For the disability community and for everyone, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities is a day to honor the steady progress that persons with disabilities have made globally in claiming their rights. It is also a day to reflect on values of global diversity, to learn from the lived experiences of persons with disabilities, and to chart future actions to promote inclusive, accessible societies.
The global community started to observe December 3rd as the International Day of Persons with Disabilities in 1992, following a decade of awareness raising and changemaking to improve the situation of – and fight for equal opportunities for – persons with disabilities.
This year’s theme, The Future Is Accessible, is an excellent opportunity to create a vision toward an inclusive world where buildings, transportation, and communities are accessible, and where persons with disabilities have equal opportunities for learning, growing, and thriving in society with dignity and without fear of discrimination.
More than one year after the launch of its 10 Commitments on Disability-Inclusive Development, the World Bank continues to make progress in achieving accessibility, particularly with commitment #6 – “ensuring all World Bank-financed urban mobility and rail projects that support public transport services are disability inclusive by 2025.” Here are a few examples:
- In Africa, the Dakar Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Project in Senegal is designed with specific accessibility features to address the mobility needs of women, children, the elderly, and persons with disabilities. The features include bus boarding and alighting infrastructure with ramp access to get to the stations, pedestrian infrastructure – such as sidewalks and walkways built or retrofitted along the corridor – as well as with adequate lighting at bus stations to ensure safer and easier access to public transport.
- In the Vietnam Urban Upgrading Project, persons with disabilities were partners in design and implementation of improving access to infrastructure. The project team partnered with NGOs in Japan and brought onboard an architect to incorporate universal design in the project. The architect, a person with disabilities himself, not only added value to the team with his professional expertise, but also amplified the accessibility needs in the project.
- In China, ongoing railway projects – HaJia Railway and ZhangHu Railway – are addressing the needs of persons with disabilities or people with limited mobility within the station premises, such as boarding the trains and accessing platforms through elevators.
- For instance, in Lima the Bank piloted interventions and developed a design manual with meaningful consultations with persons with disabilities and civil society organizations. The manual was well received and adopted by the municipal transport agency and is being used in the design of the bus rapid transit system in the city.
To reach an accessible future, the next step is to go to scale. It is therefore encouraging to see disability inclusion is now a cross-cutting theme for the International Development Association, the World Bank’s fund for the poorest countries. To further promote disability inclusion, IDA19 calls for investments in disability-disaggregated data, differentiated interventions across sectors, and promoting inclusion through accessible physical environments and technologies.
While the International Day of Persons with Disabilities is a day to celebrate progress, it also a day for introspection – to acknowledge and address the yawning gaps in access, participation, and opportunities that persons with disabilities continue to systematically encounter.
Here are a few hard facts to consider:
- Poverty is a reality for persons with disabilities. The proportion of persons with disabilities living under the national or international poverty line is higher, and in some countries double, than that of persons without disabilities.
- The health and well-being of persons with disabilities are at greater risk. Persons with disabilities are three times as unlikely to receive health care when they need it. Children with disabilities are twice as more likely to have malnutrition and are ten times more likely to be seriously ill.
- Education and Employment opportunities are negligible. Persons with disabilities remain less likely to attend school and complete primary education and more likely to be illiterate than persons without disabilities. The employment-to-population ratio of persons with disabilities aged 15 and older is almost half that of persons without disabilities.
- Persons with disabilities are often among the most vulnerable in society, and typically face more formidable barriers to transport, housing, and other services.
- It is often harder for persons with disabilities to improve their livelihoods and take advantage of economic opportunities due to the exclusion they experience.
Although there are no quick-win solutions, part of the answer lies in promoting equal opportunity.
That is why . Without these investments, people are denied the opportunity to fulfill their potential, and everybody misses out.
To help safeguard the developing world’s hard-earned gains in human development against increasing environmental and social risks, The new Environmental and Social Framework (ESF) commits to non-discrimination against persons with disabilities in its projects. Aligned with the ESF, the Disability Inclusion and Accountability Framework, lays out a roadmap for disability inclusion in the Bank’s policies, operations, and analytical work.
Working toward an accessible future is everyone’s responsibility. As a leading development institution, the World Bank is well placed and mandated to help create a future that is accessible. On the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, let’s commit to contributing to making the planet a more inclusive and accessible place for all.