IT is heartening to finally see disability rights being addressed by members of the federal cabinet and thus gaining traction in the national policymaking discourse. In a meeting last week, the prime minister took note of a significant barrier to enabling people with disabilities’ inclusion in mainstream society — inaccessible public infrastructure. While there have been a few success stories in recent years in which access features were incorporated into public infrastructure projects, these interventions remain piecemeal and insufficient. By directing the CDA to ensure that buildings and public spaces in Islamabad meet the requirements of universal access, Prime Minister Imran Khan can set in motion a template for truly sustainable urban development that can be replicated across urban Pakistan.
Sustainable cities need urban plans and upgrades that reflect the needs of both current and future populations. Despite their poor enumeration in the 2017 census, virtually all development practitioners acknowledge that Pakistan’s PWD population is significant, and expected to rise when factored with national health indicators and rising life expectancies. Women, children, the poor, the elderly and PWDs can only actively participate in public life if urban spaces are designed to facilitate their movement. People with mobility, visual and hearing impairments thus require public spaces features such as ramps, Braille signage, voice and sound alerts, spacious entrances and corridors, pedestrian-friendly roads, etc. Moreover, when made part of the initial planning phase, instead of retroactively introduced, such features are only a nominal part of construction costs. The hurdle, however, lies in implementation. For years, successive governments have periodically developed policies and laws aimed at the uplift of PWDs and other marginalised groups, only to have them rendered meaningless by the apathy of bureaucrats tasked with enforcement. The Accessibility Code of Pakistan, with its guidelines for designing and modifying built forms to meet international accessibility and safety standards, was introduced over 12 years ago. Can it finally be dusted off and effectively implemented?
Published in Dawn, February 11th, 2019