Tag Archives: accessibility

Oasis of accessibility

Our health and rehabilitation centre in Balukhali refugee camp felt like an oasis of accessibility, after being pushed, pulled, lifted and carried through the sucking mud to get there.

Wheelchair user being helped through refugee camp

Making our way to the CBM/CDD health/rehab centre

The short journey from the main road gave a vivid picture of just how physically challenging this place is, and the fact that I was the only person using a wheelchair is a reminder that many of the Rohingya refugees must spend their lives in or around their homes because of it.

And it’s not all just about physical accessibility. After being shown around, seeing the services being provided (healthcare, rehabilitation and mental health support, as well as an inclusive child-friendly space and home-based rehabilitation to seek out the people who can’t make it to the centre) we held a focus group discussion with people with disabilities from the refugee population. All were happy to have received support here, and several are still coming back for ongoing treatment. But they were quick to describe the issues accessing basic mainstream services in the wider camp, such as food, water and shelter.

About 10 people in a tent, having a discussion

We also held a focus group discussion in the host community, where we are providing similar services to local people living near the camps

A single mother spoke of little consideration being given to the fact her child needs more support than most, meaning she has less time to collect goods; a young man spoke of the terrain meaning he (on behalf of his family) was often last or late to reach distribution points. In situations like this, there are many other barriers, including attitude and awareness of staff and access to information and communication, which mean people with disabilities are routinely missed out.

For this reason, CBM and our partner organisation Centre for Disability in Development (CDD) are approaching the problem from two angles.

At the same time as providing these specialised services that are inclusive of everyone, we are working to positively influence the bigger picture. This means engaging with willing organisations to support them on making their interventions more inclusive too. As part of this work, during my visit, I took part in trainings with staff from International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), and with IOM.

Training session with somebody explaining to a group using a flipchart

CBM/CDD training IOM staff on disability inclusion (focusing on their specific fields of work: Protection, Child Protection, GBV and Counter Trafficking)

In providing such trainings, and ongoing support, we use experience and resources that have been developed from previous responses, and we showcase the inclusive work going on here in Bangladesh. The health and rehab centre is therefore more than just a service delivery point; it’s an example of what is really possible.

Beyond trainings, we are working on the development of inclusive learning centres with UNICEF, home-based rehabilitation with IOM and others, and mainstreaming disability in Oxfam/Care WASH, GBV and food security activities.

This work, with specific agencies, is a very good beginning towards making a significant positive change in disability inclusion. But as well as these formal collaborations, we are also engaging with the wider humanitarian community through the cluster system. Even though my visit was short, I had the chance to participate in two such meetings; one where I hope our intervention will ensure many learning centres will be designed (from the beginning) to be accessible, and another where data on child protection has been agreed to include information about disability (without being counted, there is no way of knowing if children with disabilities are included). These may seem small steps, and are not yet guaranteed to materialise, but would make significant changes in the lives of many people who are currently missing out.

The refugee camps have existed here for over a year. Much great work is being done and the resilience of the people is clear. Although we have a long way to go before aid is reaching everybody, I was encouraged by this visit. The need for inclusion is being recognised on many levels. It won’t happen overnight, and it will be a long time before a camp like this is fully wheelchair accessible, with more than just a few ‘oases of accessibility’, but we are going in the right direction.

What’s behind CBM’s ‘End the Cycle’?

 

The End the Cycle team and local film crew collecting stories in Bangladesh using a human-rights based approach.

Have you ever wondered what makes End the Cycle so unique?

Or perhaps you watched one of our short videos and felt there was something different about it?

We frequently receive feedback that End the Cycle videos are insightful, professional and creative, as well as useful in helping people understand how poverty and disability are linked. Our videos help people understand the importance of including everybody.

But the process along the way to create the great result is also worth exploring – in fact, the way we go about End the Cycle’s work is just as important as the finished product. The foundation of all that we do is our principles, based on Article 3 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The principles inform our plans and guide our decision-making. In this post, we’ll unpack some of the principles and how they are applied in real situations.

Local Ownership:

When a new set of resources is to be developed, a local partner is identified to work on story collection and development. In many cases, this local partner is a Disabled People’s Organisation, or DPO. In some cases, this has been an existing CBM partner who has people with disabilities in positions of leadership. We want the local ownership to be in the hands of people with disabilities. We draw up a contract with the local partner, clearly setting out roles and responsibilities.

We think it is important that a person with a disability from the local partner is in charge of the process. This means that when the film crew is on the ground, it’s the local person who leads the group and has the final say.

Own story, own words:

In the words of Abena, an End the Cycle self-advocate from Ghana:

“Someone wearing the shoe knows very well how tight it is, how painful it is inside. But because you are not wearing the shoe, you can’t talk for me. So it is better you give us a chance to talk for ourselves.”

This principle relates to the central and consistent role of people with disabilities in defining and directing their own goals. Telling their own story in their own words keeps the person in control of how they are represented. This means ensuring participants understand End the Cycle’s plans for the resources and that consent to be a part of the project is genuinely informed. Later, when videos are being edited and creative elements added, drafts are sent back to participants to check they are still happy with how they are being portrayed. At any stage in the process, or even after the videos are finished, participants can intervene to make changes or even withdraw from the project.

Once everyone is happy, the videos are shared through our global networks, getting the self-advocate’s message out into the world.

Accessibility: increasing all the time

All reasonable measures are taken to ensure End the Cycle resources are accessible to all people. We aim to leave no one behind!

This is an area we always consider and our resources have become more accessible over time, as we learn and grow. At present, key accessibility measures include:

  • All videos are sub-titled
  • Latest videos also have international sign captioning on-screen, as well as audio-description alternative versions
  • Our website can be switched between English, French or Spanish, and many videos are also available in these languages, as well as some in Arabic
  • All documents are available in Word and PDF versions
  • The website has been designed with accessibility in mind and meets AA standard

Accountability

We are committed to being accountable to the people who have shared their story with us. For this reason, we have clear Terms of Use so that anyone who downloads an End the Cycle video is aware that the story must not be edited or changed in any way, without us checking with the person in the story. The Terms of Use state clearly that stories must not be retold or modified, and that photos cannot be used without the story, giving the context that the person provided.

 

What do you think of these principles? Could they be applied to all story collection in the international development sector, or is there more we could do to raise the bar on a rights-based approach? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

Send an email to contact@endthecycle.info or check the full set of stories here.

Dhaka, disability and disaster risk reduction

As I sit here amidst the honking of horns of the Dhaka rush hour, I take the chance to reflect on some of what I’ve seen over the last few days…

Sandwiched between the Himalayas and the Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh is a disaster-prone land. Glacial and rain-induced flooding, cyclones and earthquakes are some of the hazards that it’s exposed to, so maybe it’s no surprise that the country is taking a leading role on the global disaster risk reduction stage. Specifically, the Dhaka Declaration, adopted last week at the Dhaka Conference on Disability and Disaster, is a two-year plan with strategic action points that will help shape governments’ Disaster Risk Management (DRM) policy in line with the Sendai Framework.

But enough jargon – what does all this mean in practice?

After the conference, I had the good fortune to escape the motorised jam of the capital city and visit some project work being done by our partner Centre for Disability in Development with Gana Unnayan Kendra in Gaibandha, in the north of the country.

yellow fields

Mustard fields in winter (dry season)

Deceptively tranquil, with fields of bright yellow mustard and rice paddies at all stages of growth (apparently the fertile ground can provide up to four harvests per year), this region is often affected by severe flooding. To avoid significant loss of their harvests, livestock and indeed their own lives, the local people need to be prepared.

The measures that are being taken are impressive, providing a seamless framework that starts at the local communities and links with government bodies. They reflect the ‘people-centred’ approach called for by Sendai, but also, in line with the Dhaka Declaration, they revolve around the inclusion of persons with disabilities in leadership roles, and have had some stunning results so far.

From exclusion to respect

The highlight for me was probably meeting what is known as the ‘Apex’ body, a group of disability leaders from local self-help groups who come together (I think they said bi-weekly) to plan their advocacy towards inclusion.

Led by Kazol Rekha, some of their greatest successes to date include:

  • increasing access to disability allowance by influencing the ‘open budget’ procedure (this action also allowed other more marginalised people to participate, proof if it is needed of the value of disability inclusion to the wider community)
  • creating an increase in the provision of assistive devices (including mobility tricycles and white canes)
  • and, on a practical level, having the local social services office moved from the (inaccessible) second floor to the ground floor
A young woman wearing traditional Bengali dress

Shirin – “I work to make sure other children do not miss their schooling as I did”

Shirin, one of the many female members of the group, has a learning disability and had very limited opportunity to attend school, but captured the mood of the moment perfectly:

“I was excluded, people did not give me respect; but now they are curious and want to know where I’m going and what I’m doing. I work to make sure other children do not miss their schooling as I did”.

Badsha Mia, another member of the group said “​I cannot imagine the changes over last two months: trainings, meetings… when people stop to talk they talk with us first; previously I felt limited as someone with a disability, but now no longer.”

So how does this link to DRR for all?

People, including a wheelchair user, seated cross-legged in a group in a public event

Kazol Rekha (in red) leading disaster management discussions during mock drill event. Kazol is also receiving training, to allow her to support people to learn their legal rights.

These people are not only personally empowered, but are positively affecting their community approach to resilience. We met the sub-district executive officer, who – with sincerity and a real understanding of inclusion – opined that “good human society brings marginalised people into the mainstream”, while highlighting the need for data on disability and access in infrastructure.

We attended a ‘mock drill’ organised by a school. This theatrical event drew hundreds of local people and depicted the process of community preparedness and response to flooding.

Early warning messages were given in various formats (ensuring they can be seen, heard, understood by all) and similarly, persons with disabilities, women and older people – often forgotten – were active throughout the decision-making and evacuation procedures.

It was impressive to see, and what sticks in the mind is that children (including children with disabilities) were centre-stage, providing invaluable foundations for future resilience.

The ‘last mile’

A man holding a red flag

A Ward Disaster Management Committee member explains their accessible early warning system

Back to real life, we met with the Union (Council) and Ward (more local level) Disaster Management Committees. These meetings were brief but powerful. The Apex body of persons with disabilities have representation with strong influence here, showing how the last mile between government and community can be covered.

This ‘last mile’ concept is easily exemplified by the community planning and preparing their own (accessible) early warning system, which includes coloured flags and audible messages.

And it was clear to us that the other committee members appreciate the value of inclusion – the secretary of the Union committee chairperson closed by saying that she is “waiting for the day when someone like Kazol is in her position“.

The way forward from Sendai

Schoolchildren (including wheelchair user)

Children learning about inclusive DRR during mock drill

There was much more, including visits to examples of income generating activities and accessible flood-prone housing, but the final message that is worth sharing, which was echoed by several of the groups we met, is that they know their work is changing their world but they want it to change THE world.

Following their example and implementing the Sendai Framework using government-endorsed papers like the Dhaka Declaration will do just this.

 

Dhaka Declaration – Disability-inclusive Sendai implementation

 

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.