Accessibility is the practice of ensuring that information, activities and environments are usable by as many people as possible.
The aim is to eliminate any barriers to access and enhance user experience, providing equitable opportunities regardless of a person’s abilities.
Article 9 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) articulates the obligations for accessibility.
In order to facilitate independent living by persons with disabilities, appropriate measures should be taken to ensure that persons with disabilities have access to the physical environment, transport, communication and other forms of technologies and systems.
Regardless of whether services are provided in public, private, urban or rural settings, they should be accessible.
It is, therefore, important to note that accessibility goes beyond the physical environment.
For example, a health facility may have ramps and grab rails to facilitate physical access while the negative attitudes of health personnel and high costs of services hinder access.
A number of institutions and service providers have made effort to address the physical barriers and the installation of ramps as a common task, however, barriers associated with attitudes, policy and practice are still to be addressed.
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Other accessibility interventions such as clear signage, good colour contrast, pathways, improved lighting, access to information, managing noise are often overlooked and yet they make a huge difference in promoting accessibility.
Infrastructure, systems and policies that are not inclusive, limit access and hinder the participation of persons with disabilities on an equal basis with others in society.
The National Disability Policy emphasises the need to ensure that buildings, transport, schools, health facilities and workplaces are accessible to persons with disabilities in addition to developing and availing guidelines for the promulgation and monitoring of the implementation of minimum standards for accessible facilities and services.
In order to address the knowledge gap, the policy prioritises the training of stakeholders across all sectors on accessibility issues.
Information, communication, and other services, including electronic devices must be accessible to persons with disabilities at a minimum cost.
Signage in Braille and easy to read and understand forms must be provided in buildings and other facilities that are open to the public.
A commitment to adopt a national plan that outlines provisions on accessibility by 2030 is highlighted in the policy.
Further, there is need to ensure that transport, minor and major roads, pathways and associated facilities are made accessible to persons with disabilities.
While all the commitments may appear as a mammoth task, in the spirit of progressive realisation, in collaboration with stakeholders it is possible to achieve an accessible environment.
There is no perfect environment and resources are limited, however the principles of universal design provide steps on how to improve and achieve an accessible environment.
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities defines universal design as the design of products, environments, programmes and services to be usable by all people to the greatest extent possible without the need for adaptation or specialised design.
Universal design principles
The first principle is equitable use, which requires a design to be useful and marketable to persons with diverse abilities.
There should be no segregation of users hence the design should be appealing to all users taking into account the elements of privacy, safety and security.
Flexibility in use requires the design to accommodate a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.
The design should be adaptable and offer choice in methods of use.
Simple and intuitive use is the third principle where a design is easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experiences, knowledge, language skills, or concentration level. Information should be consistent with user expectations and allow for feedback.
Perceptible information is the fourth principle, where a design should communicate necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities.
Tolerance for error is the fifth principle, where a design minimises hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.
Warnings of hazards and errors should be provided.
The sixth principle is low physical effort, a design should be used efficiently and comfortably with minimum fatigue.
There should be minimal repetitive actions and reasonable operating forces.
Lastly, the size and space for approach and use principle provides for a design that is appropriate in size and space for approach, reach, manipulation, and use regardless of the user’s body size, posture or mobility. All components should be accessed comfortably.
Efforts to promote accessibility should not be sporadic but coordinated and supported by accessibility standards and guidelines.
An example is the construction of ramps in schools which sometimes have steep slopes or the use of sub-standard materials which can lead to accidents.
Accessibility should not be done for the purposes of ticking the boxes but should achieve the desired purpose and impact.
Lack of financial resources is often cited as a barrier for achieving accessibility therefore, accessibility should not be an afterthought but should be included in policies, procedures and the design of programmes which includes the budget.
The use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) will promote awareness, information sharing, training and learning.
The majority of people with disabilities cannot afford assistive technology and are not benefiting.
Research indicates that in most low-income countries only 5-15% of those who need assistive technology have access.
In order to create great user experience, accessibility and usability should be viewed in tandem to achieve a positive impact.
Investment in research should be prioritised to promote the development of low-cost assistive technology and sustainable plans.
The lack of user participation has affected the implementation of accessibility measures.
Persons with disabilities should be consulted and involved in planning and implementation to ensure that there are no challenges or inaccessible content or programmes.
Meaningful collaboration ensures that accessibility measures are cost effective, suitable to the context and purpose.
Community engagement and participation will support monitoring and maintenance for the duration.
No matter how good an accessibility feature is, maintenance is still required.
Compliance to accessibility standards should not be compromised and enforcement mechanisms should be established.
While some accessibility features are seen as an advantage by some people, they can be a necessity for a person with a disability to function and live independently.
For the example, this may include the use of font size modifications or screen readers in technology.
Accessibility should be considered in disasters and humanitarian settings.
People with disabilities are disproportionately affected and struggle to access services and basic necessities during emergency situations.
There are more likely to experience discrimination and exclusion, despite the efforts to adopt inclusive approaches.
Humanitarian standards are more aligned to providing standard interventions, hence effort should be made to empower, humanitarian actors and communities to meet the needs of the diverse populations.
Accessibility and disability inclusion needs to be addressed as part of disaster risk reduction and development plans.
- Tigere is a developmnent practitioner and writes in her personal capacity.
- These weekly articles are coordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, an independent consultant, managing consultant of Zawale Consultants (Private) Limited, past president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society and past president of the Chartered Governance & Accountancy Institute in Zimbabw. - [email protected] or Mobile +263 772 382 852