Independent Living Institute

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Report of the CIB Expert Seminar
on Building Non-Handicapping Environments, Harare 1992



Disability legislation and constitutional provisions

This first session deals with disability legislation and constitutional provisions. We briefly review each of our respective country's situation. The topics cover not only specific legislation in the field of building and planning but also constitutional provisions, i.e., general legislation in this field.


Alexander Phiri
In Zimbabwe we do not have clear legislation on access issues. Of course, the public, the architects, and so on have been approached with the idea of including access issues when planning. It appears the message is getting through but this will have to be contained in some kind of legislative format. We are happy that we are just about to get to the stage of having some kind of legislation. There is no legislation in Zimbabwe, however, the modern building bylaws clearly state that all public and commercial buildings must have access for disabled persons.


Moses Masemene
It is very important that there should be a provision in the constitution for the protection of disability rights. It does not have to be very detailed because the constitution provides only the guidelines, the structure of a social system. Since the constitution is the base of operation of any country, our rights have to be protected in that document. Thus, it will be easier for other legislation, in the area of access, transport or any other field.

As for Lesotho, the new constitution is still being worked on. That new constitution has got a provision for rights of people with disabilities, there is a new chapter on that as well as on the rights of women. I refer you to my paper on constitutionalism and access legislation.

I.C. Shah
In Lesotho legislation has been inherited - the British legislation under the Governor's Proclamation of 1928 did not include any accessibility provisions. At the present time we have the Town and Country Planning Act and the regulations thereunder. Again, accessibility is not here provided for despite the fact that we are trying to get draft regulations accepted. Most of the buildings are not accessible.

Republic of South Africa

Michael Masutha
In South Africa the majority of the people do not recognize the existing constitution, despite the fact that the South African Republic is recognized by the international community as a sovereign state. The majority of the South African community have not exercised their democratic right of either participating in the formation of the existing constitution or participating in terms of that constitution because that constitution, by its nature, is exclusionary of the majority of the population.

I might comment on a few developments that are likely to take place in South Africa. One is the proposed bill that was brought forward by the African National Congress. Article 8 of that bill enshrines the fundamental rights of disabled people. Subsection 1 reads: "There shall be no discrimination against disabled persons". Subarticle 2 states: "Legislation shall provide for the progressive opening up of employment opportunities for disabled men and women; for the removal of obstacles to the enjoyment by them of public amenities and for their integration into all areas of life".

We have had a bit of criticism and have presented this to the ANC because we felt the whole question of disability is isolated like a little island within the proposed bill. There is an article that deals with positive action or affirmative action. Women are mentioned, children are mentioned, the right to religion and the protection of religion is also mentioned, but disability which is one key area which a lot of discriminatory practices are found has not been included. The only clause I have found that deals with disability is that disabled people are equal before the law. As you know, that is not the key area with which we are concerned, there are many other issues which we are concerned with, and that is just an obvious statement and it does not develop the matter any further. There are developments whereby the political forces in the country have agreed to come together and try to work out a solution for a democratic country in South Africa. Our concern is that the disability question may be forgotten in the process of negotiations.

The whole question of equal opportunities and equal distribution of wealth and the general resources in the country is a key subject of debate in the political arena in South Africa. For instance, the underprivileged majority feel that the result of their impoverishment was a history of discrimination and exploitation. And that therefore in a new political and constitutional dispensation there will be a need for redistribution. Whereas it is felt among certain quarters that to adopt such a policy would be a violation of certain principles enhanced under first generation rights, such as the right to own property, etc. So the question of inclusion of second generation rights, that is social, economic and cultural rights, in a bill of rights has been contested by certain political theorists who argue that it is not a progressive step because you discourage the incentive for productivity in society. I think that is one of the reasons why the disability rights issue has not been fully addressed by the existing government and the commission that has been appointed to draft a bill of rights for a democratic South Africa.

Coming to the question of whether disability should be specifically mentioned in a bill of rights or in any other similar instrument, it reminds me of a statement made by a Comrade. At an ANC conference I recently attended, she said that she does not believe there is such a thing as women's rights, but we are talking about the same rights that women have been denied in history. I would say the same principle could apply to disabled people. We are talking about access and everyone else in society has the right to access, just like disabled people. But because of historical, cultural and other factors, disabled people have been deprived of that access. Because of that very fact it is necessary to specifically mention disabled people because if you do not mention them, there is no guarantee that just as society has forgotten disability in the past, that it will be able to remember unless you mention disability. So I belong to the school of thought that to mention disabled people is not discrimination in reverse as other people try to argue. I agree that there is no such thing as disability rights, they are the same human rights that all other members of society are fighting for or claim to have but I think that it is necessary, due to the history of discrimination against disabled people, that special provisions be made for disabled people.

Phillip Thompson
In some respects does this not follow from what we perceive democracy to be? If we live in a so-called democratic system, which is essentially elected by the majority, the question of addressing minority rights is really what we are talking about. And whether it comes to special legal provisions or providing a ministerial position, the fact is that there has to be a mechanism to protect the rights of minorities and obviously the disability movement is one of them.

Neville Cohen
I will give you a brief history on what has been done in South Africa. It all started in 1981, when the United Nations declared the International Year of Disabled People. Very little happened in South Africa during that year, it was only five years later that the State decided in their wisdom to proclaim a second Year of Disabled. It was there we found ourselves, when many active disabled South Africans attempted to improve the environment and the quality of life of their colleagues throughout the country.

It was in 1985 that DPSA (Disabled People South Africa) was started. Our Secretary General, Mike du Toit, was probably the most active person, together with Dr. William Roland. We then formed DPSA officially and held a national conference. At the same time the State saw fit to call various bodies together and to examine the macro-position of disabled people in the country. A series of documents were produced covering various subjects, including: barrier-free design, education, health, transport, opportunities for employment. My particular portfolio was barrier-free design and transport. Again, various structures were set up and in particular the examination of the general building codes of the country, which at that time were all separate codes in either regions or municipalities. We have come a long way. We have, for example, a document called "Facilities for Disabled Persons" which is embodied in our national building regulations.

A document such as this, however, is not sufficient for developers, architects or regional authorities to work on, so we have gone one step further and produced what we call the "Code of Practice". This is a document of some 40 pages and goes into more detail for the benefit of designers and developers of buildings in the built environment. Besides buildings it covers halls, sports fields and almost any environment in which persons with disabilities are likely to find themselves.

It took us seven years to develop the "Code of Practice". We were fortunate it only took us two years to develop the Section S of the Building Regulations. I am told that the achievement of DPSA in this field is probably unique in the world to have legislation passed inside a period of two years. At the present time this "Code of Practice" has been presented to our South African Bureau of Standards under whose control building regulations and codes of practice fall. At this present time they are perusing our document, referring it to other authorities such as the Institute of Architects, the Institute of Municipalities, and various other statal and para-statal bodies for comment. This process should not take more than one year. Within one year we will have a document which can be used by any party in any sphere of development of public buildings.


Khalfan H Khalfan
I am not speaking about Tanzania, although we are part of Tanzania. Zanzibar has got its own house of representatives which passes legislations for the interest of Zanzibar. What I am about to say applies only for Zanzibar and not for the whole of Tanzania.

Zanzibar is perhaps one of the most inaccessible places in the world. Most of the buildings, whether private, public or commercial are not accessible. After realizing the needs of disabled people, the Zanzibar National Association of the Disabled started to knock on the doors to see the possibility of influencing the authorities to work with our organization to see that legislation is made that will insure disabled persons access and the right to fully participate in social, economic and other activities as any other person in Zanzibar. We have been organizing meetings with ministers, principal secretaries and directors of various departments involved in the issue of accessibility and legislation. An expert team has been developed in which the Zanzibar Association is part. We are also coordinating an internal-steering committee with key ministries involved in accessibility, not only of buildings, but of environment, housing, education, etc.

We are trying to disseminate information on accessibility. Not only to the ministry concerned with housing, but to all the ministries, to all the people. We are doing this by using the 15 minutes of air time we are given every week on the radio in a program called The Voice of the Disabled.

In March this year, we are going to organize a seminar which will involve top decision-makers of Zanzibar. This will be the right place to put our concerns towards developing legislation for disabled people.


Joseph Y. B. Tsai
In Taiwan access legislation is just beginning because of social welfare law, article 23 that states: "All public facilities, buildings, recreation facilities, and transportation facilities must be equipped for the convenient access of persons with disabilities. If they do not comply, they will not be licensed for use. The existing facilities must be modified and the funds for such modification must be included in the budget of the agencies. All facilities not modified by the end of 1995 will have their licenses revoked."

That is only the legislation but now we need to implement this and so we want to attend such a conference to learn how we can make our environment more accessible.


Avinash C. Bhandari
The existing building regulations and bylaws are very outdated but since we got independence from colonial rule in 1968, we have been drafting the new building bylaws and regulations for Mauritius. Back in 1980 we had prepared a draft which we are still amending because of certain legislations which will also include legislation for persons with disabilities. We hope to get the building bylaws and regulations approved and constituted so that the accessibility legislation will form part of it. This seminar and workshop will give us knowledge on the legislations we would require for Mauritius.


Phillip Dhlamini
In my country, at the moment, we do not have any legislation but I hope for me being here we will learn more in order that in the future we can attain legislation.


Ben Hagan
In Ghana presently, we also do not have any clearly spelled out provisions in either the building code or the legislation which adequately address the issue of accessibility to persons with disabilities. But one approach we are working hard on is to study in detail the existing building code in other building-related legislation; to find out if, in the first place, there is any show of concern for accessibility in general, not necessarily for persons with disabilities. We try to capitalize on the show of concern and work hard towards a revision of these particular provisions to be extended to cover accessibility issues with regard to persons with disabilities. One example is, we have our building code, something that is very old which we inherited from our colonial government, but as recent as 1985 there was a drafted law called Human Settlements General Planning and Development, which after we studied we found out that unlike what provisions there were in the original building code there were some provisions covering special arrangements for building approaches, for hallways, for staircases, and emergency provisions in case of fire and issues of that sort. We are going to approach the government agencies which are involved in this activity. Here we are, you have not directly worked for accessibility for persons with disabilities but what you have done in this Human Settlements law shows some concern in that area. And it would not be too much for you to extend it to cover accessibility for persons with disabilities. In reality when you extend this to cover accessibility for persons with disabilities, it is obvious that other sections of the population are going to benefit.

People such as old persons and even children are going to benefit from buildings and public places which are made accessible to persons with disabilities. Luckily we are going to be funded by the Norwegian Association of the Disabled, who will hold a seminar to work out a plan of action regarding community-based rehabilitation in Ghana. In fact, the objectives of this seminar include: identifying key components and requirements of the community-based rehabilitation program in Ghana; to identify members of the community, professionals as well as agencies who play vital roles in the program; to upgrade the consciousness of these persons and agencies of their respective roles in the community-based rehabilitation program; and, most importantly, to develop and produce an action plan for the short term and medium term community-based rehabilitation program in Ghana.

A barrier-free environment is a very significant prerequisite for a community-based rehabilitation program. If we are going to encourage a rehabilitation program within the community, making all services and facilities available to persons with disabilities, then the disabled persons need to have a barrier-free environment to exploit the facilities and services available to him in the community. So, necessarily, accessibility is going to be one of the components that we are going to identify as a significant and success of running a community-based rehabilitation program in Ghana.

Agencies such as Town & Country Planning Department in my country and other professionals are going to be involved in this workshop planning, scheduled for April of this year.


Mohammad Ali Tehranian
My country Iran has, at the moment, a population of 60 million people. A statistical report from 1987 shows that there are 450,000 disabled people though we must add more who have since been disabled in the war. Unfortunately, until 1989 we did not have any comprehensive legislation for access. Since then the government has started to make some planning for legislation for disabled people. The Ministry of the Interior is working on planning and implementing legislation; the Ministry of Housing and City Planning is another government agency working in this area. There is also a research center for building and construction and an environmental organization. The present legislation stipulating access to public buildings is summarized in a publication. All cities must obey this legislation.


Febby M. Chizima
Of Zambia's population of about 8 million, approximately 1 million of them have disabilities. All public buildings, housing and even the streets are very much inaccessible to persons with disabilities. There is only one college and it was specifically designed to accommodate persons with disabilities to train there. We are doing all we can and are taking advantage of the new government to talk about accessibility for disabled persons. I am sure this legislation will give us a beginning point and it will give us more weight to what I have already stated. We are also trying to use the media to talk about the inaccessibility. We are asking the community businesses and churches to come to our aid. Otherwise, inaccessibility is really a problem, especially where transportation and housing are concerned. Even the Ministry of Labour is very inaccessible. One day a group of disabled men gathered to see the Assistant Secretary of the Ministry of Labour. There are high steps and the way was very narrow. So the Assistant Secretary said, "Since these guys are in wheelchairs I will come down." Now these boys were stubborn and they said, "No, we do not want you to come down. We want to see you in your office." So the Assistant Secretary came down and, with help, carried the men in to the office. So you can see that even the public buildings belonging to the government are very inaccessible.


Safaa Issa
In Egypt there have been many laws guaranteeing the right of disabled persons to education, employment and social welfare. But as far as accessibility concerned, as the first architect in Egypt to have studied barrier-free design at the Master's and Ph.D. level, I see a need for access legislation in my country.

There is a point a view believing that getting people interested and aware in the issue is more important as they would then apply what is needed. Well it is not completely against what we are suggesting here, because there has always been more achievements and rights gained through people's attitudes, than through laws. We should not rule out the possibility that there is a considerable number of non-disabled people who have good intentions, who are willing to help and who care and are committed as much to the disability problem as disabled persons.

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