance. A set of clear guidelines on technical, policy and practical issues surrounding planning for people with disabilities would greatly contribute to improved practice.

A report
from Transport Research Laboratory seeks to hasten the adoption of good
accessibility practices by setting out guidelines for the developing world’s
transport sector. Problems with transport
are consistently identified by disabled and older people as major reasons why
they remain isolated from society. In developing countries their inability to
access education, healthcare or job opportunities contributes significantly to
keeping them and their families in poverty.

In many developing societies discriminatory
attitudes towards disability are widespread. Family members with disabilities
are kept at home to protect them from an unfriendly society and to avoid the
social stigma of having a disabled person in the home. Tackling negative
attitudes is therefore the first step towards achieving greater mobility and
social interaction. Efforts must therefore be made to promote the adcovacy role
of disabled people’s organisations.

Although
internationally there is a gradual convergence of national access standards,
the implementation of access solutions must be sensitive to local situations. Whatever is chosen, good access practice must provide
a travel environment that is Safe, Accessible, Reliable, and Affordable (SARA).

Attitudes and practices are
changing. The Guidelines illustrate how:

  • In Delhi a local NGO has worked with transport authorities to
    make metro stations barrier-free, to include safety features and tactile
    guideways on platforms and to ensure carriages have adequate space for
    wheelchair users.

  • South Africa has adopted an integrated national disability
    strategy committed to developing accessible and affordable public transport.

  • In Mexico City a forum bringing together a disabled people’s
    advocacy group and a wide range of transport stakeholders has led to thousands
    of kerb ramps on major streets and the introduction of accessible buses and
    trolley buses.

  • Planners are
    learning that accessibility is affordable. Kerb ramps, seats at bus and minibus
    stops, prioritised seating in vehicles for elderly and disabled people and the
    use of high-contrast paint on poles and steps inside vehicles and stations can
    be undertaken over a two to three year period for one or two per cent of a
    typical annual municipal transport budget.

However many examples exist
of well-meaning but misguided officials who attempt to make access improvements
based on what they mistakenly think disabled people require. If engineers,
planners, central and local government officials and transport operators are to
improve the sustainable mobility of people with disabilities they need to:

  • make formal
    consultation with people with disabilities compulsory whenever transport
    projects and plans are developed

  • realise that improving
    disabled people’s mobility is not just a question of making physical improvements
    to the transport system: it also requires ensuring access to wheelchairs and
    walking aids, affordable transport and adequate information

  • ensure that principles
    of good practice address user abilities, needs and preferences and put users
    ahead of staff convenience

  • introduce enforceable
    access legislation to prohibit unfair discrimination against people with
    disabilities in the design of services, fare schedules, and operating
    procedures

  • remember that ‘disability’
    covers a wide spectrum of people with a range of different needs

  • include universal
    mobility requirements in all new transport developments, redevelopment and
    maintenance projects.

If international targets on poverty
reduction are to be reached, concerted efforts must be made to reduce
discrimination and isolation of disabled people. Improving their mobility and
physical access to livelihood opportunities needs to be a priority.