For more than a billion people in Africa, active mobility is their primary mode of transport for getting to work, home, school and essential services – and yet it is often overlooked when considering planning infrastructure at both a policy and practical level. This means that safe, comfortable and convenient pavements, crossings and intersections simply aren’t available. It makes moving about the city even more challenging for persons with disabilities (PWDs), further exacerbated by the widening inequality gap caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
These challenges and how to address them were presented by seven of our HVT research projects at the recent Africa Regional Forum for Action – Inclusive & Active Mobility in a Changing Climate conference hosted by UNEP, UN-Habitat and Global Green Growth Institute in Kigali, Rwanda. The conference was attended by 120 delegates made up of policymakers and urban planners from cities across Africa.
Crystal Asige, a disability rights advocate and expert consultant for HVT’s project updating Road Note 21, spoke at the summit on inclusive transport and the need for a mind-shift for all those involved in transport planning and development. Below she reflects on the topic for our HVT blog and introduces us to the newly launched Road Note 21.
“Diff-ability” highlights the canyon of inequalities that make PWDs an invisible population. Confronting exclusion in mobility and moving the needle towards inclusion through better access for PWDs can unlock the wheels of progress towards equality and freedom for all people, no matter their ability or disability. Exclusion fuels injustices, hopelessness and threatens human rights by discounting the voices of the largest minority group worldwide.
“Around 15% of the world’s population identify with some form of disability, 80% of whom live in lower and middle-income countries (LMICs). The cost of sub-optimal transport services is estimated at $0.63bn in the UK with wider economic losses associated with lower levels of inclusion and productivity estimated between €474bn and €672bn per annum across all LMICs.
“But this is about more than economic costs. It goes to the heart of natural justice questions about the kind of world we want to see. Universally, inclusive design and service provision for disabled people also equates to good design for everyone. If PWDs could leave their homes, safely accessing buildings and streets, independent of a caregiver, how many more opportunities could they pursue? How many more adventures could they experience? How many more jobs could they secure? How much more sociable could they be in their communities? In short, how much more of a dignified life could they live?
“Accessibility and inclusion are not a one-and-done. Even if the above were turned around by morning, realising sustainable accessibility requires a collaborative ecosystem. First, we need a mind shift. The world view sees disability as an error, something to be fixed – instead of being seen as a celebration of diversity, akin to race, gender, language and culture. Therefore, before we can build metal ramps, we must build mental ramps. Next, we need to start talking to each other – Technocrats, PWD, non-profits, government, private and public sector and media. Not forgetting that without being recognised by law, standards, manuals and principles often remain a polite suggestion.
“The Road Note 21 (RN21) good practice guide is a response to this. Originally published in 2004, it has recently been updated by the FCDO funded High Volume Transport programme team led by IMC Worldwide, and experts from UK-based transport planning consultancy ITP, and disability rights advocates and experts Subhash Vashisth and myself. The update combines evolved thinking around how people with physical, sensory and neuro-diverse disabilities around the world interact with the built environment, with significant changes that digital comms and mobile technologies have had on the way we plan and make journeys.
“RN21 features two publications; one aimed at policymakers, decision-makers and advocacy groups, and one focused on sharing the technical standards and LMIC-specific good practice case studies. Both needed to improve the accessibility and inclusion of streetscapes, transport stops and interchanges, information services and transport vehicles globally. The guide seeks to make it easier for people who experience temporary or permanent mobility impairments to travel around.”
Crystal Asige is a leading advocate and expert on inclusive transport and raises awareness on the importance of accessible cities, celebrates diversity and pushes for access to independence and equal opportunities for all people regardless of their ability or disability.