International Seminar on Environmental Accessibility, Beirut, 1999
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Overview of strategies and policies on environmental accessibility for all
Seminar participants had three full days of intense and wide-ranging substantive presentations and discussions and, with the co-operation of SOLIDERE, the Lebanese Company for the Development and Reconstruction of the Beirut Central District, and the Office of the President of the American University of Beirut, a study tour of selected experiences in Beirut in planning and constructing barrier-free and non-handicapping urban environments. On the basis of these exchanges and group work, seminar participants identified five issue clusters that contribute to the realisation of accessible environments for all:
While considering formulations of strategic recommendations for each issue cluster, participants recalled that the United Nations "Standard Rules on the Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities" (General Assembly resolution 48/96. Annex) provided, in Rule 5, "Accessibility" a broad policy framework for environmental accessibility, which states:
"States should recognise the overall importance of accessibility in the process of the equalisation of opportunities in all spheres of society. For persons with disabilities of any kind, States should (a) introduce programmes of action to make the physical environment accessible; and (b) undertake measures to provide access to information and communication.
"Access to the physical environment:
Participants noted that recommendations for accessible environments for all should be multisectoral in scope, promote security and safety, health, and self-reliance for equal access to the physical environment and to social, cultural, political and economic opportunities as well.
Recommendations should therefore direct special attention to promotion of barrier-free and non-handicapping environments and opportunities for education and training, for employment and sustainable livelihoods, for recreation and leisure, and for accessible information and communication services.
1. Policy options and legislation for environmental accessibility
Participants noted that an essential pre-condition for formulation and implementation of effective policy options and legislation on planning and design of accessible environments is commitment at not only the political level but at managerial and administrative levels of relevant public programmes and services.
Governments, which have not already done so, were urged to adopt a policy framework that provides appropriate enabling conditions for planning and design of accessible environments for all.
In their formulation of policy options, strategic instruments and legislation on environmental accessibility, Governments were urged to address the case of both exterior and interior environments, whose coverage should include public buildings, privately owned facilities and public open spaces.
Governments, which have not already done so, were urged to formulate and adopt policy instruments on accessible and appropriate mobility, which should include transportation systems, information and communications services and the interfaces between these systems.
When formulating policy options and legislation related to environmental accessibility, Governments are urged to address such non-physical environmental factors as air pollution and noise
2. Institutional arrangements
Seminar participants noted the importance of multilevel institutional arrangements in efficient and effective planning and design of accessible environments for all. Multilevel institutions provide effective and sustainable links - as well as opportunities for feedback - between policy and decision-making levels, programme planning, budgeting and administration levels, and project design and implementation levels.
Governments, which have not already done so, are urged to support establishment and development of national capacities based on multilevel institutional arrangements for policies, programmes and projects that aim at promoting environmental accessibility for all.
The data suggest that institutional arrangements that are based on participatory approaches, are inclusive and offer opportunities for exchanges on views and knowledge are most effective in the promotion of environmental accessibility issues and trends. In this regard, special note was made of contributions that the non-governmental and academic communities make in promoting public awareness and support, including financial and technical support, for planning, design and development of accessible environments for all.
Seminar participants also noted the contributions that multi- and bi-lateral development co-operation agencies can make on request of interested governments to the establishment and development of participatory, multilevel institutional arrangements for environmental accessibility. Multi- and bi-lateral development co-operation agencies, in accordance with their respective mandates and programmes, were urged to support efforts of requesting governments to establish and develop multilevel institutions to promote environmental accessibility for all
Special reference was made in this regard of the substantive contributions that professional associations, accrediting and licensing bodies, and standard-setting institutes can make to strengthen capacities of relevant national bodies and organisations to deal efficiently and effectively with concepts, issues and standards related to environmental accessibility for all.
3. Training and applied research
Seminar participants noted that a basic objective of training and research activities should be promotion of awareness of accessible environments for all among the entire population and support for environmental accessibility as both a goal and technical design standard by policy makers, planners and programme managers.
Governments were urged to promote and support a range of training activities related to environmental accessibility in order to inform, engage and empower the many communities concerned, which would include design professionals, educators and trainers, governmental officials, development planners and managers (both public and private), and banking and finance specialists.
Participants recommended that training programmes cover all relevant disciplines and be multisectoral in scope. Training programme organisers are urged to involve users of both external and interior environments and should also compensate them appropriately for the expertise provided. It was further recommended that special attention be directed to involving environmental accessibility advocacy groups as both facilitators and participants in training activities, training of trainers in particular.
An area of special training attention is orientation and training of personnel who are involved in the administration and supervision of physical designs, plan implementation and administration of accessibility norms and standards. This would include supervisors and clerks in public works offices, and similar bodies, since they are in direct contact with those who plan, design and develop the physical environment. They are, accordingly, well placed to suggest minor adjustments to working drawings to facilitate accessibility concerns and compliance with relevant measures.
The design and preparation of training and resource materials should both be appropriate and respond to local development settings and institutions and reflect current technologies and state of the art in the design and planning of accessible environments for all.
Participants identified several topics for applied research in support of environmental accessibility:
(a) design and testing of prototypes of training and learning materials on environmental accessibility for all, which would should include continuing professional development, orientation of public officials and activities that aim at building national capacities; (b) review and assessment of issues and trends in environmental accessibility in countries and compilation of a database of "best practices" a means to promote exchanges of ideas, knowledge and skills; (c) design, test and evaluation of systems and procedures to assess environmental accessibility (both interior and exterior environments) and monitor programme implementation, with emphasis on participatory approaches that involve civil society, local authorities and concerned local institutions; (d) supporting local efforts to design, develop, test and evaluate materials, technologies and approaches to promoting accessible environments for all, which are both locally-appropriate, cost-effective and sustainable; (e) promote and support of research and comparative studies on environmental design, statistics and planning concepts and methods for purposes of national capacity building, with special attention being directed to improvements in gender-sensitive and disability statistics; and (f) review and assessment of issues and trends related to norms and standards on environmental accessibility with a view to improving their application to local conditions, and formulation of options for locally appropriate accessibility norms, standards and guidelines.
4. Norms and standards
Participants noted that norms and standards on environmental accessibility are an essential part of the accessibility "chain", which comprises strategies, policies and programmes on accessible environments and the institutions of society - public as well as the non-governmental and private sectors.
At the level of strategies and policies, the accessibility chain includes legislation, codes and technical design standards to guide planning and design processes, and development approvals, financing decisions, implementation management, user evaluations and post-occupancy surveys.
The institutional realm includes relevant technical standards bodies, academic institutions, enforcement bodies and institutions of civil society.
Realisation of equalisation of opportunities is based on the premise of non-handicapping and barrier free access for all.
Participants expressed the view that accessibility norms and standards should be drafted as part of an integrated whole, be performance based, flexible and appropriate to local conditions and capacities, allow for consultation and feedback, indicate incentives for implementation, and allow for establishment of priorities.
Governments, which have not already done so, were urged to formulate an appropriate policy framework that promotes social integration and environmental accessibility for all.
Legislation on environmental accessibility should identify basic minimum standards for accessible environments, address accessibility in both exterior and interior environments, provide technical guidance for application in practice and include appropriate incentives to ensure efficient and effective implementation.
The data clearly suggest that good design is an essential instrument in translating policy intent into actual practice. Good designs accommodate basic accessibility needs and can incorporate sufficient flexibility to respond to both new and unanticipated accessibility requirements. Technical standards represent templates to guide planning and design solutions so that these are accessible for all. Technical standards need to include accessibility criteria identified by persons with disabilities and be linked to periodic reviews of concerned standard-setting and professional bodies.
An area of special attention is the contribution that accessibility standard ratings for major buildings, which indicate degree of compliance, can make to both marketing and public image building purposes.
5. Information and outreach
Public awareness and support are key factors in promoting environmental accessibility for all. Seminar participants noted that information dissemination strategies must not only engage the public as a whole but also encourage and empower the specialised constituencies for barrier-free and non-handicapping environments to realise on a predictable and sustained basis environmental accessibility for all.
Information and outreach strategies need to address the interests and needs of both producers and consumers of information related to environmental accessibility issues, whether this involves technical and scientific information on architecture, engineering and planning; public information on policies and programmes, and case studies of experience and best practices.
Participants noted that one category of information that requires special attention is the set of norms and standards related to environmental accessibility, which have adopted by the international community. Concerned international organisations can make important contributions to complement initiatives of countries in the promotion of public awareness and building, on request, of national capacities for planning, design, implementation and evaluation of accessible environments for all.