There is a global mandate to build a barrier free society and all of us have to comply as accessibility is now a matter of rights and non-discrimination under the United Nations Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD), the international human rights act for persons with disabilities (PWDs).
Speaking at the National Conference on Accessibility and Universal Design, Implications for Public Transport and the Built Environment organised by the United Nations Development Programme for Malaysia (UNDP) , disability expert Aiko Akiyama stressed that creation of a barrier free society is now a “must do, not an option” as it is required by law.
Akiyama, from the Social Development Division, UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia-Pacific , added that accessibility can be profitable and it makes good business sense in line of population ageing and lower fertility rate worldwide to prepare for the needs of this growing global market.
She said, “Accessibility is not just about physical access or transportation but also information and ICT, and all services and facilities of access to communal needs. And it is not just by government but also the private sector both in urban and rural areas as long as the facilities are used by the public.”
She added that when we talk about rights, one very important point in the CRPD is denial of reasonable accommodation to access, is a violation of rights.
“It means users can claim rights of access if something (for public use) is not accessible, and whoever is responsible to provide that facility has a duty to do so,” she explained.
ESCAP, the regional arm of UN, is promoting the barrier free, universal design concept as it is important for the region to develop in an inclusive manner with commitment from local government and in partnerships with all parties, from private sector to civil society.
Accessibility – a Win-Win Solution for everyone
“We are not just promoting accessibility as a right based perspective but also as a win win solution for everybody: for government, consumers, ageing people, families with children, inclusive development with PWDs and also the private c sector.
Sharing good practices from Japan, Akiyama introduced the “Takayama Declaration on Development of Community for All” a document with recommendations on regional networking, advocacy, policy development, research and data collection, capacity building and resource mobilisation on improving accessibility in the Asia Pacific region.
The declaration was endorsed by participants from 15 Asia Pacific countries, including Malaysia, at a meeting hosted by ESCAP in Takayama, Gifu Prefecture in central Japan, using the host city as an example of a success story.
Takayama – City Built on Access
A mountain resort, Takayama has been promoting accessible tourism for the last 18 years, creating economic opportunities as well as a more barrier-free environment for persons with disabilities.
Takayama has a population of 96,000 with 25 percent of them above 65. The main source of income for this country is tourism.
The local authorities, working in partnership with the private sector and civil society organisations, made improvement to facilities in the city to make them more barrier-free, and purchased accessible devices and means of transportation.
When Mayor Mamoru Tsuchino, who pioneered these initiatives, decided to implement the barrier free city concept, forecasting that it would be very good for visitors and business, the city council was not 100 percent convinced.
There was no budget for accessibility in the beginning, so the Mayor made do with development funds. He brought in disability consultants, organised tours for PWDs to gather information from the user groups themselves on accessible issues.
It took him ten years to make the city “reasonably accessible”.
Akiyama noted that despite the recession in Japan, the visitors kept increasing. Gradually the city council gave its support in light of the positive economic impact.It was good for local businesses. The Mayor was able to outsource the recycling business to local PWDs so it was also good for the local disability community.
Some of the notable features include
• over 30 accessible taxis plying the city (you don’t need to make a reservation
for an accessible taxi),
• free accessible public toilets
• appropriate signage and telephones with large fonts,
• visual alarms for deaf guests – when some one knocks on the hotel room door, the light flashes
• beds that vibrate in place of the alarm clock,
• accessible hot springs
Local residents whose awareness of and respect for the needs of persons with disabilities have also contributed to the success of making Takayama a barrier-free community.
CHALLENGES VOL3, ISSUE3 2010 (Challenges Magazine is a journalism skills training project for persons with disabilities started in 2007)