Febby Chizima, ZAFOD, Lusaka, Zambia
Of Zambia's population of 8 million, more than 1 million are persons with disabilities. This number is likely to increase with the increased number of accidents. The inaccessibility of most infrastructures in Zambia is a major concern to persons with disabilities as society has taken for granted that public infrastructures are inaccessible to persons with disabilities and nothing can be done about it.
Are public buildings accessible to persons with disabilities? In the past, before the formation of movements of persons with disabilities, people planned the construction of buildings thinking that they will be accessible to everybody. Even at present time, we must make an impact in making a regulation that before they sit down to plan for any public building to be built, we must have someone to look at the accessibility of that public building. Currently, we do not know of any law within the country which suggests that all public buildings constructed must be accessible to persons with disabilities. The facts are that the way public buildings have been constructed, both old and new, no consideration about the existence and needs of persons with disabilities was taken into consideration. For example, the Bank of Zambia, University Teaching Hospital, Post Office, etc., and all learning institutions are built in such a way that accessibility to persons with disabilities leaves much to be desired. The Bank of Zambia has elevators on the ground floor but from the pavement to the ground there are steps. Elevators do not stop at the first floor where all business transactions are done. This creates a very big problem to persons with disabilities, particularly wheelchair users.
In our country, those responsible for housing are the District Council Building Society, National Authority, and a few private companies. As far as I know, there is no law which says that any housing unit must be accessible to persons with disabilities. District Councils, for example, constructed houses and overlooked the problems of persons with disabilities in general. Therefore, our proposals are that we have to influence the government when they are making these public housing units, after two or three houses, the third or fourth must be accessible to persons with disabilities.
From our experience, street environments are not accessible. Pavements are in such a way that the wheelchair user, or indeed any person with a severe disability, cannot use this environment easily. Nobody cares to make street environments accessible. The roads are so busy, especially at peak hours. What then should be done?
We propose that policemen be placed at each point where there are traffic lights to control the traffic, especially at peak hours. And that sidewalks be improved in such a way that wheelchair users and other persons with disabilities could easily pass.
As far as public awareness campaigns are concerned, people with disabilities and elderly persons should be in the forefront. This can be done by defining or demonstrating problems we encounter through radio, TV, etc. This public awareness campaign must result in a law to support legislation making inaccessible infrastructures accessible to persons with disabilities. Churches, the Law Association of Zambia, and other institutions will humbly be requested to come to our aid.