In Zhlobin district of Belarus, a public-private initiative improves the mobility of people with disabilities in urban settings.
Posted June 14, 2022
In urban environments, the social and economic activities of people with disabilities often depend on their ability to move freely: to go to work or school, socialize, visit health facilities, shopping centers, and other public places. People with disabilities sometimes live far from public transport stops and therefore depend heavily on external assistance.
Victor Naumenko, Chairman of the Board of the Wheelchair Persons’ Association, an inter-district organization in Zhlobin, has first-hand knowledge about these problems: He has been using an electric wheelchair for more than 15 years.
"People with disabilities often need to visit health care facilities. It is quite hard to organize without special vehicles. But wheelchair people with poor mobility want to go out to attend some events or visit a museum. In Zhlobin, a relatively well-developed barrier-free environment was created for physically disabled people at public amenities, but there is no real opportunity for them to move freely around the city”, he says.
A taxi, not an ordinary one, but an inclusive vehicle equipped for transportation of wheelchair persons, may become a real solution for such situations. “Social Taxi” was born after Viktor Naumenko and Natalia Krupskaya, a servant of the Zhlobin territorial centre for social services, participated in a social entrepreneurship training offered by a business incubator part of the project “Support to Economic Development at the Local Level in the Republic of Belarus” funded by the European Union and carried out by the UN Development Program (UNDP) in partnership with the Ministry of Economy of the Republic of Belarus.
Viktor and Natalia analyzed the target audience and developed a business plan for their social business idea - a taxi for people with restricted mobility. They invited transportation companies, which often provide free transport to people with disabilities, to join the initiative as partners. They did not have funds to purchase a specialized vehicle and winning the contest of entrepreneurial initiatives, organized by UNDP and the Ministry of Economy with financial support from the EU, with the idea of “Social Taxi “AB WAY” helped get funding.
In Zhlobin district, there are 3,000 residents with disabilities. 2,000 of them live in the city of Zhlobin. 474 families have one or two children with disabilities. 18 II World War veterans live in Zhlobin district.
As a result, the initiative participants bought a specialized minibus equipped with an electro-hydraulic lift. A wheelchair person can get into a car unassisted using the remote control. This vehicle accommodates up to two wheelchair users and three companions.
The minibus has two seats for people in wheelchairs, wheelchair fixtures, handrails inside the cabin and passenger seats for companions.
Partners ensure the sustainability of the social initiative: transport companies OOO Polesyetransservice and OOO RelaxGroup provide necessary service and repair of the vehicle and dispatcher's software to accept orders, plan routes and work with the customer base, while thelocal advertising agency Afisha and the Zhlobin territorial centre for social services take care of “Social Taxi “AB WAY” promotion among target groups.
Simultaneously, the entrepreneurs customize the software, collect client feedback and promote their services among the target audience. In the future, it is planned to introduce an individual bonus system for the clients. One of the bonuses will be a free monthly trip to a health care facility or other public amenity.
"Our next plan is to conduct a round table meeting, "City without Borders," where we, with the authorities and representatives of nongovernmental associations and private sector, will inform about the new social service. Longer-term plans include the expansion of the car park and employment of people with disabilities. Our goal is to give people with disabilities the feeling of self-sufficiency, when they do not depend on the help of others, and the feeling of inclusion in economic and social life," says Natalia Krupskaya, coordinator of the “Social Taxi “AB WAY” initiative.
Better mobility and barrier-free access for people with disabilities to infrastructure, services, training and employment opportunities contribute to realization of the National Action Plan to Implement the Provisions of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities for 2017-2025.
“The introduction of a social taxi is a real opportunity to noticeably improve transport services for the region's social groups with poor mobility," says Viktor Naumenko.
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