Author Archives: Benjamin Dard

Benjamin Dard

About Benjamin Dard

I am the CBM Technical Advisor for Accessibility, providing technical expertise on universal accessibility on an International level, focusing on the built environment in a development context. Prior joining CBM, I completed a Master’s degree in Urban Planning at the Urban Planning Institute of Grenoble and the Royal Institute of Technology Stockholm. I worked 3 years with CBM in Haiti developing a long‐term accessibility program in collaboration with governmental bodies, INGOs, and NGOs.

Awareness comes first and it is not about the fridge

Global Accessibility Awareness Day

Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) is celebrated this year on May 21. It was launched in 2012 by Joe Devon, a Los Angeles-based web developer, and Jennison Asuncion, an accessibility professional from Toronto. It started with a single blog post and rapidly became a worldwide event, attracting people who have an interest in raising awareness about digital accessibility and inclusion.

‘Relatively, there isn’t a lot of great information about accessibility out there’ said Joe Devon in his call to the community of web developers to make web sites accessible. His observation on the need for accessible digital environments mirrored the thoughts I had during the course of my own accessibility-related work with CBM in areas of transportation and the built environment: ‘the amount of readily available information is relatively poor when it comes to implementing universal design principles, particularly in low-income countries’.

My experience in Haiti

When reflecting on Global Accessibility Awareness Day in practice, I can’t help but recall a fridge in Haiti. In 2012, I attended an exhibition where architects from different countries displayed model houses that could be the basis for large-scale reconstruction. My objective was to see if accessibility had been taken into account in the designs.

Unsurprisingly, none of the houses were accessible except for one, which featured a ramp to the kitchen. I complimented the designers for considering persons with low mobility but asked why the kitchen would be the primary access for a person in a wheelchair.

“No, no,’ they replied, ‘the ramp is for the fridge, not for persons with disabilities.’

Everybody in the accessibility community has a similar anecdote to share. Aside from the laughs they might generate, stories like my fridge remind us of the obstacles that keep environments inaccessible to persons with disabilities. It also reminds us of the continuous advocacy work that needs to be done on a constant basis to make sure that accessibility does not slide off the agenda.

Why is accessibility an important issue?

Accessibility should never be a secondary priority or a convenient benefit. Accessibility should be seen as something that affects everyone, in every profession, and recruiting these people into the accessibility community through their vested interest would benefit the accessibility community with their passionate perspectives and innovative ideas because accessibility is innovative by definition.

Accessibility looks at creative solutions that answer the question of diversity in human nature. Neil Marcus defined that “Disability is not a brave struggle or ‘courage in the face of adversity.’ Disability is an art. It’s an ingenious way to live.” By designing for this diversity and this ingenuity, we can create things that are more functional and more user-friendly for everyone.

Philippines typhoon (2013 Nov) - 2014_04 - HIS Cheryll

A family poses outside their shelter in the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan

Link between accessibility and universal design

Accessibility is the essence of Universal Design: designing products and spaces so that they can be used by the widest range of people possible. We could play with words and argue between experts as to why and how accessibility is different from universal design. Semantically, accessibility refers to standards while universal design is a philosophy of design, but in the end, both aim to include everyone’s abilities and needs and bring back the users into the heart of the design.

Universal design is a process rather than a goal. The success of implementation will largely depend on user participation and the availability of technical support, which is the sum of capacity building, development of tools and methodology, gathering evidence (best practices) and knowledge sharing.

On that same analogy, accessibility is more than just a collection of norms. Norms and standards are important but do not guarantee successful implementation of accessibility in the field. To be successful, accessibility must engage with women, men, girls and boys with disabilities from the design phase to the end. It sounds obvious but too often, they have a limited voice in the design process.

What happens during emergencies?

The recent earthquake in Nepal reminded me of the importance of universal design as well as the right to safe egress. Egressibility means that, in case of an emergency, occupants have the ability to leave a building or safely reach an area of safety. Persons with disabilities face extra challenges to evacuate, which was highlighted at the April 2015 Fire Safety for All’ Conference. This conference essentially reviewed worldwide fire safety practices and identified an urgent need to revise fire safety practices for persons with disability. The Dublin Declaration on ‘Fire Safety for All’ in Buildings was a product of this conference, highlighting that accessibility design criteria must be incorporated into all of the practical, day-to-day work of building designers and especially in the development of project-specific fire engineering design objectives.

Designing for all does not always involve complex manuals or extreme technologies. During our last Community Based Rehabilitation / Disability Inclusive Development meeting in Bangkok, a Disabled-Persons Group of people with learning disabilities (Change) demonstrated how to communicate emergency and evacuation procedures in a few words and pictures. They showed us how accessible information communicates the message to everyone, whether you have learning difficulties or speak a completely different language.

Once accessibility becomes part of your environmental awareness, it becomes obvious and natural to design for everyone. Accessibility is not a favour to a target group. It should remain one of the core values of the architect, the designer, and the developer who offer services and products to the general population. In the absence of appropriate or any legislative and regulatory frameworks in certain countries, advocacy and information sharing become key tools at international and local levels to encourage changes in perceptions and priorities. These tools can be used to convince government authorities and international agencies to place disability on the international agenda and in the budgets of humanitarian assistance.

Walking the talk on accessibility

It has been already three days since the world conference on DRR has started. It is such a chance to be part of this event together with my CBM colleagues. I am really glad that key messages on disability inclusion have been very well heard and received. The work that has been done on advocacy around disability inclusion is fantastic and I feel very privileged to be here with CBM and see the significant steps are currently being taken by governments towards greater inclusion of persons with disabilities into disaster risk management.

I have to say: CBM’s team and the Disability caucus group are doing an amazing job in promoting inclusion of persons with disabilities and universal design principles. Since my field of expertise focuses on accessibility to digital and built environments, I did my best to support them by raising the importance of universal design in different working sessions and public events. I had the opportunity to meet with important international agencies working on urban resilience and private companies such as Google involved in the field of information technology.

Today, CBM and the Global Alliance on Accessible Technologies and Environments (GAATES) are presenting best practices on universal design and inclusive disaster risk reduction. Accessibility is an important contribution to safety in the event of disasters and emergencies, such as a fire in a confined area. Not only do barrier-free environments promote access to public buildings and information, but it also lowers everyone’s risk in the event of a disaster (for example, making early warning systems accessible to persons with hearing impairments, creating wide escape routes, covering open manholes, and removing tripping hazards on roads and footpaths; posting written and pictorial routes to assembly points).


Alt="Valerie Scherrer, Gordon Rattray, Benjamin Dard, Luke Purcell, and me"

From left to right: Valerie Scherrer, me, Luke Purcell, Elizabeth Lockwood. Centre- Gordon Rattray

CBM did not only introduce key messages on disability inclusion and universal design but also shared key publications to support implementation. For instance, the recent publication made by IFRC in partnership with Handicap International and CBM and entitled ‘All under one Roof’ provides important guidelines for disability-inclusive shelter and settlements in emergencies.

Another recent CBM publication provides 16 minimum requirements for building accessible shelters. These tools are important and indispensable to help other organisations to include disability and accessibility in their disaster response programs.

In two days it will be time to leave Sendai. This conference will remain an important milestone and represent a significant step towards inclusion of persons with disabilities in disaster risk reduction process. What has been achieved in Sendai will serve our work for the next coming years. Now we all look forward translating the post-2015 framework into practice! Let’s walk the talk!

Watch this short video where I speak about universal design and accessibility.


International Summit on Accessibility : From Intention to Action 12-15 july 2014, Ottawa, Canada

Benjamin Dard speaking at the International Summit on Accessibility, Promoting universal accessibility for an inclusive reconstruction in Haiti, Ottawa, July 14th 2014.

Benjamin Dard speaking at the International Summit on Accessibility, Promoting universal accessibility for an inclusive reconstruction in Haiti, Ottawa, July 14th 2014.

After the Summit on Inclusive Disaster Risk reduction in Manila, I am now attending a new Summit in Ottawa about innovative practices in the field of accessibility. It has been a great conference so far. We are more than 500 hundred attendees. I had the opportunity to participate and also present some of the work that CBM has done in Haiti.

I was invited to introduce how CBM and its partners have been tackling universal design issues in a low-income setting after the earthquake. Sharing challenges, opportunities, and best practices with the audience was a chance to promote the work we have accomplished and also sensitize the participants on how to build sustainable universal design practices in countries where resources are limited. This is very different from the Canadian context, where the level of accessibility is astonishing! Seeing some of the work that has been done in the Canadian context made me realize how much we have really accomplished in a low-income setting like Haiti, despite the barriers. A tip of my hat to the hard-working team and partners in Haiti and, through this conference, I hope I have brought them the recognition they deserve for their work.

During these past two days, I’ve seen really interesting projects from around the world. A panelist from Uganda, who was presenting during the same session as myself,  shared with us a locally sourced mobility aid: a ‘two in one’ wheelchair, that can be a bicycle and also a wheelchair. With this device, it gives a person with low mobility an opportunity to travel long distances by using the ‘bicycle’ mode and then changing it into a wheelchair to attend school. It also gives women the opportunity to transport their goods and their children to marketplaces.

International Summit on Accessibility, exhibition booth, model of a convertible wheelchair for people with disabilities in rural Uganda by CanUgan (July 14th, 2014) More info at

International Summit on Accessibility, exhibition booth, model of a convertible wheelchair for people with disabilities in rural Uganda by CanUgan (July 14th, 2014) More info at

With two days remaining in this conference, I’m looking forward to other innovations in accessibility that will be presented. What I really appreciate is the shared vision of universal design and accessibility- not just with respect to the built environment, but also taking into account ICT and issues like transportation. This has been a great opportunity to remind other participants about the increased vulnerability of people with disabilities in post-disaster and emergency settings and the necessity to include universal design, no matter what the context. It has also been an opportunity for me to realize that sensitization about accessibilty needs to target everyone, including donors, who play a strong role in realizing the implementation of accessibility and universal design… or in other words, those who help bring ‘intention to action’.

Accessibility in Disaster Risk Reduction – explaining the ‘why’

Hi from the Philippines again, where time is still flying!

My next blog is going to be about how to practice inclusion, after I conduct some trainings with partners here today and tomorrow. So I thought it would help if I first explain ‘why‘ accessibility is so important in Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR).

Makes sense I hope? Continue reading