High Volume Transport

Vital transport research to ensure accessible, affordable and climate friendly transport for all.

Delivering Inclusive Public Transport: Creating a disability-inclusive approach

The High Volume Transport Research Programme (HVT) joined forces with the International Road Federation (IRF) to host a recent webinar (8th February) focusing on the challenges the transport sector faces in ensuring that people with disabilities are not only beneficiaries of development, but importantly that they are agents of change driving that development.

Accessible public transport is essential for people with disabilities to access education, employment, healthcare and social activities. Without the ability to move and travel independently they experience marginalisation and exclusion in society, leading to a downward spiral towards dependence and poverty. The webinar explored the mobility experiences of people with disabilities living in low- and middle-income countries – home to 80% of the world’s one billion people living with disabilities – and presented some of the latest work being done to create a disability-inclusive approach to building inclusive public transport.

The session was opened by IRF’s Director General, Susanna Zammataro, who introduced the moderator of the webinar, Ann Frye, an international specialist on the mobility needs of disabled and older people. Ann passed the floor directly to the first presenter of the panel, Maria Kett, Associate Professor in Humanitarianism and Disability in the UCL Institute of Epidemiology and Healthcare.

Maria gave an overview of some of the persistent gaps when considering disability-inclusive transport and explored emerging ideas and necessary future steps. She drew on a thematic review she undertook with Jeff Turner in 2020, (Disability, Mobility and Transport in Low- and Middle-Income Countries: A Thematic Review. Sustainability 2020, 12, 589; ) Amongst the issues that Maria identified was a lack of data around people with disabilities using public transport, making it hard to measure the size of the gap in terms of access. She stressed the urgent need for more research to bring about change over time, in addition to a conducive policy environment.

She went on to explore emerging ideas including special transport (para-transport) services, and how this can be effective if part of wider package, involving changing attitudes and sustainable, healthy transport. Flexible door to door services and technology can also be great enablers for people with disabilities, but these need to be part of a holistic approach including a more supportive policy design, taking account of convenience and giving people a degree of autonomy about choice.

When considering future steps, Maria said that more work needs to be done to support adults and children with disabilities to use transport services, but this should and could be done by integrating it more fully with other interventions, including education and livelihoods, shifting away from seeing it as a ‘transport’ issue per se. Overall, she said there is a lack of voice: “A lot of research is done on or for people with disabilities but very little done by or with people with disabilities.” These people should be included on access panels and in audits, she said. “When we talk about inclusion, we’re talking about much more than access, it’s a much wider discussion.”

Next to speak was Bright Oywaya, Executive director of the Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT-Kenya), a not-for profit organization promoting road safety through education, awareness creation and advocacy. Bright has a disability as a result of a road accident 24 years ago and spoke not only as a global campaigner for inclusion but also as somebody with lived experience of the issues being discussed. Her focus was on road transport and she pointed out that while a lot of her work is around physical disability, many of the issues addressed cut across other areas of disability.

Bright pointed out the economic cost of exclusion. She stressed that access to transport supports inclusive social development, because “transport is an enabler”. She then drew on real life experiences of barriers to inclusion for people with disabilities in Kenya, where the most common form of transport is the mutatu, or private minibus. Photographs showed people with disabilities faced with difficulties getting into and out of minibuses, or wheelchairs being blocked from accessing roadways by other vehicles.

Other barriers to inclusion included:

Bright went on to highlight a number of initiatives that are creating more inclusive transport, including the work of her organisation, ASIRT-Kenya, which has been involved in campaigns to articulate issues and influence policy makers. Showing a visual of a road in a city centre complete with walkways and cycling lanes she said: “Where there is intention and political will, this is possible”.

In her closing remarks, Bright considered the key elements that could bring about change. She highlighted that low-cost solutions – such as removing obstructions on pavements – could tackle mobility at its most basic level. She stressed the need to engage with people with disabilities and understand their needs, and to include them at all stages. She said that f there is to be inclusion in the Kenyan transport system: “We have to be included in the planning, .. in the policy, transport has to be available, accessible, affordable .. and it has to be safe.”

The final presentation was given by Subhash Chandra Vashishth, an Accessibility, Universal Design and Diversity Inclusion Specialist from India and Tom Fleming of Integrated Transport Planning (ITP). Tom is currently Project Manager for HVT’s update of the Overseas Road Note 21 – Enhancing the Mobility of Disabled People: A Guidelines for Practitioners.

Subhash, one of the leading pioneers in accessibility and an advisor for the Road Note, introduced the Overseas Road Note 21, explaining that the new updated guide is expected to be published in Spring 2022. The original guide summarises examples of good practice worldwide with regards to improving the ability of people with disabilities to have greater access and mobility in their daily lives. It is aimed at engineers, planners, central and local government officials, policy makers, transport operators and people with disabilities in developing countries, to enable them to work together towards improving the mobility of people with disabilities.

The original guide was published in 2004, and was in urgent need of a revision. Much has changed over 20 years, including the understanding of disability and the signing by 184 countries of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Tom Fleming then went on to outline what had changed in the update. He explained that one of the challenges had been to restructure the guide to make it as accessible to as many people as possible. The team decided on a two-part structure comprising two independent, stand-alone documents which also have value when read together. Part one is aimed at policy makers and covers policy and barriers, but also levelling the playing field in terms of knowledge of disability and different categories of disability. Part two is the good practice guide, aimed at designers and engineers, focused on standards and best practices.

Notable additions to the guide include school transport services, urban water transport services and updated lists of advocacy organisations. There’s also greater emphasis on areas such as neuro-diversity and non-visible disabilities. Its three core themes are accessible vehicles, accessible infrastructure and accessible transport services and information.

Moderator, Ann Frye, then led a Q&A session giving the 221 attendees the opportunity to raise points with the panel and resulted in an offer from Pakistan to give advice on the BRT system. In closing, Ann summed up by saying that there is still a gap in the way in which people with disabilities are engaged in advising on and delivering the right solutions, a tendency still to talk about what they need rather than putting them in control of delivering those changes. This, she said, needs to change.

To listen to a full recording of the one hour session please click here.