the invisibles

The Invisibles

Infrastructure Developments Fail to Accommodate the Needs of Disabled Persons

Despite accounting for 17.6Pct of the population, people with disabilities are often note very well taken into consideration in many development projects in Ethiopia. Most Infrastructure is developed without taking into consideration their mobility and other physical challenges. For the deaf or visually impaired, most of the streets are not friendly. While sidewalks end abruptly and ramps which are the only means of getting in and out of premises, are so steep that wheelchairs sometimes overturn. In addition, apartment houses are constructed without accommodating the special needs of people with disabilities, as is with malls and buildings of government offices which are built recklessly with no elevators and ramps. EBR’s Kiya Ali explores.

Besides the many challenges existing in the ever-growing capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, Atsede Jembere, age 27 and a visually impaired woman, always lives with fear and uncertainty. Although she has kept on struggling, life is not becoming any better. With the unfriendly nature of the city towards disabled people like Atsede, who lost two of her teeth while walking towards her home two years ago, life is becoming more intimidating. “I always seek for a help as I constantly fear that I would die and get injured while crossing roads and walking on the street.” she tells EBR. “Unfortunately, the city is built without considering the needs of disabled people like me.”

There are an estimated 15 million children, adults and elderly persons with disabilities in Ethiopia, representing 17.6Pct of the population, according to the joint report of the World Bank and World Health Organization. A vast majority of people with disabilities live in rural areas where access to basic services is limited and 95Pct of them are estimated to live in poverty.

This is worsened by the development of infrastructure that doesn’t take into account the needs of disabled people. Though Ethiopia has legal provisions for protecting the rights of people with disabilities, compliance is often neglected. Accessible toilets are scarce while the roads constructed in most urban areas like Addis fail to accommodate the needs of disabled people. Although tactile sidewalks for the visually impaired individuals are available in some parts of the city, their importance is usually overlooked. What is worse, is the commonality of seeing a hole or an electric tower in the middle of the tactile pavements, exposing visually impaired individuals to various physical injuries. In addition, drainage lines and utility maintenance holes are usually left open without being covered, exposing visually impaired people to all possible dangers.

“While roads should be constructed for the benefit of everyone, disabled people are usually forgotten,” argues Sultan Esmul, manager of Ethiopian National Association of the Blind.

Without accessible ramps for those in wheelchairs, and for people with visual impairment or walking difficulties, they tend to find it very difficult to get up or down the stairs.

In fact, most businesses, shopping centers, workplaces and healthcare institutions operating in the country are structured in a format that doesn’t consider the needs of disabled people. Nearly almost all the elevators in these buildings are not equipped with braille for the blind or partially sighted. There are also buildings that are constructed with no elevator. A case in point is the Mandela building found inside the Addis Ababa University (AAU). While visiting AAU, EBR observed that disabled individuals faced difficulties to walk up and down the stairs as there is no elevator in this particular building. In addition, disabled students are not able to take courses, such as journalism and special needs education, which are given on the third and fourth floors of the building.

Besides being a challenge, such a reality is becoming more dangerous than ever. This can be evidenced by the event that occurred a month ago when a visually impaired man, 26, died after falling off on an elevator shaft from the 7th floor of Akaki Kality sub-city Building. Although he went there to apply for a workplace transfer from Kolfe Keranyo sub-city, he plunged to his death in a 21m elevator shaft hole. “We struggle every day to survive amidst challenges with no end in sight,” says Sultan. “Infrastructures are developed without accommodating the special needs of disabled people. That hurts and needs to be averted quickly.”

Dibaba Bacha, director of Ethiopian Women with Disabilities National Association (EWDNA), agrees. “The fact that street vending is openly practiced in a crowded manner in addition to people who drive on the pedestrian pathways, makes it difficult for disabled people to navigate,” says Dibaba. “These are just the tip of the iceberg. In every sector inclusiveness is miserably ignored.”

The study dubbed ‘Assessing the Social Impact of Ethiopia Transportation System Improvement Project in 2016’, conducted by Addis Ababa City Administration, also indicates that development projects should consider the needs of the people with disability in general. Taking it even further, the study recommended that the Administration be sensitive about the diversity within the disabled population itself since the needs of the visually impaired are different from those with physical disability and hard difficulty in hearing.

Although the study calls for the accommodation of the needs of disabled people during the construction of different infrastructures, little has been achieved since then. A case in point is the poor inspection conducted on buildings during construction. “The fact that buildings are becoming operational before the finalization of their construction is compromising the safety of disabled persons,” says Dibaba.

Even after the establishment of a separate entity called the Construction Monitoring Authority in the past fiscal year, the problem is far from being over. “Despite the challenging environment for the disabled people, we are working to bring a healthy construction paradigm and enforce the construction laws properly,’ said Sisay Deriba, head of Communications at the Authority.

The housing sector is another area that fails to accommodate the needs of people with disabilities. Except the newly built 40/60 housing projects, all condominiums in Addis Ababa or other parts of Ethiopia are constructed without facilities important to disabled people. Yet, priority is given to the disabled people while distributing the condominium houses with the ground floor dedicated for them, according to the Ministry of Urban Development and Housing.

On the other hand, institutions like the National Association of the Blind and Ethiopian Women with Disabilities National Association, in cooperation with international and local organizations, have embarked on different initiatives with the objective of advancing the respect of the universal human rights, equal opportunities and full participation of the disabled. For instance, the Special Needs Support Office at AAU’s main campus, provides various services for its students with different forms of disabilities. Its major activities include educational materials support like braille papers, digital voice recorders and audio books.

The office also arranges for volunteer exam readers, wheelchair drivers, sign language interpreters, building ramps to the entrances of buildings with elevators, training, financial support and counseling. However, there is still room for improvement. “There are times when we are required to bring the supervisor by ourselves,” Million Zewdu (name changed upon his request), a visually impaired student at AAU, explains.

Sultan agrees. “Universities are not assigning supervisors for disabled students. Besides, the place where they are taking exam is outside of the class. This is a clear form of discrimination,” he says.

Abebech Mihiretu, an expert at the Special Needs Support Office also shares this opinion. “The instructors let the students to find a supervisor as per the requests of the students.”

Of course, many of these problems exists because Ethiopia is still a developing country. But stakeholders say it largely relates to the attitude, lack of accountability and not giving enough attention.


8th Year • Oct.16 – Nov.15 2019 • No. 79

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