Independent Living Institute www.independentliving.org

 

Government Action on Disability Policy

A Global Survey
Part I

 


© Dimitris Michailakis 1997


Accessibility

In the area of accessibility, eradication of discrimination against people with disabilities necessitates eliminating two major obstacles: (a) the inaccessibility of the physical environment; and (b) the lack of access to information and communication. Access to environment as an individual right does not enjoy global recognition. One reason for that is the reluctance of Governments to translate, into practice, such an individual entitlement necessitating large investments.

Accessibility along with education, employment etc. is addressed by the Standard Rules as a basic human right for all. The demand is equal opportunities and the same choices taken for granted by the general population in areas such as housing, transportation, education, work and culture. Accessibility is largely related to social citizenship; it concerns access to physical environment and access to information and communication. But, accessibility is not only related to social citizenship. It is one of the preconditions for exercising political and civil citizenship rights. Without accessible physical environment it becomes rather difficult to exercise political rights (voting right, right to hold office in legislature etc.).

The aim of Rule 5 on accessibility is to provide an instrument for Member States enabling them to conduct national policy which will ensure accessibility in the environment and its further development. The removal of architectural barriers at the place of work, the adaptation of jobs and machines, the safeguarding of the working environment, all such action would help to create equality of opportunity for disabled persons.

Questions 9 and 10 aim at finding out, the existence of any laws and/or regulations concerning the build environment. As Table 9 shows, 23 countries are reporting that there are no standards requiring accessibility of the build environment.

Table 9 (Question No. 9)
Regulations to ensure accessibility in the built environment
Countries reporting that:FrequencyValid Percent
Accessibility standards exist6272,9
Accessibility standards do not exist2327,1
Total 85, No answer 0

As Table 10 shows, most countries have standards ensuring accessibility in public places. But, in only 41% of the countries there are means of public transportation being accessible. Thus, the accessibility of public places in practice is much lower, since without any transportation means to these places, they are impossible to attending and entrying. The lack of accessible means of transportation has a highly discriminatory effect, constituting an insurmountable obstacle for a lot of other activities. In fact, it prevents an independent life for persons with disabilities. Furthermore, it is rather astonishing that in almost 40% of the countries providing information on this issue, houses not accessible to disabled persons, are still being constructed.

Table 10 (Question No. 10)
Accessibility of the built environment
Countries reporting accessibility in:FrequencyValid Percent
Public places6098,4
Outdoor environment4878,7
Transportation3557,4
Housing3862,3
Accessibility standards do not exist2327,1
Total 85, No answer 0

In question 11 the aim was to find out the authority having the responsibility to ensure that accessibility in the build environment is being observed. Table 11 shows that in 22 countries out of 80 providing information no such responsible body exists. In the majority of the countries accessibility in the build environment is observed by local Governments.

Table 11 (Question No. 11)
Supervision of the accessibility in the build environment
Accessibility in the built environment is observed by:FrequencyValid Percent
National authority4860,0
Local Governments4961,3
The constructor1316,3
The organizers/providers of the activities810,0
No responsible body exists2227,5
Total 80, No answer 5

The accessibility of the build environment is of vital importance for the possibilities of people with disabilities to enjoy full participation and equality in society. Though this may to a great extent be determined by the local community, it is desirable that the frame for national building regulations to be followed in building projects should be stipulated in national design standards or codes, through decisions at Government level, in order to ensure a nation-wide uniformity of guidelines.

In question 12 the aim was to determine what measures that have been promoted by Governments in order to facilitate accessibility in the build environment. As Table 12 shows, marking parking areas and installing automatic doors, lifts and accessible toilets are the measures being most frequently promoted, while the use of special lighting and contrast colours for visually impaired are the measures less frequently promoted. 18 countries out of 81 providing information report that no measures at all facilitating accessibility in the build environment have been promoted.

Table 12 (Question No. 12)
Measures to facilitate accessibility of the build environment
Government measures promoted:FrequencyValid Percent
Levelling off pavements4251,9
Marking parking areas5264,2
Installing automatic doors, lifts and accessible toilets4656,8
Ensure accessibility in the public places4353,1
Improving accessibility in housing3745,7
Provision of financial incentives/support for accessibility measures3442,0
Using special lighting and contrast colours for visually impaired2328,4
Provision of specially adapted motor vehicles3543,2
Total 81, No answer 4

While persons with disabilities have always been painfully aware of the limitations imposed on them by the physical environment, a lot is still to be done as the present survey indicates. Although Table 12 shows that accessibility in the physical environment has, for the majority of the countries, started becoming a concern of Governments. However, buildings which are not accessible to disabled persons are still being constructed, the using of wheelchairs is impossible in many apartment buildings, public office buildings, libraries, sport facilities, restaurants, etc.

In question 13 the aim was to see, if there are any special transport arrangements for persons with disabilities and for what purposes special transport are available. Table 13 shows that in 26 countries there are no special transport arrangements, not even in the most initial form, i.e. reduced prices in public transport in urban areas. Special transport arrangements vary to a great extent among Member States. In Israel, for instance, special arrangements are provided for by self-help organizations in the big cities. Other arrangements: discharge of tax on vehicles for persons with disabilities, reduced prices in public transport etc. Special transport, when existing, often means reduced prices or free of charge for the public transport and is available for whatever purpose. As Table 13 indicates special transport is most often provided for the purpose of education but less frequently for recreational purpose.

Table 13 (Question No. 13)
Special transport system
Special transport is available for:FrequencyValid Percent
Medical treatment5089,3
Education5394,6
Work4783,9
Recreational purpose4173,2
No special transport system exists2631,3
Special transport system exists5768,7
Total 82, No answer 3

The provision of a special transport service to individuals for compensating disabilities enables the realisation of principles of equality of opportunity and integration. The discriminatory effect of the failure to provide accessible means of transport and the obstacle that presents to disabled persons are hardly needed to be pointed out again. Special transport is in fact one of the measures in providing equal opportunities to people with disabilities being rather easy to realize. A lot could be done with a comparable little investment.

Question 14 aims to determine of those impediments when planning to build accessible environments. A number of possible obstacles when building accessible environments were listed, and Governmscrimination against persons with disabilities is not so different from discrimination against women or racial minorities. In these cases, the discrimination results solely from attitudes towards the groups in question.

Table 14 (Question No. 14)
Adaptation of the built environment
Obstacles reported by Governments when building accessible environments:FrequencyValid Percent
Attitudinal factors4353,8
Economic/budgetary factors6277,5
Technical factors2227,5
Geographical and climatic factors1822,5
Lack of legislation and regulations2936,3
Lack of planning and design capacity1822,5
Lack of knowledge, research and information3138,8
Lack of user participation1012,5
Lack of co-operation from other organizations/institutions1721,3
Lack of enforcement mechanism4151,3
Total 80, No answer 5

Question 15 aims to determine whether there is a disability awareness component incorporated in the training of planners, architects and/or construction engineers. The incorporation of a disability awareness component in the training implies that planners, architects and construction engineers have to learn about the laws and the regulations and what these laws and regulations mean for their practical work. The findings of the survey indicate that in the majority of the countries - in 42 out of 78 providing information on this issue - there is no such awareness component incorporated in their training. This is an area where major efforts should be done in order to increase the awareness among the students. Usually, young people do have a more open mind than adults. If the schools of architecture, industrial design, construction, make visible the problems that persons with disabilities are encountered with in their everyday life, many creative solutions will most certainly come into view.

Table 15 (Question No. 15)
Disability awareness component
Disability awareness in the training:FrequencyValid Percent
Countries having a disability awareness component3646,2
Countries not having a disability awareness component4253,8
Total 78, No answer 7

An issue closely related to disabled people's possibilities to exercise their rights is the access to information and communication. The information and communication rights of persons with disabilities are addressed specifically by the questions 16, 17, 19. Due to the important role of communication in society, deaf people run a greater risk than people with other disabilities of falling into social isolation, which in turn can lead to the development of psycho-social problems. In question 16 the aim was to find out the status of the sign language in Member States.

Language rights for the deaf people implies calling for the recognition of sign language as the official language of deaf people, as the first language in education of deaf people and as the natural language of communication between deaf persons and others. When sign language is recognized as the official language of deaf people it almost always implies that it is also used as the first language in education of deaf people and that it is recognized as the main means of communication between deaf persons and others. When sign language has no officially recognized status it implies that it is neither recognized as the official language of deaf people, nor used as the first language in education of deaf people, nor recognized as the main means of communication between deaf persons and others. This means that deaf people have no language rights at all. When it is recognized as the main means of communication between deaf persons and others, but not as the first language in education, there is accordingly almost no Government involvement in the education of deaf people.

Table 16 (Question No. 16)
Status of sign language
The status of sign language as reported by the Governments:FrequencyValid Percent
Recognized as the official language2430,0
As the first language in education1518,8
As the main means of communication1518,8
No officially recognized status2632,5
Total 80, No answer 5

In 26 countries out of 80 providing information on this issue consequently sign language is used neither in education of deaf people nor as the main means of communication between deaf people and others. In these countries deaf people are deprived of the right to a defence because the judicial and investigating authorities do not have permanent interpreters, being indispensable in such cases. In 15 countries it is used as the first language in education of deaf people and in 15 countries as the main means of communication between deaf persons and others, but not as the first language in education of deaf people.

Questions 17 and 18 concern measures taken by governments to encouraging media and other forms of public information to make their services accessible for persons with disabilities. The Standard Rules set information services within the wider context of the disability rights. Effective information services are needed in order to enable persons with disabilities to exercise the rights they have won. Such services include text on TV, news in sign language, interpretation in sign language of other programmes, newspapers in an easy reading language, text telephone for deaf people, interpretation of theatre plays in sign language, etc. As Table 17 indicates, 47% of the countries providing information on this issue have not taken any measure at all to encouraging media to make their services accessible to persons with disabilities.

Table 17 (Question No. 17)
Accessibility measures in media
Acessibility measures in mediaFrequencyValid Percent
Countries reporting accessibility measures4253,2
Countries reporting no accessibility measures3746,8
Total 79, No answer 6

Likewise, ca 47% of the countries reported that no measure had been taken in order to encourage other forms of public information to make their services accessible to persons with disabilities. This is another unsatisfactory finding. The possibility to obtain information, especially in the societies of Advanced Market Economies, is an absolute prerequisite for living an active life; without information you live in isolation and cannot even properly utilize what is due to you (legal rights, social benefits, etc.).

Table 18 (Question No. 18)
Accessibility measures in public information services
Public information servicesFrequencyValid Percent
Countries reporting accessibility measures4151,9
Countries reporting no accessibility measures3848,1
Total 79, No answer 6

Question 19 strives to determine the services provided in order to facilitate information and communication between persons with disabilities and others. As Table 19 shows, deaf persons constitute a disadvantaged group in terms of services facilitating information and communication between deaf persons and others. In most developing countries deaf persons do not even for major events have access to interpretation.

Table 19 (Question No. 19)
Access to information and communication
Services to facilitate information and communicationFrequencyValid Percent
Literature in Braille/tape7187,7
News magazines on tape/Braille4758,0
Sign language interpretation for any purpose3340,7
Sign language interpretation for major events3037,0
Easy readers for persons with mental disabilities2530,9
None56,2
Total 81, No answer 4

According to this survey, the most disadvantaged group of all is the one of persons with mental disabilities, while deaf persons only slightly have a better situation. In fact, in the majority of the countries providing information, these services are not provided for to these two groups of disabled persons.


Contents of the UN Report