International Seminar on Environmental Accessibility, Beirut, 1999
II. SUMMARY OF DISCUSSION
D. Selected country experience
1. Overview of environmental accessibility in Western Asia
A representative of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) provided an overview of issues and activities in the Western Asia Region related to promoting environmental accessibility by, for and with persons with disabilities. The review included a briefly overview of the situation of persons with disabilities in the ECSWA Region and noted that much of the built environment had not been designed in consideration of the needs of persons with disabilities. Physical obstacles as well as social barriers prevent persons with disabilities from full and effective participation in social life and development. In line with the priorities of its member States, ESCWA had undertaken a number of activities related to environmental accessibility. These activities included: (a) publication of technical monographs, including the Accessibility for the Disabled manual prepared jointly with SOLIDERE and the Government of Lebanon, (b) organisation and conduct of post-occupancy surveys in the Beirut Central District, and (c) technical advice, on request, in redesigning an educational facility at Nabatiyeh, Lebanon. The ESCWA report identified several recommendations for practical action to promote accessible environments for all: (a) further work on data and statistics concerning persons with disabilities, (b) building national capacities for policies, planning and evaluation from the disability perspective and (c) network development and outreach to build public awareness and promote exchanges of knowledge and experience.
2. Architecture and accessibility: selected experience of France
The presentation provided a brief review of relevant legislation adopted by Government of France related to accessible shelter, transportation and habit and described the experience of an architectural firm in planning and designing accessible housing. The view was expressed that accessibility codes often are considered to be constraints on the design process. However, viewing accessibility codes as guidelines for basic standards as well as engaging in dialogue with intended beneficiaries of accessible housing leads to the realisation that accessible housing will benefit all. Moreover, accessible designs need to be inclusive and not contribute to creation of isolated housing "ghettos". Inclusive housing contributes to the broad human rights of persons with disabilities and promotes a society for all.
A brief discussion focused on an observed gap between designers and those who use the built environment. There was a need for new approaches to training of designers as well as reconsideration of design as a monolithic construct. The view was expressed that environmental accessibility must be addressed at the level of the designer, since most designers use templates to speed to design and planning process. The importance of user input was noted, in particular the empowerment of users with special needs so that they can effectively critique inappropriate designs. The view also was expressed of the need to consider all appropriate technologies to organise and disseminate relevant knowledge and experience in planning and design of accessible environments including the use of the World Wide Web on the Internet. In this connection, special noted was made of the contributions of the United Nations and ESCWA in this area.
3. Overview of environmental accessibility in South Africa
The presentation noted that accessibility initially focused on mobility impaired persons and legislation was based on standards from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and Australia. Introduction of democratically elected Governments and adoption of a rights-based constitution was accompanied by a strong policy commitment to inclusive societies for all, as reflected in the Integrated National Disability Strategy (white paper), which provides a framework for social integration of persons with disabilities in social life and development.
Accessibility provisions became part of national legislation as a result of the introduction of new National Building Regulations, which included a section on accessible entrances for a wide range of buildings. Very little progress was realised in implementing the accessibility provisions of the National Building Regulations until 1990 when a non-governmental organisation, Disabled People South Africa, began to challenge local authorities for lack of compliance. With the policy guidance of the Integrated National Disability Strategy, a new general policy on provision of environmental accessibility was adopted by the Department of Public Works and a guideline document based on the "Americans with Disabilities Act "of the United States, among other instruments, has been drafted for introduction as new legislation. In addition, special emphasis has been directed to upgrading accessibility in all State-owned buildings, with a focus on rural buildings. The programme uses a training and production format and focuses on training young persons in building trades and in promoting public awareness. As a means to support development of knowledge and skills for environmental accessibility a new initiative is the creation of a Disability Technology Institute, which would include a Centre for Universal Design.
4. Environmental accessibility in Thailand, and pilot action in Bangkok
Access to public facilities by persons with disabilities is guaranteed in the Constitution (1997) of Thailand. A legal framework for accessible public and private facilities (under the Building Control Code) has been drafted.
In June 1999 the Governor of the Bangkok signed and sent to the Council of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration regulations on "Facilities for disabled persons and the elderly" for adoption. The regulations will enforce access provisions for all types of buildings, public and private, in Bangkok.
The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration is the first governmental body in Thailand to carry out pilot work on improving accessibility in the built environment for all, with the advice and co-operation of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific.
The experience to date suggests the importance of an appropriate legal framework that covers accessibility in both public and private facilities; accessibility also requires good public awareness as well as economic resources and political support. An important instrument in promoting accessibility in the renovation of existing facilities is tax relief, however, the current economic situation has meant that this provision has been of little practical benefit in promoting rehabilitation of existing buildings to meet accessibility standards.
5. Jordan: building codes and persons with disabilities
Engineering codes in Jordan did not initially focus on specific needs of persons with disabilities. However, from 1990 codes began to address accessibility needs of persons with disabilities in public and private facilities. The codes include (a) outside standards for entrances and doors, outdoor entrances and stairs, and parking and defined spaces, and (b) interior architectural and space requirements for such facilities as elevator sizes, signage, and rest rooms. Priorities have been identified for accessible facilities, which include health, cultural and public services and post offices.
6. Colombia: selected experience in environmental accessibility
Initially public policy concerning persons with disabilities focused on the care and protection of persons with disabilities. Rehabilitation centres and special education facilities were established, and these resulted in a segregated educational experience for many persons with disabilities. However, a significant transformation has occurred in Colombia concerning persons with disabilities with the focus now on social integration of persons with disabilities in education, social services, recreation, culture and sports. Colombian law guarantees access by persons with disabilities to education; the rehabilitation of persons with disabilities as part of the National Health System is also guaranteed by law; and sign language is recognised as an official language for hearing and speaking impaired persons. Accessibility and persons with disabilities includes elimination of architectural, transportation and communication barriers.
An important feature of the Colombian experience is the involvement of civil society in partnership with Government to address a range of accessibility issues. The establishment of a National Committee, endorsed by Government, provides a mechanism for consultation between governmental institutions, the non-governmental community and the private sector to decide upon minimum requirements for removal of barriers in the physical environment. The co-operation between governmental, non-governmental and private sector organisations on accessibility norms has resulted in a number of important initiatives. These include (a) accessible urban parks in Bogotá (in co-operation with the Institute of Urban Development), (b) sound-emitting traffic lights in Bogotá and six other major cities (in co-operation with the National Institute for the Blind (INCI)), (c) creation of accessible facilities at the Maloka Museum and at the National Museum, and (d) a proposed project (with the private sector) on accessible mass transit in Bogotá, the Transmilenio.
7. Lebanon: selected experience in public and private partnership
Accessibility guidelines were an essential component of the planning and reconstruction of Lebanon following the civil conflict. Certain of the guidelines adapted for use in planning and reconstruction of the Beirut Central District are based upon universal design standards.
The experience of Lebanon suggests that a basic consideration in accessibility standards is who decides which technical standards, and who applies these standards.
The main focus in the planning and design of accessible urban environments has been application of accessibility standards to public spaces in private facilities. Accessibility applications also considered personal safety and security issues. Other considerations were signage and accessible building entrances. Among the accessible public spaces planned and developed is the conference hall of the United Nations House in which 50 per cent of the translator booths are accessible and is the main conference hall barrier free.
SOLIDERE, the Lebanese Company for the Planning and Redevelopment of the Beirut Central District, has been an important partner is the planning and design of accessible environments. Co-operation between Government and SOLIDERE is the first case in which a private company formulated accessibility codes for its own development projects. However, not all of the new facilities in Beirut meet basic accessibility standards. The experience suggests the importance of both policies to guide accessibility initiatives and public information and awareness campaigns to promote and maintain broad-based support.
8. Uganda case study
The Government of Uganda attaches considerable importance in its policies and programmes concerning the situation of persons with disabilities. While there is considerable awareness of disability issues somewhat less had been accomplished with regard to environmental accessibility. Currently, there are no laws on environmental accessibility and consequently no mechanisms to promote and enforce barrier-free and non-handicapping designs in new developments.
The situation suggested a strong need for advocacy by the non-governmental community to sensitise the Kampala City Council about environmental accessibility. Attention also needed to be directed to strengthening capacities to produce assistive devices to facilitate movement by persons with disabilities.
9. Malaysia: issues in planning and design of accessible urban development
Malaysia enacted legislation on accessibility and facilities for persons with disabilities as an amendment to the "Uniform Building By-law 1984". In addition Malaysia has three national standards on accessible built environments, which cover (a) means of escape, (b) access to public buildings and (c) access to outside buildings. The Ministry of Housing and Local Government of Malaysia has drafted administrative guidance on enforcing accessibility legislation and codes, Guidelines on Building Requirements for Disabled Persons. As a means to improve accessibility in the external built environment the Ministry is now drafting Guidelines on the Requirements for Disabled Persons outside the Building.
A survey by the Ministry revealed satisfactory compliance with the accessibility legislation, although the quality of the facilities that meet accessibility needs is considered to have been non-uniform. Developers were able to take advantage of the legislation and guidelines; there also was an observed lack of awareness and knowledge of needs of persons with disabilities among developers, design professionals and governmental approving authorities. Thus, the existence of relevant legislation, codes and technical guidelines are not sufficient to further the goals of accessible environments for persons with disabilities. There was an observed need for training and awareness raising as well as general sensitisation among all parties concerned with facilities and building construction processes. The Ministry began organising training workshops for local authorities from late 1998.
Key roles in achieving environmental accessibility are played by the Access Officer and Resource persons. Access Officers are members of the local authority who have been trained in basic issues in accessibility and persons with disabilities in the built environment. Resource persons are members of non-governmental organisations who are trained and knowledgeable in accessibility issues and persons with disabilities. Resource persons are consulted during the plan review stage or at the facilities inspection stage. Access Officers vet plans for approval and suggest areas to achieve accessibility standards; they also review a project for compliance on completion.
Access Officers and Resource persons were introduced following an evaluation survey of the Ministry, which resulted in identification of a need for more effective implementation of legislation on environmental accessibility.