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.