[ Problem Addressed | ESCAPís Contribution
| Beneficiaries | Physical
Achievements | National Developments | Follow-up Action ]
For many city-dwellers,
today's modern cities and towns may be convenient and fascinating places for working and
living, offering a great variety of opportunities and experiences. But for disabled
persons, such built environments are full of uncertainties, anxieties and dangers.
Disabled persons encounter many obstacles that prevent them from moving about freely
and safely. For wheelchair users, steps and stairways are obstacles. Blind people are
endangered by the absence of directional and safety features that they can hear and touch.
Many disabled persons live in poverty and need education and training, but these are
often located in places where access is difficult for them. In addition, most community
centres, parks and places of worship have not been designed to welcome users with
disabilities. Public transport systems, too, are not user-friendly to persons with
Fortunately, awareness is growing that society is also penalized when disabled persons
are prevented by an unfriendly environment from realizing their full potential. Societies
incur hidden costs when their members, including those with disabilities, suffer from
stress, fatigue and accidents.
This awareness has recently taken hold among developing countries in Asia and the
ESCAP, with support from the Government of Japan, began activities in 1994 to promote
barrier-free environments in the developing countries of the region. The activities have
brought advantages to many groups -- children, older persons and pregnant women -- not
only those with disabilities. People carrying heavy loads, travellers with luggage, and
those who feel weak or ill also benefit.
ESCAP's commitment to improving the lives of disabled persons was boosted with the
launching of the Asian and Pacific Decade of Disabled Persons, 1993-2002. Thus arose a
campaign to remove physical obstacles in the environment. The Decade's goal is the full
participation and equality of disabled persons in all aspects of mainstream community
Irregular Pavement (dangerous). Bangkok, Thailand
ESCAP took up the challenge by issuing guidelines for use by architects, urban planners
and engineers to encourage the creation of barrier-free physical environments in the
region's developing cities. It supported moves to apply the guidelines in pilot projects
in Bangkok, Beijing and New Delhi. Thanks
to that support, the three cities have now become demonstration sites in the developing
world for the promotion of barrier-free environments for persons with disabilities and for
ESCAP helped to identify pilot project sites, advised on planning and implementation
and conducted workshops for technical personnel and user groups. The Japan International
Cooperation Agency (JICA) contributed the services of an expert to assist in the technical
design aspects of project implementation. The expert worked at ESCAP for over two years.
Beijing and New Delhi also received seed money to initiate their projects. The seed money
stimulated the raising of local funding and other resources that far exceeded the seed
And, to emphasize the principle of participation under the Asian and Pacific Decade of
Disabled Persons, ESCAP actively encouraged the involvement of disabled persons in the
Two main groups benefited from the pilot projects: the participating disabled persons
and older persons on the one hand; and the technical staff responsible for design and
maintenance of the built environment on the other. Indeed, all community groups promoting
standards of safety, public convenience and accessibility can draw inspiration from these
projects to introduce barrier-free design.
Another beneficiary of access feature in a Bangkok street
There were many physical improvements at the project sites: kerb ramps for wheelchair
users were installed. Tactile Braille pathways and Braille markings on bus stops were
provided for blind and visually- impaired persons. Clear signs and symbols were put in
place to assist disabled persons' use of facilities such as banks, post offices, schools,
shopping centres, and leisure and cultural centres. Other improvements included the
installation of hand rails and accessible toilets.
Braille sign at bus stop. Beijing, China
In association with the pilot projects, similar innovations have also been introduced
outside the project sites.
China, India and Thailand have since produced their own technical guidelines, derived
from the ESCAP guidelines, other reference materials and from their own pilot project
experiences. Those experiences have also led to the development and strengthening of
access-related legislation in the three countries.
Barrier-free environment. Beijing China
Capacity-building and Collaboration
Bringing together technical personnel, policy makers for infrastructure development,
agencies concerned with disability and disabled persons themselves in the pilot project
workshops, opens a new chapter in multisectoral collaboration. It marks an important shift
away from a charity approach towards disabled persons, in favour of one that emphasizes
their equal opportunity and participation in mainstream society.
For the technical personnel involved in the pilot projects -- the architects, the
engineers and the urban planners -- it was the first time that most of them had direct,
working experience with disabled persons.
Both groups were able to gain a deeper mutual understanding of how they could work
together as equal partners to remove barriers in society, including the undefined social
barriers which have all too often excluded persons with disabilities.
On the physical side, in
special workshop exercises with disabled persons as resource persons, the technical
personnel gained a first-hand appreciation of the obstacles that disabled persons have to
cope with in their everyday lives. Their insights laid a solid foundation for positive
change towards making built environments barrier-free.
Each of the three countries (China, India and Thailand) set up working committees for
the promotion of non-handicapping environments. Their members and supporters were selected
from diverse backgrounds with, of course, disabled persons participating as active
Confidence through equal opportunity in India
All three pilot projects have spurred technical cooperation with other developing
countries in the region. Site visits and exchange of experiences were encouraged during
the final workshops in Beijing and in New Delhi. Participating were concerned persons,
many of them disabled, from Bumthang (Bhutan), Colombo, Dhaka, Jakarta, Kathmandu, Kuala
Lumpur, Penang (Malaysia), Pattaya (Thailand), and Yogyakarta (Indonesia). Exchange visits
also took place among pilot project team members from Bangkok, Beijing and New Delhi. In
both China and India, technical personnel and disabled persons from other cities in the
respective countries joined in the technical workshops.
Through the pilot projects, a promising start has been made towards motivating planners
and construction engineers to create physical environments which are more friendly to
disadvantaged groups and senior citizens. In the process, ESCAP has promoted barrier-free
design, or universal access design, for safety and convenience to benefit everyone. Policy
makers have come on board by recognizing the importance of including barrier-free design
in their technical training programmes.
ESCAP's follow-up action on barrier-free design includes the following:
- Produce a video programme on barrier-free environments, using pilot project
- Support the exchange of information and experiences through networking, including
information for the training of technical personnel and disabled persons;
- Develop a guide for training disabled persons as trainers for the promotion of
- Explore the possibilities of supporting pilot projects in other cities of the region;
- Mobilize funding for training multidisciplinary teams of access trainers, including
persons with disabilities, architects, urban planners, transport engineers, and
Blind telephone operators in New Delhi, India
To learn more about this project and other ESCAP activities, please visit the ESCAP
homepage for the Asian and Pacific Decade of Disabled Persons, at: http://www.unescap.org/decade