International Seminar on Environmental Accessibility, Beirut, 1999
I. ORGANISATION OF WORK AND ATTENDANCE
Opening of the Seminar
The International Seminar on Environmental Accessibility; issues in planning and design of accessible urban development in developing countries was opened with welcoming remarks from the Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA). Dr.Hazem. El-Beblawi, who noted the importance of the Seminar in the context of international and regional action that seeks to accord the issue of accessibility and people with disability its due importance. The Executive Secretary added that the Seminar is timely since it will mark on its last day, 3 December, observance of the International Day of Disabled Persons, whose theme this year is "Accessibility for all in the new Millennium". ESCWA, in co-operation with other international organisations, has been active in the field of disability for a long time, engaging in a number of regional and national events and research projects. The Executive Secretary stressed that the Seminar underscores a change in focus from a concern with "assistance to persons with disabilities" to social integration and participation in the process of development. This purpose can for instance be promoted through modifications to the physical environment, as a means of equalisation of opportunities for all. The challenge in reaching this objective remains high, however. The built environment in many ESCWA member States has been designed without sufficient consideration of the special needs of persons with disabilities, among others. Yet, the biggest challenge remains breaking through the social, cultural and institutional barriers to accessible environments for. With improved attitudes, increased public awareness and greater attention to technical planning and accessible design principles and techniques - such as those being discussed in both the Seminar and Workshop this week, social and physical environments that are accessible for all can be efficiently designed, developed and maintained.
The representative of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat (New York) expressed appreciation to ESCWA for the opportunity to partner with its Social Development Issues and Policies Division in the planning and organisation of the Seminar. This co-operation responded to the priority of the Secretary-General on strengthening relations with the regional commissions of the United Nations in the economic and social sectors. The current co-operation focussed on an international exchange to review and assess the important work by ESCWA in co-operation with the Government of Lebanon and SOLIDERE, the Lebanese Company for the Planning and Redevelopment of the Beirut Central District, related to environmental accessibility and persons with disabilities. The initiative is significant in that it involves a scaling up of the ESCWA environmental accessibility experience with SOLIDERE to study its policy and programme implications at interregional level rather than a scaling down of international instruments to examine their regional and national implications. As a partner with ESCWA, DESA, its Division for Social Policy and Development in particular, had worked closely with private sector specialists to publish the SOLIDERE design manual for the Beirut Central District, Accessibility for the Disabled on the World Wide Web of the United Nations Internet site (http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/enable/designm) so that it would be easily accessible for study by all. The Department considered the ESCWA-SOLIDERE experience important in that it results from regional and national-level policy dialogue on socially-sensitive and disability responsive development; it is moreover a product based upon technical resources solely available to ESCWA and SOLIDERE; and it demonstrates that universal designs are both cost-effective and achievable in even the most complex development setting.
Mr. Aref Daw, representative of the Ministry of Social Affairs of Lebanon delivered welcoming remarks on behalf of H.E. Dr Michel Moussa, Minister of Social Affairs. The representative of the Ministry stressed the importance that the Government gives to the issue of disability, particularly that the civil war in Lebanon has resulted, among other things in increasing the number of disabled persons. The Design Manual on accessibility for the disabled and for barrier-free environments is the result of a collaborative effort between the Ministry of Social Affairs and SOLIDERE and its proposed accessible building codes, which were applied in the planning and redevelopment of the Beirut Central District. The Ministry is proud, that this pilot exercise has resulted in a proposed Law, which was prepared by the National Council for Persons with Disability, to adopt the codes related to accessibility, within the national building codes and regulations. The Law is also proposing as an interim measure to start modifying public buildings, means of public transport and housing to make them accessible for all.
H.R.H. Prince Raad Bin Zeid graciously delivered the Opening Statement to the Seminar. His Royal Highness noted the importance of stepping up public awareness campaigns related to planning and development of accessible environments for all. These campaigns should be organised and co-ordinated at national scale and have the necessary political backing to succeed. His Royal Highness also stressed the importance of focusing on accessibility for all, where freedom of movement, mobility, and barrier-free environment, are means of empowerment. Freedom of movement does not only concern private space; it needs to be introduced to the planning and design of public spaces, which often is lacking in the region. His Royal Highness expressed the hope that the Seminar will lead to identifying ways of integrating social, economic and institutional dimensions with the planning and design of physical environments so that urban areas are widely accessible for all.
Election of officers
The Seminar conducted its work by means of moderators and discussants for each substantive session. Moderators and discussants are presented in the Schedule of Seminar Activities, attached as Annex I (currently not available).
Adoption of the agenda
The following agenda was adopted by the Seminar:
On Thursday, 2 December 1999, Seminar participants together with participants of the Workshop had a study tour to examine results of planning for a barrier-free Beirut Central District, organised in co-operation with SOLIDERE, and the planning and redevelopment of the American University of Beirut, organised in co-operation with the Office of the President of AUB.
Annex II (currently not available) contains the list of documents issued for the Seminar.
Annex III (currently not available) contains the list of persons participating in the Seminar in their individual capacity.
Adoption of the report
The report of the Seminar, including recommendations formulated by its ad hoc working groups, was adopted in plenary on Friday, 3 December 1999.
Observance of the International Day of Disabled Persons
On 3 December, at 12.30 p.m., participants observed the International Day of Disabled Persons. The Secretary General's message was read by Mr. Akil Akil, Chief of Social Development Issues and Policy Division, ESCWA. With this observance, the joint Seminar and Workshop were officially declared closed