June 20 2014

Persons with Disabilities Largely Ignored in African Cities

Recent up-market building construction in the City of Nairobi has made a big effort to accommodate persons with disability, the sick and the elderly. Ramps for those who may have a problem using stairs, braille buttons, vocal instructions in lifts for the visually impaired, and even special washrooms for these vulnerable groups are some of the recent attempts made at accommodating them in the urban environment.

Unfortunately, the same does not hold true for most public infrastructure in the city. Facilities, like sidewalks, are rarely constructed with vulnerable groups in mind – leaving them dangerously at the mercy of vehicle users. It is not rare to see “gulleys” constructed right across a pedestrian pavement to guide storm water away from a main road, with no consideration for the difficulty it causes for the mobility of people in wheelchairs. Most sidewalks are also not adequately separated from roads.

Pavements that have water trenches make it hard for persons with disability to move, Nairobi, Kenya

The majority of pedestrian bridges have been constructed with long flights of stairs that prove to be very difficult for vulnerable groups to use when wanting to cross major highways.

The worst, however, lies with public transportation, which has no directives or guidelines aimed at helping those with disabilities or other vulnerable groups. Thus, these people find themselves at the mercy of a profit-seeking crew, most of whom may be ruthless and see them as a nuisance or wasting their time. The risky boarding system used at the city commuter train makes it very hard, if not almost impossible for these groups of people to use transit facilities.

Recent changes, however, for example with the new Syokimau railway line, has seen an introduction of an easier boarding system with ramps and raised platforms. There have also been a few pedestrian bridges built with ramps to assist those with disabilities to cross. They are, however, not adequate.

Syokimau railway line, The New Commuter train has provisions for person with disability, Nairobi, Kenya, Africa

Other countries have made attempts to integrate these groups in the urban infrastructure. In Cape town, the BRT system provides convenient and secure access to the facility for the physically disabled commuters. It also has spaces within the buses for those in wheelchairs.

In an attempt to respect their freedom and provide them with safer mobility, the Delhi metro reserves special coaches for women. This has assisted in enabling women to travel safer when needed. Attempts by some men to infiltrate these coaches has been met with violent removal.

The Japanese have clear policies for urban infrastructure construction and use for the elderly and disabled, with an emphasis on “barrier free design.” This architecture enables products and buildings to be accessible for all. These design principles have also been emphasized in the construction of sidewalks and the design of public transportation.

What role should local authorities and citizens play in ensuring accessibility for disabled populations?

Credits: Images by Constant Cap. Data linked to sources.

Constant Cap

Constant Cap has a Master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of Nairobi, Kenya. He holds an undergraduate degree from the same university. He regularly writes about urban planning issues online and in local dailies. Constant was born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya and is passionate about the planning issues facing African Cities. He has a deep interest in sustainable transportation, urban resilience and the application of ‘new urbanism’ in Africa. He intends to work as a planner on the African continent and assist in bringing about modern sustainable urbanism. He currently works at the Advancement Office at Strathmore University, Nairobi.

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This entry was posted on Friday, June 20th, 2014 at 9:14 am and is filed under Constant Cap, Engineering, Environment, Housing, Infrastructure, Social/Demographics, Transportation, Urban Development/Real Estate, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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2 Responses to “Persons with Disabilities Largely Ignored in African Cities”

  1. Richard Arao Says:

    I’ve also had the same feeling whwn I encounter a lot of the massive open manholes strewn across some sidewalks. It will take a long journey from policy making to improving infrastructure before all this gets addressed

  2. Paul Odak Says:

    Thanks a lot CAP for the insight…These pictures and literature will enrich the project report im working on currently on the challenges PWDs face with access to NMT facilities and Public transport.

    Improving access and mobility of people with disabilities is a necessary element of alleviating poverty among the PWDs in developing countries like Kenya. The report im working on has provided a selected overview of progress that has been made and the gaps that still exists towards achieving improved access in public transportation for PWDs in Nairobi City, Kenya. In my view, failure to respond to these needs will deteriorate the social efforts aimed at reducing the gap between them and the rest of the population.

    From the varied literature that has been analyzed, Kenya is at the bottom of a continuum of activities, where issues of human rights and access to basic mobility are still paramount, especially for PWDs. There are also information gaps for people with disability understanding their rights under the international obligations such as the United Nations Convention on the rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) of 2006, the constitution of Kenya 2010 and the Persons with disability Act 2003, and knowing what to expect.

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