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13 Jun, 2011

Free Report Can Help Boost Travel for People With Disabilities

A major global report issued last week effectively has provided a free consultancy service for those in the travel & tourism industry keen to meet the rapidly growing need for products and services by people with disabilities (PwDs). The joint report by the World Health Organisation and the World Bank group is packed with ideas, examples, research and background that will prove invaluable to national tourism organisations, hotels, travel & tourism companies, convention centres and the entire transport sector.

Although businesses and destinations will seek to attract the business of the estimated one billion PwDs worldwide as visitors and tourists, some enlightened companies may be able to use the report to make a social contribution by providing job opportunities for PwDs. Design companies, academia and conference organisers will also find the report useful in their respective fields.

In a preface to what is claimed to be the first global report of its kind, British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, who suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), said, “We have a moral duty to remove the barriers to participation, and to invest sufficient funding and expertise to unlock the vast potential of people with disabilities. Governments throughout the world can no longer overlook the hundreds of millions of people with disabilities who are denied access to health, rehabilitation, support, education and employment, and never get the chance to shine.”

Further information is available here.

Describing its own mission statement, the report says it “provides a guide to improving the health and well-being of persons with disabilities. It seeks to provide clear concepts and the best available evidence, to highlight gaps in knowledge and stress the need for further research and policy. Stories of success are recounted, as are those of failure and neglect. The ultimate goal of the Report and of the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD) is to enable all people with disabilities to enjoy the choices and life opportunities currently available to only a minority by minimizing the adverse impacts of impairment and eliminating discrimination and prejudice.”

Excerpts from the introduction by Margaret Chan, Director General, World Health Organisation, and Robert Zoellick, the World Bank Group

More than one billion people in the world live with some form of disability, of whom nearly 200 million experience considerable difficulties in functioning. In the years ahead, disability will be an even greater concern because its prevalence is on the rise. This is due to ageing populations and the higher risk of disability in older people as well as the global increase in chronic health conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and mental health disorders.

Across the world, people with disabilities have poorer health outcomes, lower education achievements, less economic participation and higher rates of poverty than people without disabilities. This is partly because people with disabilities experience barriers in accessing services that many of us have long taken for granted, including health, education, employment, and transport as well as information. These difficulties are exacerbated in less advantaged communities.

To achieve the long-lasting, vastly better development prospects that lie at the heart of the 2015 Millennium Development Goals and beyond, we must empower people living with disabilities and remove the barriers which prevent them participating in their communities; getting a quality education, finding decent work, and having their voices heard.

The World Report on Disability suggests steps for all stakeholders – including governments, civil society organizations and disabled people’s organisations – to create enabling environments, develop rehabilitation and support services, ensure adequate social protection, create inclusive policies and programmes, and enforce new and existing standards and legislation, to the benefit of people with disabilities and the wider community. People with disabilities should be central to these endeavors.

The Preface by Professor Stephen W Hawking

Disability need not be an obstacle to success. I have had motor neurone disease for practically all my adult life. Yet it has not prevented me from having a prominent career in astrophysics and a happy family life.

Reading the World report on disability, I find much of relevance to my own experience. I have benefitted from access to first class medical care. I rely on a team of personal assistants who make it possible for me to live and work in comfort and dignity. My house and my workplace have been made accessible for me. Computer experts have supported me with an assisted communication system and a speech synthesizer which allow me to compose lectures and papers, and to communicate with different audiences.

But I realize that I am very lucky, in many ways. My success in theoretical physics has ensured that I am supported to live a worthwhile life. It is very clear that the majority of people with disabilities in the world have an extremely difficult time with everyday survival, let alone productive employment and personal fulfillment.

I welcome this first World report on disability. This report makes a major contribution to our understanding of disability and its impact on individuals and society. It highlights the different barriers that people with disabilities face – attitudinal, physical, and financial. Addressing these barriers is within our reach.

In fact we have a moral duty to remove the barriers to participation, and to invest sufficient funding and expertise to unlock the vast potential of people with disabilities. Governments throughout the world can no longer overlook the hundreds of millions of people with disabilities who are denied access to health, rehabilitation, support, education and employment, and never get the chance to shine.

The report makes recommendations for action at the local, national and international levels. It will thus be an invaluable tool for policy-makers, researchers, practitioners, advocates and volunteers involved in disability. It is my hope that, beginning with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and now with the publication of the World report on disability, this century will mark a turning point for inclusion of people with disabilities in the lives of their societies.

Quotes From The Report

Lack of pedestrian access. A major obstacle to maintaining continuity of accessibility in the travel chain is an inaccessible pedestrian environment, particularly in the immediate surroundings of stations. Common problems here include:

■  nonexistent or poorly maintained pavements;

■  inaccessible overpasses or underpasses;

■  crowded pavements in the vicinity of stations and stops;

■  hazards or people with visual impairments and deaf blind people;

■  lack of traffic controls;

■  lack of aids at street crossings for people with visual impairments;

■  dangerous local traffic behaviours.


Shared vans. Shared vans equipped with lifts, individually owned and operated by licensed providers, can be a viable way to start an STS programme for fairly small initial public investment. In India a team of designers found inexpensive ways of making small vans accessible for people with disabilities, with costs as low as US$ 224. Having a wider passenger base can help make shared van services more sustainable in the longer term. In Curitiba, Brazil, owner-operated vans with lifts pick up passengers for a flat-rate fare.

Accessible taxis. Accessible taxis are an important part of an integrated accessible transportation system because they are highly demand-responsive. Taxis and STSs are now being combined in many places. Sweden relies extensively on taxis for its STS, as do other countries. In developing countries, accessible taxis are slower to come on line. Licensing regulations can require taxi fleets not to discriminate against people with disabilities. They can also require some or all vehicles to be accessible. In the United Kingdom a special initiative to make taxis accessible has resulted in a fleet that is 52% accessible.

Alternative forms of transport. Rickshaw and pedicab services, common in many Asian cities, are gaining in popularity on other continents. An Indian design team has developed a type of pedicab that is easier for people with disabilities to get in and out of, improving access for all users and providing more comfort for the driver. Installing separate lanes and paths for bicycles, tricycles, and scooters can improve safety and accommodate the larger tricycle-style wheelchairs often used in Asia.


Transportation provides independent access to employment, education, and health care facilities, and to social and recreational activities. Without accessible transportation, people with disabilities are more likely to be excluded from services and social contact. In a study in Europe, transport was a frequently cited obstacle to the participation of people with disabilities. In a survey in the United States of America lack of transportation was the second most frequent reason for a person with disability being discouraged from seeking work. The lack of public transportation is itself a major barrier to access, even in some highly developed countries.

■  Introduce accessible transportation as part of the overall legislation on disability rights.

■  Identify strategies to improve the accessibility of public transport, including:

–  Applying universal design principles in the design and operation of public transport, for example in the selection of new buses and trams or by removing physical barriers when renovating stops and stations.

–  Requiring transportation agencies, in the short-term, to provide STS such as shared vans or accessible taxis.

–  Making public transport systems more flexible for the user by optimizing the use of information technology.

–  Make provisions for alternative forms of transport such as tricycles, wheel-chairs, bicycles, and scooters by providing separate lanes and paths.

■  Establish continuity of accessibility throughout the travel chain by improving the quality of pavements and roads, pedestrian access, installing ramps (curb cuts), and ensuring access to vehicles.

■  To improve affordability of transport, subsidise transport fares for people with disabilities who may not be able to afford them.

■  Educate and train all parties involved in transportation: managers need to understand their responsibilities and front-line staff need to ensure customer care. Public awareness campaigns can assist the educational process: posters, for example, can teach passengers about priority seating.

Access standards and universal design innovations implemented in developed countries are not always affordable or appropriate in low-income and middle-income countries. Country-specific solutions can be found. Low-cost examples include: lower first steps, better interior, and exterior handrails at entrances to buses, priority seating, improved lighting, raised paved loading pads where there are no pavements, and the removal of turnstiles.

Buildings Without Barriers in Malaysia

In recent years Malaysian law has been changed to ensure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as others. Between 1990 and 2003 Malaysia introduced and revised the standard codes of practice on accessibility and mobility for people with disabilities. In 2008 the People with Disabilities Act was introduced. This legislation, harmonizing with the CRPD, promotes rights of access for persons with disabilities to public facilities, housing, transport, and ICT, as well as to education and employment, cultural life and sport.

The government priorities are to increase public awareness of the needs of disabled people and to encourage young designers to create more innovative and inclusive designs. Local authorities in the country require architects and builders to adhere to the Malaysian Standard Codes of Practice for building plans to be approved. After a building is constructed, an “access audit” examines its usability by disabled people. The purpose of this audit is:

■  to increase awareness among planners and architects about barrier-free environments for people with disabilities;

■  to ensure, in both new buildings and retrofitting, the use of universal design concepts and adherence to the standard codes relating to people with disabilities;

■  to evaluate the degree of access to existing public buildings and recommend improvements. University schools of architecture can be a focus of education and research efforts for both students and practicing professionals. The International Islamic University in Malaysia recently introduced “barrier-free architecture” as an elective subject in its Bachelor of Architecture programme. In addition, the new Kaed Universal Design Unit at the university’s Kulliyyah School of Architecture and Urban Design seeks to:

■  create awareness of design issues for children, disabled people and older people;

■  conduct research and develop new technologies;

■  disseminate information;

■  educate the design profession and the public on design regulations.

Integrated public transport in Brazil

In 1970 the city of Curitiba, Brazil, introduced a modern transportation system designed from the start to replace a system of many poorly coordinated private bus lines. The aim was to provide public transport that would be so effective that people would find little need for private transport. The system was to provide full accessibility for people with disabilities, as well as benefits for the general population from the adoption of universal design. The new system includes:

■  express bus lines with dedicated right-of-way routes into the city centre;

■  conventional local bus routes connecting at major terminals;

■  interline “connector” buses travelling around the perimeter of the city;

■  “Parataxi” vans for door-to-terminal service for those requiring them.

All terminals, stops, and vehicles are designed to be accessible. At terminals used by different types of transport, local buses deliver passengers to the stops on the express bus system. The vehicles are large “bus-trains” – two-unit or three-unit articulated buses, each carrying 250–350 people. These bus-trains load and unload directly onto raised platforms with the help of mechanized bridge plates that span the platform gap. All express bus terminals have ramps or lifts.

Private individuals operate the “parataxi” vans. Originally, these were designed specifically for people with disabilities, as a means of getting from their homes to a station. There was not enough demand, though, to make the vans economically viable on this basis, and they are now available for all passengers.

The Curitiba system is a good example of universal design. It gives a high level of access, and the integrated system of local routes, interline routes, and express routes provides a convenient and seamless means of travelling. The vehicles for each type of line are colour-coded, making them easy to distinguish for those who do not read. Although there are newer rapid-transit systems in existence, lessons can be learned from Curitiba.

■  Even in developing countries accessibility can be provided relatively easily throughout a transportation system if it is an integral part of the overall plan from the start.

■  Platform boarding allows for the convenient and rapid movement of passengers and provides full accessibility.

■  The construction of “tube” stations requires the express buses to stop at a distance from the edge of the platform, to avoid hitting the curved station walls. In Curitiba, the emphasis was on improving the boarding and alighting from vehicles for people with mobility impairments. While certain features help other people with disabilities to find their way around the system, more attention needs to be paid to people with sensory and cognitive impairments.