Creating accessibility in developing countries

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Report of the CIB Expert Seminar on Building Non-Handicapping Environments, Budapest 1991


Creating accessibility in developing countries

Paul Parakattel, Kerala Rehab Institute for the Physically Affected, India

"Accessibility" has become a vital theme of discussion in the developed countries. It is becoming an important issue in the developing countries too. Considerations on accessibility creation in developing countries has to be based on certain issues that are prevalent in these countries. Important among them are:

  • economic backwardness
  • false conceptions by society about disability and disabled persons
  • less initiative on the part of government and voluntary agencies
  • lack of organized movement of disabled persons
  • over-population
  • absence of accessibility legislation

The above-mentioned factors cause obstacles and restrictions for creating accessibility in developing countries. Therefore, attempts should be made to deal with these issues along with the program of creating accessibility in the built environment.

Disabled persons in a developing country also have to approach all places, public buildings, and be able to enter all public buildings and make use of all public facilities and environments. Such a need is more intense in the developing countries since no adequate public assistance is available for the daily living of persons with disabilities.

Developing countries face several other cardinal issues more vital than the creation of accessibility for disabled persons. How can you think of accessibility creation where you do not have enough roads, where the existing roads do not have footpaths? How can accessibility be an important theme in a country where around half of the population live under the poverty line? Accessibility may not be an important issue when you do not have wheelchairs and mobility is restricted even at home. Satisfaction of basic needs such as food, shelter and clothing are still to be achieved in our countries. But in spite of all that, accessibility is of manifold importance to us.

Accessibility creation in a developing country has to take the following points into consideration:

  • cost effectiveness,
  • use of locally available resources,
  • correspond to the technical aids used,
  • depend on local living conditions,
  • style of the building,
  • customs of the land,
  • lessons from the developed countries.

Creating accessibility in developing countries has found new dimensions as a result of our research and study. Community Based Rehabilitation has become the rehabilitation strategy in the developed countries today. Deinstitutionalization is repeatedly demanded. This approach is aimed at the realization of the goals of "full participation" of persons with disabilities in social life and development, and of "equality". In developing countries, rehabilitation programs for disabled persons are new. But we have opted directly for the community-based rehabilitation approach for two reasons:

Firstly, we had the opportunity to learn from the West that community-based and family-based rehabilitation is the most ideal rehabilitation approach and we should not encourage institutionalization. If we opt for institutionalized rehabilitation programs we will be committing again the mistakes made by Western countries.

Secondly, institutionalization demands more financial investment and we cannot afford to invest that amount of money for rehabilitation programs. Therefore, we have already chosen the community-based rehabilitation approach. This approach has in turn helped in the creation of accessibility, which can be illustrated.

CBR has created awareness in the community regarding the cause of the people with disabilities. The activities that are being organized in the villages cause the creation of an accessible environment. In this approach a child with a disability stays at home where his/her presence urges the parents to make the home accessible for the child. The children with disabilities are taken to school and the constant presence of disabled students in school compels the authorities to create accessibility in the school. When people with disabilities are brought to the hospital, to the church, to the theater, etc. the concerned authorities will realize that these people should be provided with accessible environment. Thus we find that the CBR leads obviously to the creation of accessibility through the conscientiousness of the public.

More than 80 per cent of the people with disabilities in developing countries live in remote villages. Therefore, creation of accessibility in the rural areas of the developing countries is of prime importance.

Areas of adaptation

  • transportation systems; buses, bus stops, trains
  • pedestrian routes
  • footpaths and roads
  • entrance to the buildings
  • doorways
  • ramps
  • staircases and steps
  • handrails/ropes
  • windows
  • elevators
  • sanitary controls
  • electric controls
  • floor surfaces
  • bathroom and toilet
  • kitchen area
  • bed/cot/mat
  • washing area

Models of accessibility creation

No single access legislation has been enacted in India. But certain general regulations have been made for physically disabled persons. For example, two seats are reserved on buses for persons with disabilities. Other regulations include: concession for travel; job reservation; special employment exchange; pension for disabled persons; scholarship scheme for disabled students; and seat reservation in universities.

In developing countries locally available resources should be used for cost effectivity. Villagers should try to create better roads from the present rough, rocky, sandy roads. Shopkeepers could be asked to build ramps to enter their shops with the offer to purchase articles from them. Ramps with gentle slopes could be made of wood, dirt or rocks. Home adaptation should be made depending on age and the type and severity of disability. Hand rails may be fixed to walls and furniture, straw mats or rugs may be spread on the floor for the crawling disabled, floors should be smooth and firm, doorways should be extra wide, lavatories should be big enough for wheelchair users to turn around. These are all examples of creating accessibility for persons with disabilities.

I, myself, am operating community-based rehabilitation projects in 12 villages. We are trying to create accessibility in our project areas. You may be surprised to hear when I say that we have constructed steps to create accessibility. In our attempt to adapt the village school where our children with disabilities study, we had to construct steps along the side of the school building so that the disabled children could get out of the van and easily into the classrooms. For the sake of convenience, the children with disabilities are in the classes near to the steps constructed. They are provided with suitable seats in the classrooms. Toilet facilities are outside the school building and as a part of our adaptation, we constructed a new toilet adjacent to the classrooms for easy accessibility. It is our goal to make accessible all kindergartens, schools, and training centers where we are integrating the disabled children of our project areas.

One of the main problems for us to construct buildings without steps is the height of the basement of our buildings. We have heavy rains for more than five months of the year and the large amount of water stagnates around the building creating dampness in the walls of the building. Because of this problem, our buildings have higher basements. We asked our engineers to find a solution for this problem. They constructed a drainage system around the building so that the water could flow away, thus the dampness of the walls could be avoided. Another solution to the same problem is to give a damp-proof course for the basement, but this solution was found to be too costly.

Importance of accessibility legislation

Attempts to create accessibility in developing countries has to be supported by adequate legislation. In several developing countries no legislation regarding accessibility exists. Therefore, it is the prime duty of the governments to create necessary legislation to achieve accessibility. Voluntary organizations of people with disabilities and those for disabled persons, as well as other welfare organizations should take the initiative and mobilize public opinion to press the government authorities to enact legislation that would enforce and fund legally binding standards and regulations to improve accessibility for people with disabilities. They should make concrete suggestions and recommendations in this direction.

I have formed a Forum for Disabled Persons, including 63 institutions from different parts of our state. We hope to exercise pressure on the civil authorities so that adequate legislation would be enacted for accessibility creation and for other rehabilitation programs for persons with disabilities.


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