Lack of accessibility of physical environment, information and public services prevents people with disabilities from living independently and participating fully in all aspects of life (DESA, 2013, p. 4; Al Ju’beh, 2015, p. 54). See also environmental barriers.
Inaccessible transport has been cited in a number of studies as a key barrier to people with disabilities accessing healthcare and employment, especially those living in rural areas (Morgon Banks & Polack, 2014, p. 48; WHO & World Bank, 2011, p. 66; Mont, 2014, p. 25). A recent survey by the Zero Project of 150 countries found that only three per cent of respondents believe that the public transport system in the capital is accessible for all (Balmas et al., 2015, p. 11). Barriers to accessible transport include: lack of effective programmes; obstacles to special transport services and accessible taxis; physical and informational barriers; lack of continuity in the travel chain; lack of pedestrian access; and lack of staff awareness and negative attitudes (WHO & World Bank, 2011, pp. 178-179). Without accessible transport, people with disabilities are more likely to be excluded from services and social contact (WHO & World Bank, 2011, p. 170).
In many countries accessibility requirements have yet to be integrated into all aspects of the planning and design of buildings has led to inaccessibile or separate – and generally inequitable – services (DESA, 2013, p. 13; WHO & World Bank, 2011, pp. 173-174). Experience shows that mandatory minimum standards are necessary, as voluntary efforts on accessibility are not sufficient to remove barriers (WHO & World Bank, 2011, p. 173). Retrofitting for accessibility is more expensive – by up to 20 per cent of the original cost – than integrating accessibility into new buildings (WHO & World Bank, 2011, p. 173; UNICEF, 2013, p. 19). It is generally feasible to meet accessibility requirements at one per cent of the total cost (WHO & World Bank, 2011, p. 173).
Lack of accessibility in the ‘design, development and production of telecommunication services and products and digital literacy can prevent a substantial number of people with disabilities from achieving social inclusion’ (Rimmerman, 2013, pp. 3, 76; see who WHO & World Bank, 2011, pp. 170-172). The Zero Project finds that it is not only cost that prevents people with disabilities from accessing digital technology, but lack of political will to define standards for software and hardware (Fembek et al., 2014, p. 33; WHO & World Bank, 2011, p. 185). In addition, mainstream devices may be incompatible with assistive devices, especially given the rapid pace of technological change (WHO & World Bank, 2011, p. 184, 186).
Increased opportunities for successful implementation of accessibility are suggested to arise from a combination of a top-down approach, with nationally legislated minimum requirements (the most common approach), and a participatory, bottom-up approach, as well as applying the principle of universal design (DESA, 2013, pp. 12, 18). Technological developments can also contribute to a more accessible environment (WHO & World Bank, 2011, p. 4). There are suggestions that an incremental approach, which creates a ‘culture of accessibility’, makes it easier to raise standards (WHO & World Bank, 2011, p. 169). Accessibility approaches need to take into account constraints including affordability, competing priorities, availability of technology and knowledge, and cultural differences; as well as being based on evidence of what works (WHO & World Bank, 2011, pp. 169, 174). Attitudinal barriers need to be tackled as much as physical barriers, through education and awareness raising (WHO & World Bank, 2011, p. 169).
The World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons, The United Nations Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities and The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, require that governments and the international community to recognise the importance of accessibility in ensuring the equalization of opportunities for persons with disabilities by empowering them to ‘live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life’ (DESA, 2013, pp. 3-4). Individual states can have their own accessibility standards. See also the Toolkits in Section 6.
An evaluation of disability inclusion programmes found that it is important to remember that ‘access by and inclusion of disabled people are not the same thing – each require a different strategy’ (Coe, 2012, p. 400). Sometimes the provision of ramps is felt to be all that is needed for disability inclusion, when in fact is just enables access for physically impaired people (Coe, 2012, p. 406).
Universal design is an approach to design based on the ‘premise that design processes must be inclusive, produce equitable benefits and be appropriate to human functioning, gender, demographic group and social, economic and cultural setting and historical development experience’ (DESA, 2013, p. 18). Its seven principles are: equitable use; flexibility in use; simple and intuitive use; perceptible information; tolerance for error; low physical effort; and size and space for approach and use’ (UNICEF, 2013, p. 19). It is practical and affordable, even in developing countries (WHO & World Bank, 2011, p. 177). ‘Building accessibility and the principle of universal design into the international development agenda would ensure that every environment, space, product or service, whether physical or virtual, could be easily approached, reached, entered, exited, interacted with, understood or otherwise used by persons of varying capabilities’ (DESA, 2013, p. 25).
- Al Ju’beh, K. (2015). Disability inclusive development toolkit. Bensheim: CBM. See document online
- Balmas, S., Fembek, M., Hauquier, V., Heindorf, I., Kainz, W., Pitzinger, C., … Vilela, J. (2015). Zero project report 2015 – Focus: Independent living and political participation. Klosterneuburg: Essl Foundation. See document online
- Coe, S. (2012). More practical lessons from five projects on disability-inclusive development. Development in Practice, 22(3), 400-408. See document online
- DESA. (2013). Accessibility and Development: Mainstreaming disability in the post-2015 development agenda. New York: UN. See document online
- Fembek, M., Heindorf, I., Arroyo de Sande, C., Balmas, S., Saupe, A., & Leblois, A. (2014). Zero Project report 2014 – Focus of the year 2014: Accessibility. Klosterneuburg: Essl Foundation. See document online
- Mont, D. (2014). Employment policy approaches and multisectoral implementation in low-and middle-income countries. In J. Heymann, M. A. Stein, & G. Moreno (Eds), Disability and equality at work. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Morgon Banks, L., & Polack, S. (2014). The economic costs of exclusion and gains of inclusion of people with disabilities: Evidence from low and middle income countries. CBM, International Centre for Evidence in Disability, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. See document online
- Rimmerman, A. (2013). Social inclusion of people with disabilities: National and international perspectives. Cambridge University Press.
- UNICEF. (2013). The state of the world’s children 2013: Children with disabilities. New York: UNICEF. See document online
- WHO & the World Bank. (2011). World report on disability. Geneva: WHO. See document online