Leaving No One Behind: Building access – stepping stone to social inclusion for People with Disabilities

February 1, 2022


On the eve of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities we met with Madina Karsakpayeva – a UN volunteer and a specialist in the UNDP global initiative to support talented youth with disabilities. After she was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, Madina discovered first-hand about the barriers and stereotypes that people with disabilities (PWDs) have to confront every day. Such stereotypes play a significant role in limiting their opportunities for social inclusion – when studying, looking for work, interacting with people, even when moving around the city.

A well-known fact – an important barrier is the lack of all-round accessibility. “I call the pharmacy or café before visiting to make sure wheelchair access is available,” Madina said. Every person with some form of disability faces this problem. At the same time, the creation and promotion of a barrier-free environment are relevant for other groups of people such as the elderly, temporarily injured people, and parents with babies in strollers.

The Government of Kazakhstan is taking appropriate measures to ensure equal accessibility to the physical environment and services. In 2015, Kazakhstan ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. In 2019, the ‘National Plan to Ensure the Rights and Improve the Quality of Life of PWDs in the Republic of Kazakhstan until 2025’ was approved. There is a regulatory, legal and technical base that contains all the necessary accessibility requirements at every stage of the construction process when designing and constructing new facilities.

To monitor compliance with accessibility requirements, interactive maps have been created in web platforms that display information about the availability of social and transport infrastructure facilities and level of service availability.

Nevertheless, the general public has no ready access to information on the availability of facilities. The accessibility maps mentioned above do not solve this problem, as they mostly contain information about government buildings and limited data about private organizations. In Kazakhstan, as in many market economies, the private sector provides most services. Therefore, it is very important to audit the accessibility of all buildings nationally and provide a user-friendly tool for information access.

In the quest for solutions, we studied the best practices of other countries. The experience of the Kyrgyz Republic was an excellent example: in 2020, the OSCE, in cooperation with Red Crescent volunteers and 2GIS, implemented a project to create an “accessibility map” in the capital, Bishkek. In one year, more than 3,000 locations were checked for availability. The data was then entered into the 2GIS mobile application database which provides open access to everyone.

2GIS is an international mapping company headquartered in Novosibirsk, Russia, that has been producing online city maps since 1999. According to available data, to date, 2GIS reference maps contain 20, 000 settlements, of which 790 are cities in 11 countries around the world. Their monthly audience exceeds 55 million users, and the service processes more than 20.5 million search queries daily. In Kazakhstan, the company has representative offices in almost all cities.

As an experiment, it was decided to adopt a 2GIS virtual map of Nur-Sultan city, using various data sources: open resources, 2GIS data, accessibility assessment data and citizen-generated data.

The experiment has two phases. The first includes the conduct of a small-scale accessibility assessment of the pilot area and determination of the most important accessibility parameters. The next step - integration with the 2GIS application. During the second phase, it is planned to conduct a city accessibility assessment in cooperation with a public organization, involving volunteers and PWDs. The next step ­­– inputting the complete data to the application.

The assessment of more than 100 sites in the central part of the city along Vodno-Zeleny Boulevard comprised the results of phase I of the experiment. Even though this is a new construction area less than 80 percent of the properties met the accessibility requirements, with only 18 objects classified as accessible. All data was entered into the company profile cards and is now available in the 2GIS Nur-Sultan application.

To raise public awareness of accessibility, special marker stickers were designed and placed on the front doors of organizations that had been evaluated. With the application, anyone can find a selection of "Accessible Environments", which contain more detailed information about each of the 18 companies, or a person one can use the filter "for people with disabilities" to quickly find the right spot.

Our observations follow:

First, the CO and the UNDP social protection support project are playing an important role in the implementation of this initiative. Colleagues with extensive professional knowledge of inclusion and accessibility provided expert advice and guidance. They shared information about the ecosystem, which includes civil society and other organizations working on behalf of the advancement of PWDs.

Building a partnership with a private company that owns the IT product contributes to the sustainability of this initiative. To keep accessibility information up to date, an entire city-wide accessibility assessment must be carried out at least once a year. This experiment will allow building a methodology and integrating primary data, but only a systematic approach will allow this practice to continue to exist. The 2GIS management company has the resources and intentions to make “availability” one of the mandatory criteria displayed in the application in all branches.

It is important to evaluate the entrance facilities first, since access to elevators, bathrooms and other premises is possible only if a person can get inside. Building codes prescribe the parameters of ramps and handrails, their dimensions and heights. However, in practice, we encountered other impediments that prevent free entry. The most common is the presence of objects preventing movement (urns, posters, decorative items), a steep doorstep at the entrance to the building itself, the presence of narrow doors, the slippery surfaces of ramps or closed or steep ramps.

Some accessibility elements are just for show. A good example is a call button located on the facade of a building. This button is important if a person with a disability needs help, for example, to climb stairs. However, in practice, these buttons are either absent or do not work. It is also common to find a ramp designed at an angle of 30-45 degrees, which is not suitable and even dangerous to use.

The next experimental phase will take place from January to June 2022. More informed and inclusive decisions and actions will be made by inviting a diverse range of people and relevant actors to discuss, prioritize and implement ideas. We will cooperate with a public organization to conduct a city-level accessibility assessment of facilities. We also work closely with volunteer and disability organizations. We plan to hold a series of brainstorming sessions utilizing design thinking and collective intelligence tools.
For wider public participation, they will be able to enter accessibility information directly into the application. For broader public participation, we will create incentives for people to enter accessibility information into the application on their own and encourage organizations to make their businesses more open.
We hope that this blog represents another step towards creating a more inclusive and equitable society, one with no place for stereotypes and barriers – a social landscape where "no one is left behind."