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To Enable or Disable? That’s the Question in Transport Projects

Chris Bennett's picture
Most of us are familiar with Benjamin Franklin’s observation that “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”  For many of us, we could also add physical disability. The World Bank has estimated that about 15% of the world’s population experience some form of disability during their lifetime, and up to 190 million experience significant disability.
Persons with disabilities, on average as a group, are more likely to also experience adverse socioeconomic outcomes than persons without disabilities. They tend to have higher poverty rates, and be isolated from societies. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) framework includes seven targets which explicitly refer to persons with disabilities and six further targets on people in vulnerable situations which include persons with disabilities.
We in the transport sector have an important role to play in helping ensure inclusive development and mobility by removing access barriers. Recent work done in the Pacific Islands provides us with a relevant set of tools which we can be readily applied on our projects to achieve this inclusiveness.
Barrier-Free Accessibility vs Universal Design
There are two important concepts when considering accessible transport systems: 
  • Barrier-Free Accessibility (BFA) refers to the minimum requirements that are needed to ensure a piece of infrastructure is usable by people with disabilities or, more broadly, that people with disabilities can move about in the built environment. While this does not necessarily mean that everyone is able to have active and full participation, it is a good contribution towards making this possible.
  • Universal Design (UD) is a higher standard than BFA and generally needs more consideration to achieve what is required. It ensures that everyone can move seamlessly from their accommodation into the community (and beyond). It involves being able to move along footpaths, use public and private transport, and be in a position to interact with other people and patronize community facilities in order to attend to day-to-day needs and contribute to the society as a whole.
While UD should be an ultimate goal in transport projects, for many developing countries systematically introducing BFA is already a major challenge. However, by including UD considerations in project screening, the awareness of areas where accessibility could be improved will be increased.
Accessibility Challenges in the Pacific
Through the ‘Pacific Region Infrastructure Facility’ (PRIF), a multi-donor trust fund, we found, for instance, that donors were approaching accessibility differently. PRIF arranged for a regional project to review the status of accessibility features in the aviation, land transport and maritime sectors. The challenges and barriers of transport users were assessed on 12 projects in Kiribati, Niue, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Tuvalu. The project was supported by the Pacific Disability Forum, the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, country governments and Disabled Persons’ Organizations.
The project, funded by various donors, was unique insofar as it financed visits to all countries by two persons with disabilities. With the support of local authorities and disability organizations, they visited firsthand the aviation, land transport, and maritime infrastructure. Based on these visits and dialogs with the local communities, they identified a range of challenges faced to persons with disability in accessing transport infrastructure and participating fully in their communities.
Putting Theory into Practice: Screening Tools
The study report of the project presents ‘Accessibility Screening Tools’ (AST) for screening transport projects. The AST allow projects to be objectively rated with regard to their level of accessibility in proposed project designs, construction work underway, or existing infrastructure. At each stage, when the AST are used correctly, the assessor will be able to determine the extent to which Barrier-Free Accessibility and/or Universal Design are achieved.
The AST are checklists that are designed for separate application to aviation, land transport and maritime infrastructure. The checklists allow an individual to audit any infrastructure from arrival to gaining entry, relying on signs for way finding, and connecting to various associated services. They allow the user to systematically check the provisions that are required and whether they have been correctly applied or compromised.
Designed as an Excel workbook, the AST compute an overall BFA and UD score, allowing projects to be graded. There are workbooks for aviation, land transport, and maritime investments. The AST can be downloaded from
The checklists are divided into several categories for each type of transport infrastructure. These categories specify ‘Target Areas’ for compliance and implementation. For example, road footpaths have the following target areas for consideration:
  • Footpaths or walkways are firm, level and slip resistant;
  • Crossfalls or cambers across footpaths are not steeper than 1:50;
  • No obstructions or undergrowth (e.g. posts, grass or trees along footpath);
  • Clear width of at least 1500mm along major footpaths and 1200mm for non-trunk footpaths;
  • Where at-grade footpath is provided, vehicular and pedestrian spaces are clearly differentiated and demarcated;
  • Height of raised footpaths is between 150mm and 225mm; and
  • Raised footpaths have kerb ramps with gradient not steeper than 1:12 at both ends.
  • Footpaths with clear width of at least 1800mm (to allow comfortable passing of wheelchairs, single and double prams, market trolleys, etc. to pass each other).
In Closing
Transport is about 20% of the Bank’s lending portfolio and also one of the sectors with the greatest opportunities to addressing accessibility and inclusiveness. It is not difficult—we just need to ensure that accessibility considerations are included in the terms of reference for designers, and need to use checklists such as the AST to confirm that it’s actually been done, and done correctly.
The marginal cost to the projects of providing accessibility is negligible, but the impact on those with disabilities enormous.

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