Disability, Transport and Poverty.
In South Africa, persons with disabilities are more likely to be poor than is the rest of the population. Disability is associated with higher illiteracy, poor nutritional status, lower inoculation and immunization coverage, higher unemployment rates, and lower occupational mobility, among other characteristics. Persons with disabilities in South Africa are excluded from services, social contact and community activities to a very high degree. This exclusion in turn leads to reduced social, cultural, educational and economic opportunities; thereby trapping persons with disabilities into poverty. Such exclusion also imposes direct costs on society by reducing the economic and social output, not only of those with disabilities but also of those who care for them and whose productive employment may be reduced as a result. Inclusive transport systems are all the more critical in reducing the isolation, vulnerability and dependency of persons with disabilities, thereby helping to improve their lives.
Globally there has been progress in reducing barriers in the transport environment over the last four decades, particularly in the U.S. and some European countries in response to strong advocacy. Even in these high income countries implementation has spread slowly and the overall impact often remains disappointing.
South Africa now also have disability policies that reflect concepts of disability based on the UN Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities. However, the reality is that meeting the needs of people with disability is still largely seen as a welfare issue and even basic good practice in meeting those needs is rarely recognized, let alone implemented. As a result, inclusive transport systems have generally not been given significant priority in planning, design and construction.
Putting Policies into Practice
Major obstacles remain to translate accessibility policies into the provision of inclusive transport. Inadequate monitoring and enforcement of compliance with existing accessibility legislation is widely cited as the key impediment to providing inclusive transport. The legislation has rarely been matched by adequately detailed regulatory frameworks and has therefore generated a very limited response on the ground.
The private sector may not have sufficient incentives to implement provisions for people with disabilities. In most cases, applying Western disability standards and facilities to deliver access solutions and ensure universal access in transport systems is not affordable or realistic for the provider or for the users in low-income brackets - as most of them are too poor to pay the costs of such standards.
Making Implementation effective
It is clear that the marginal costs of providing ‘access for all’ features are generally much less when these are incorporated in the original design and build as compared with being retro- fitted to existing vehicles or infrastructure. One suggested approach is that about one percent of the combined annual operating and capital costs of a typical transport system would suffice to provide more accessible transport, assuming that regulatory and enforcement mechanisms are in place. However, we face huge demands for our limited resources, both within transport and in other priority sectors. Accordingly, the allocation of even rather modest portions of the budget must be justified in relation to alternatives ways of meeting the need under local circumstances, and in comparison with competing priorities for public resources.
Mobility and access requirements of people with disabilities should be understood in the wider context when planning and designing barrier-free transport systems. This implies an understanding and identification of the circumstances that create barriers for people with disabilities. An inclusive transport environment policy should be implemented using a combination of different practical access approaches based on different cost features and development stages.
In many situations low cost improvements such as kerb insets at street corners, ramps to public buildings, and larger letters on bus destination signs can bring disproportionate benefits. Most interesting, these interventions which bring benefits to all passengers, creating a “win-win” opportunity.
Accessibility requirements can be met in an urban environment where the demand for services is high and the marginal costs of improved design and special facilities tend to be low. In the rural context it is often very difficult to establish basic transport services to be sustainable because of the low population densities and limited economic activity. Inevitably,making these services accessible to all will be an even greater challenge in rural areas.
The same note also highlights the significance of personal mobility (the possibility of all people to reach all places within their environment) and the complementary importance of accessibility (the possibility of all people to maneuver readily within and make use of the built environment). In practical terms it is not sufficient to ensure that everyone can enter and use basic transport services; it is equally important are to apply the principles of ‘access for all’ to the street environment and to the design of the buildings and other facilities that people use.
Creating more accessible transport systems
The aim of our accessibility programme to improve the effectiveness of government and the private sector’s response to the need for a more accessible environment.
- Good design and practice. A main objective of our programme is to encourage good practice in planning, design and implementation for response to policies to improve access for all with disability and limited mobility. Guidance on and examples of good practice in transport are being identified and will be shared broadly with government and the organisations with which we work.
- Training and awareness. We provide good practice guidance and publish case studies which can used in raising awareness and training for the transport and tourism sectors.
- Informing policies for inclusive transport. Good practice cases will help to inform government in developing access for all policies and formulating the supporting legislation and other mechanisms necessary to put those policies into effect.
We are are looking for partners and sponsors for our Accessibility programme. If you would like to participate, please send an email to stating briefly how you would hope to benefit from your participation and what you would expect to contribute.