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Report of the Third International Expert Seminar
on Building Non-Handicapping Environments:
Accessibility Issues in Developing Countries

Tokyo, September 10, 1988

Download the Tokyo proceedings as a PDF file (92 KB)

Community Participation in Access Decision Making

Michael J. Fox, Access Australia, Milsons Point, Australia


1972 - 1978
The first major access programs in Australia developed between 1972 and 1978, when Access Committees were formed in most of the eight states and territories in Australia. These committees included people with disabilities, relevant professionals, advocates and representatives of appropriate organizations.

An access strategy was developed based on a system of access linking buildings, transport, public spaces, equipment and communicaions. The first stage involved initiation and publication of Australian Standard AS1428, "Design Rules for Access by Disabled Persons".

1978 - 1981
The International Year of Disabled Persons (IYDP) corresponded with the introduction of access legislation for major new private and public buildings throughout Australia at federal, state and local government levels. A subsidized taxi system was introduced with government reimbursing 50 per cent of taxi travel costs for people unable to use conventional public transport. City access programs were implemented to enable access systems to be developed, connecting accessible buildings, public spaces and transport.

1981 - 1986

Implementation of the access program has significantly improved physical access to new buildings and facilities throughout Australia. However, there remains a problem of public awareness of the needs and benefits of a more accessible environment. There is a perceived need to strengthen the links between the community and local government, which is the major government level responsible for access to and within the general community.

The Access Australia Awards Program

During Australia’s Bicentennial Year, 1988, the Access Australia Awards Program has been implemented to recognize excellence in provision of access facilities and environments throughout Australia. The Access Australia Awards program provides a total of $500,000 Australian dollars to the twenty local government councils who, in consultation with the community, are creating these excellent and innovative facilities and environments. The awards will be presented in November, 1988. There are a total of approximately 850 local government councils in Australia and 250 applications were received from large cities to small towns, based on consultation between local government and the community. The award winning projects will be published together with summary details of all award applications as an information base to all local councils and to encourage their ongoing access awareness and programs. The Access Australia Awards Program is considered a practical model for application in all countries as it shows the importance of links between local government and the community together with effective participation of people with disabilities in decision making. The program also shows the importance of promotion and publicity of access to give people with disabilities equal opportuniies to participate in and contribute to their community.

The Asia-Pacific Region

From 1980 - 1984, Australia became closely involved with access and related issues in the Asia Pacific Region. The ICTA Sub-Commission Asia Pacific Region was established and directed through ACROD, the Australian Council for Rehabilitation of Disabled.

The first program identified through meetings and discussions beween people with disabilities and relevant organizations in the region, was the need to document existing resources in the region, particularly in relation to appropriate technology. Part 1 of the "Asia Pacific Disability Aids & Appliances Handbook" was published in December 1982 and dealt with mobility aids and their availability throughout the region. This publication was widely distributed and is available through ACROD, Canberra.

The second major program involved identifying relevant human resources in the region to promote the interchange of information and ideas. For example, one country may be importing expensive equipment from Europe, whereas an adjacent Asian country may be manufacturing a low-cost item of appropriate technology, which would provide a culturally and socially more relevant solution. The aim of this program was to assist countries in the region to be more aware of contact people, information, equipment etc. readily available in the region. A likely result of this information exchange is that awareness of ’appropriate technology’ could result in ’reverse technology’ in more developed countries by providing more cost effective and appropriate solutions to local needs.

In 1987, a rehabilitation conference was attended in Chongqing China and a suggested plan of action to implement and monitor appropriate access and equal opportunities for people with disabilities was presented as follows :

Within these environments and programs the ’system of access’ is critical to identify, modify and link the key access components which are primarily buildings, transport and public spaces.

Conclusions and Recommendations

A more accessible environment enables more people to participate in their community and contribute economically through created employment opportunities.

The exchanges of information, ideas and equipment throughout the region is critically important to minimize nonproductive effort and maximize the efficiency and practicality of programs and activities as they are implemented.

Australia has a well-developed access program and has the potential to continue to provide relevant services and information to the region.

Continual consultation with and between people with disabilities and organizations including those represented at this seminar, can ensure a continual exchange of information and programs to the benefit of people with disabilities in the Asia Pacific Region.

Rural Buildings and Environments for Persons with Disabilities in Developing Countries

V. K. Mathur, Central Building Research Institute, Roorkee, India

Developing countries are far behind in the accessibility of the built environment. But it is the will throughout the world, not only in developing countries, to create an accessible environment.

In developing countries the most important point is to know persons with disabilities. Most of the problems exist because architects, planners and designers are not provided with enough opportunity to know and understand persons with disabilities. Once the problems of persons with disabilities are understood, I believe, then half the battle is won. In India we have a large number of rural as well as highly urbanized areas such as Bombay or Delhi. Many developing countries have this duality of countryside and metropolitan city. Thus the problem must be analyzed from both perspectives.

The situation of persons with disabilities in rural settlements is different from that of disabled persons in urban areas. Village organization and joint family systems provide persons with disabilities with greater security and more assistance within the community. Mobility is not a particular handicap in the performance of tasks carried out in close proximity to the dwelling. However, at the same time certain domestic activities such as open cooking, drainage and open wells result in hazards for persons with disabiliies. In addition, lack of modern rehabilitation and health care facilities exacerbate the situation.

In rural settlements simple modifications to living spaces such as construction of fences around open wells, installing screens around kitchens and boundary areas, and construction of wider pathways clear of obstructions can ensure a safer environment. The provision of access to water facilities for personal hygiene also improves the immediate environment of persons with disabilities. It is necessary to integrate the design elements with the needs of persons with disabilities to arrive at acceptable solutions which would not only meet the requirements adequately but would also enrich the architecture and the proximate rural environment.

The problem of mobility is very difficult and at the same time very essential. Mobility can be broken down into two groups of concern:

There is also the problem of treatment, training and rehabilitation which depends on, amongst other things, economics, social administration and government policy. Thus, it is important to encourage the development of individuals at a social level as well as government policies and programs and to enforce their implementation by law or an act as we have done in India in the form of the National Building Code and the Indian Bureau of Standards. But the problem is that very little data is available to take to court. In India the basic work was done by the Bureau of Indian Standards to form these guidelines for the disabled persons at the initial stage. But before these guidelines were developed a lot of work was required to systematically analyze the problems from urban areas to rural areas and individual houses.

The problem of accessibility for the individual starts right from the steps into a building. As someone has suggested, it is easier to destroy the atom bomb than to destroy the prejudice. Because there is prejudice toward persons with disabilities, but not equal opportuniies for them, the problem must be looked at in a wider perspecive, then narrowed down for technical implementation.

A scientific method to tackle the problem, to erode the problem of persons with disabilities, requires standards and designs, but at the same time this approach is specific to the urban situation. However, even in the countryside, where there is little information about nor recognition of persons with disabilities, the environment can be made accessible through very simple solutions and at little expense. It is through the people’s will, cooperation and, most importantly, use of local materials and local methods of construction that accessibility to buildings can be achieved.

In speaking of local materials and local construction methods in developing countries we can distinguish two approaches to an existing problem. First, the environment has already been created so what can we do about that? We must improve or provide devices in existing buildings and also create design data for new buildings to come. Looking at the living pattern in most developing countries we find in rural areas houses with very open floor systems while at the same time urban dwellers can not afford a large house. The living patterns of the people, their daily routines, their activities, the number of users and the equipment involved are crucial for our task. In areas with small spaces and compactness for convenience and economy we must look into safety measures for persons with disabilities like fire hazards and risks for accidents. In minimizing the problems and efforts of housekeeping, we must develop and generate designs that require the least maintenance. We should also consider availability, effective space and privacy. With privacy, I do not imply that persons with disabilities should be isolated from society, they should be part of society. I also want to point out that these designs should not be exclusively for persons with disabilities.

Non-Handicapping Environments or Instituions:
The Historic Chance for Developing Countries

Adolf D. Ratzka, Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden

Accessibility for old and disabled people is a relatively new issue in any country whether it is a so-called developed or under-developed country. When it comes to equal rights for people with disabilities all countries on this globe are underdeveloped

In most parts of the world it has always been taken for granted that people with disabilities do not participate in the community on equal terms, do not have the same housing choices, do not use regular transportation systems, do not go to regular kindergartens and schools and do not get the same jobs - if they get a job at all. Thus, in most countries segregation and systemic discrimination of people with disabilities are practiced. Most people would never think of calling it apartheid, since the discrimination of people with disabilities has become such a natural part of our culture that we do not even realize what is done to them.

We have come here today because of our commitment to building non-handicapping environments and to changing our cities and villages into integrated communities where nobody is denied equal opportunities because of a disability. This commitment is clearly stated in the resolutions that our Working Commission adopted at the Prague Seminar. Let me quote a few of these resolutions.

In the first resolution we stated: "We, the participants of the CIB W84 Expert Seminar consisting of both non-disabled and disabled persons, can not accept anything else but the goal of a barrier-free environment and free movement within it for all." We pointed out the need for legal instruments to ensure accessibility in new construction as well as in renovating, upgrading and expanding existing structures. "In the process of drafting, monitoring and enforcing such legislation disabled people and their organizaions have to be involved at all levels. Governments shall provide funding for consumer organizations to allow them to build up their expertise in this area." These resolutions are in accordance with the United Nations World Program of Action Concerning Disabled Persons that has been adopted by all member governments.

In resolution number 7 and 8 we stated: "Practicing architects, planners and builders should view accessibility as basic planning requirement and not as limitation." "Instead of using the arguments of diminished esthetic values and high costs as an excuse for non-action, architects, planners and builders should consider accessibility as a basic civil right and ensure its implementation." In Prague, we further noted that developing countries have particular problems. We called attention to the urgent need for the transmission of information between disabled people of different countries and professionals concerned with disability issues.

The last resolution which I want to quote here states: "The W84 Expert Seminar in recognizing the superior quality of living in the community as opposed to an existence in institutions advises that investments in institutions are to be phased out and be replaced by services that allow old and disabled citizens a life in the community with equality and full participation. These services include financial subsidies, counselling and personal assistance in activities of daily life, work and leisure. Services are to be organized in a way that gives the individual consumer the same opportunities in the housing and labor market as the general population."

What implications do the resolutions have for our present seminar? The resolutions emphasize the need for integrated solutions; that is, rather than building special housing exclusively for the use by a certain group of citizens we have to concentrate our efforts on making all housing accessible to people with disabilities. To the extent that old and disabled people need services such as personal assistance, these services should be provided in such a way as to insure that the individual consumer of such services has the same opportunities in the housing market as the general population. The resolutions make it quite clear that the construction of special residential facilities exclusively aimed at the needs of old and disabled people have to be avoided.

There is a tendency to view disability as a medical problem. As a medical issue the problem lies within the individual and not in society. Solutions consist of attempting to change the individual through medication, surgery, rehabilitation and other treatment. These forms of intervention take place in hospitals and similar institutions in order to get the most use out of existing medical resources. In this medical model, when people experience difficulties with architectural barriers in their daily lives, the response will be to eliminate the problem by moving these individuals into special and segregated facilities rather than by removing obstacles in the community. Locating the cause of the problem within the individual appears, at first sight, to hold the promise of lower costs. If each individual is considered as an isolated case, it will be less costly to move this individual to an institution than to eliminate environmental barriers in society. But in a long-term perspective taking into account generation after generation of an increasing number of older persons, building non-handicapping environments will be a prudent investment.

Another reason for erecting special facilities and institutions is the tendency to define disability as a technical problem. Given this perspective it seems natural to concentrate old and disabled people in residential facilities where buildings, professional staff and technical equipment can be efficiently utilized for their care. I would like to venture a hypothesis on the origin of institutions. In Europe, institutions for mentally and physically disabled persons started to appear during the period of industrialization. One explanation, among others, for this could be that the technological approach and the quest for the efficient use of limited resources also influenced the thinking on what to do with people who could not be profitably integrated into the production process. By lumping disabled people together into asylums and institutions the classical factors of production, land, labor and capital, were expected to be put to more efficient use. Institutions, I suggest, are based on the expectation of economies of scale: the cost of producing goods or services per unit decreases as production in the plant grows. So far my hypothesis.

But humans do not behave like automobiles or broiler chicken. Assembly lines are built on the principle that all units are identical. But humans are inefficient by nature from the viewpoint of modern production technology. Not only do they come in different sizes. Even worse, they differ in personality, taste, social background and innumerous other variables that are extremely difficult to quantify, standardize and to adapt to rational processing techniques. Thus, attempts to achieve economies of scale by putting old and disabled people together are bound to fail, if these people are to be treated as unique, sentient human beings and not as lifeless objects. On the contrary, sufficient scientific evidence exists to point to the dis-economies of institutions in the form of hospitalism, loss of social skills, lack of self confidence and stunted personal growth.

According to my hypothesis, as a developing country embraces industrialization, institutions will be built in an attempt to provide efficient services for disabled people. In the so-called developed countries the institutionalization of old and disabled people is most developed. It is in the countries where institutionalization has advanced farthest that politicians, professionals and, above all, disabled people themselves are now demanding that institutions be phased out and be replaced by community-based services.

With their tremendous needs for construction the developing countries have a unique opportunity of building communities that are accessible to all citizens. If they miss this chance the same way the developed countries did centuries ago, they will also have to repeat the same mistakes and put away generations and generations of old and disabled people into institutions, a solution which is very expensive in terms of human and monetary capital. It is through exchanges such as this Seminar today, we hope, that developing countries can hop over the institutionalization phase and build non-handicapping environments instead.

Questions and Answers

Q.: My question concerns integration in education. In recent years, schools for persons with disabilities have ben built and problems exist where disabled youngsters must attend ordinary schools. In Japan, education for persons with disabilities began 30 years ago, especially for physically disabled persons. If a person with sight impairments wants to attend school it must be at a regular school. He can complete his education there, despite the teachers’ lack of training in braille. The quality of his education, though, will not be of the same standard as of non-disabled students. This results in them leaving the regular education system and re-entering special school for persons with disabilities. In Sweden, what education is offered to students with visual and hearing impairments?

Also, as for the aging population in our country, there are many old persons who require care above and beyond that which can be provided in homes for the aged. Those with visual disabilities must have special facilities for their needs. Facilities which they themselves are requesting. Thus, regarding your views on integration, what comments do you have on these problems?

A.: As to the first point, solutions will, of course, differ from country to country depending on the education system and available resources. Speaking from the Swedish experience, we have also had special schools, for example, for the visually impaired. Today, the resources that are concentrated there have been freed and are disributed now throughout the entire school system. This also means that disability should be an integral part in regular teachers’ training. There has been a tendency to have, within the same city, one or two regular schools that have added resources for special groups such as the visually impaired.

As to the second point, we will have ample opportunity this afternoon to concentrate on this in more detail.

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