International Seminar on Environmental Accessibility, Beirut, 1999
II. SUMMARY OF DISCUSSION
E. Social and economic aspects of accessibility
Prof. Robert Metts reviewed the evolution of thinking about disability - from a medical issue to a social construct - and its impact on policy frameworks concerning persons with disabilities and the political economy of disability. He noted that initially disability was characterised as a medical problem to be prevented or overcome. Disabilities were characterised as technical problems and were addressed by type, which resulted in the segregation of persons with disabilities in type-based institutions and in type-based advocacy groups. Rehabilitation of persons with disabilities emerged as a major policy and programme response by Governments in the United States, during the 1920s, and then in Europe as a means to return persons with disabilities to the work place and reduce thereby the costs of their institutionalisation. The focus of rehabilitation activities was on adapting person with disabilities to the work place rather than modifying the work place to accommodate persons with disabilities
New policy directions concerning persons with disabilities are characterised by a focus on the broad rights of persons with disabilities. For instance, the expanded conceptualisation of disability embodied in the International Classification of Impairments, Disabilities and Handicaps - 2 (Geneva, World Health Organisation) provides a significantly improved classification framework for research and policy analysis: (a) rehabilitation and assistive technologies are described in connection with reduction of functional limitations based on impairments; (b) social policies can alter the environmental context in which persons with disabilities function; and (c) rehabilitation and social policy can increase social and economic opportunities available to persons with disabilities.
Such policy frameworks are inclusive and participatory. The World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons has two goals: full participation of persons with disabilities, and equality. The Standard Rules on the Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities provide a framework for advocacy of policies and programmes to further equalisation of opportunities of persons with disabilities.
The data suggest, however, a significant gap between policy objectives and results achieved in terms of improvements in levels of living and livelihoods of persons with disabilities.
In designing and evaluating policy options related to persons with disabilities, it is important to take into account three basic phases of social and physical integration: (a) surviving a disability (a medical issue), (b) becoming self-reliant (an environmental issue) and (c) gaining full and effective social access (a social participation issue).
However, the data available suggest that it is virtually impossible to measure accurately the value of the social and economic output lost as a result of architectural barriers in the physical environment for at least two reasons: (a) accurate disability statistics are not available on a scale required for such an analysis; and (b) output lost to disability is a composite function of the interrelated elements that restrict activities and limit the participation of persons with disabilities.
The analysis of available data does suggest a need for improved data and statistics related to persons with disabilities as well as improved formulation of policy options and legislation that promote environmental accessibility for all.