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Why it’s Important to Make Cities Accessible for Everyone

Updated: Dec 21, 2018


Working with World Enabled, UrbanEmerge has recently led a project for the INGO Humanity & Inclusion (formerly Handicap International). We researched and drafted material to support their advocacy to city and national level policy makers, including engaging those at the UN High Level Political Forum (HLPF), which was held a few weeks ago in New York. The HLPF reviewed progress to date on the targets and indicators of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and provided an opportunity for stakeholders to raise awareness of particular issues and to lobby for certain approaches that will improve the delivery of the SDGs. Humanity & Inclusion took the opportunity to renew their focus on supporting decision makers in developing countries to make cities more inclusive, in terms of accessibility and safety for persons with disabilities.


CITIES FOR ALL: No One Left Behind ( World Urban Forum 9, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Feb. 2018). More than 500 participants from around the world, including 60 who are deaf, blind or wheelchair users, formed a huge accessibility message calling for inclusion of people with disabilities in all city planning. The event was produced by World Enabled and DIAUD (Disability Inclusive and Accessible Urban Development) in collaboration with artist John Quigley of Spectra Q.

Persons with disabilities are often excluded from life opportunities – and daily life – in cities

Persons with disabilities comprise approximately 15% of the world’s population, with 85% of those living in developing countries (WHO 2011 Report on Disability).However, too often in developing countries, as well as many cities in developed countries, the barriers to inclusion are insurmountable. Sidewalks are either non-existent or in poor condition. There are very few safe crossing points over roads and where they have been installed, they are often blocked by raised curbs, they are rarely traffic light controlled and the majority of vehicles do not readily stop for pedestrians, leading to many casualties.

Public transport is often under-developed in developing countries, and co-exists with abundant informal collective transport systems (such as minibuses) and both types usually fail to provide access for those with physical impairments. It is also very challenging for those with visual impairments, the deaf and those with intellectual challenges such as autism.

These types of physical barriers in the urban environment exclude people with disabilities from education, from employment, from accessing health care and from contributing to society through voting and attending meetings. It also stops them just from going out and having a good time. In addition, there are other types of barriers including community stigma and psychological constraints.

Why we’re helping to raise the profile of universal access across multiple policy areas

A key message to promote is that by making cities inclusive, municipal governments can enhance the daily urban experience, quality of life and road safety for everyone, including the elderly and mothers with children. Through appropriate measures to improve safety and accessibility, cities have the transformative potential and the leverage to reduce inequalities in society and to ‘leave no one behind’, an overarching principle of the SDGs.

One of Humanity and Inclusion’s key advocacy strategies is in raising the status of disability access, not just for urban planning departments, but in policy areas such as education, access to employment and disaster risk management. It is important for a wide range of policy makers and public and private sector stakeholders to understand the current constraints and the entry points available to improve disability assess. For example, if schools are working hard to make their facilities and teaching methods accessible, it won’t make much difference if dangerous roads and steps are preventing pupils with disabilities from reaching the school gates. Those responsible for education should also be working closely with infrastructure providers to enhance safety and inclusiveness for children, with or without disabilities.

Another point to emphasise is that, once policy-makers consider persons with disability as a high potential source of contributions to labour markets and also as spending consumers, huge value can be unlocked in terms of contribution to GDP. Apart from greatly enhancing quality of life for a large proportion of society, income generated by those with disabilities can contribute to taxes and reduce the burden of care related costs.

Helping UK Aid improve disability inclusion via urban infrastructure projects

UrbanEmerge, again in partnership with World Enabled, is also about to start providing advisory services to DFID, the FCO and CDC Group on how to improve disability access in urban and infrastructure investments. This is being provided through the DFID-funded Infrastructure and Cities for Economic Development facility, managed by PwC, which helps DFID country offices conceptualise and design programmes.

The earlier that inclusive access can be part of project design the better and it is crucial to consult with a wide range of stakeholders such as disabled peoples organisations (DPOs) as well as considering gendered differences in accessibility and safety needs. It is usually the case that projects don’t need to be more expensive if they are to be more inclusive. They just need to design in inclusivity from the start.

There are also exciting developments in ICT and smart city solutions that can greatly benefit persons with disabilities. These include more accessible transport and access information online, including audio guides; apps to book transport solutions dedicated to persons with disabilities; and phone-based messaging for early warning and evaluation support in the event of a disaster.

If we all think about universal access when planning and investing in infrastructure, urban improvements, buildings and evacuation processes, then persons with disabilities can really become enabled again, live life and contribute to society. We’ll all be a few steps closer to ‘leaving no-one behind’.

The advocacy material developed with Humanity & Inclusion can be accessed here

Andreas Beavor is a Co-Founder of UrbanEmerge and a consultant in urban and regional development and inclusive economic growth.

#IntegratedUrbanPlanning #UniversalAccess #DisabilityInclusion

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