“An inclusive and accessible city is a place where everyone, regardless of their economic means, gender, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual identity, migration status or religion, is enabled and empowered to fully participate in the social, economic, cultural and political opportunities that cities have to offer”. (World Bank, 2015)
Till date, there is enough evidence and debate on the fact the persons with disabilities experience isolation, neglect and segregation and one of the key reason for this is non-inclusive and inaccessible environments (CSO Parallel report to the Committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, 2019). Such environments restrict the participation and opportunities available to persons with disabilities as a result of which they are wrongly perceived as non-contributing members of the community and thus often forgotten while planning, designing, budgeting, implementing, monitoring and maintaining infrastructure.
However, having ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), Indian government recognises accessibility as a human right and a precondition for older persons and persons with disabilities to live independently and participate fully and equally in society. Furthermore, having adopted of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the New Urban Agenda and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, there is a clear mandate of leaving no one behind, provide a critical opportunity for communities (cities, towns, villages, neighbourhoods) to shape a more inclusive and accessible urban future for all.
Giving legislative strength to its global commitments, the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016 requires that all publicly or privately run community services must be inclusive and accessible to persons with disabilities. Giving emphases on the need to accomplish it the Committee on the Rights of persons with disabilities in its concluding observations directs the government to “ Implement sections 40–46 of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016, on accessibility, by taking a cross-sectoral approach, requiring all ministries engaged in public infrastructure to address accessibility in all planning and implementation processes with an appropriate time frame, budget, monitoring and evaluation, in order to improve accessibility, especially in rural areas, and involving persons with disabilities through their representative organizations at every stage”. The committee further directs the government to ensure that all goods, services or works procured through public tenders must adhere to accessibility standards and enforce accessibility in public transport services and information and communication services.
The World Organization of United Cities and Local Governments has drafted a Policy paper on inclusive and accessible cities in 2019 in consultation with different stakeholders from across the globe. The following policy document provides priority actions for local and regional governments and other urban stakeholders to build cities for all by structuring policies around non-discrimination, participation, accessibility, inclusive urban policies and programs, capacity development. According to this document in order to create a more inclusive and accessible urban community the local governments including the municipalities must:
- Develop a system for involving of persons with disabilities in all urban development transformations in the planning, designing and monitoring.
- Have specific measurable indicators to monitor inclusion in the design of urban planning policies and strategies
- Have a strategy to develop inter-agency coordination at the municipal, state-wise and national level on inclusion, accessibility.
- Empower policymakers, urban planners, service providers and designers on universal design by raising their awareness and understanding of inclusion and accessibility such that they can advance inclusive urban development.
- Develop a common understanding of accessibility and universal design, including standards amongst all stakeholders including training for students and professionals.
- Ensure inclusive and participatory budgets and financing mechanisms to implement inclusive urban development policies and strategies
- Generate inclusive and disaggregated data to better identify persons with disabilities in society and the specific barriers they encounter to access to public services.
- Ensure sustained commitment by the local government leadership on inclusive urban development.