Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Botswana must address issues concerning people with disabilities

Office of the President Disability Coordinator, Thomas Motingwa, says Botswana, with an estimated 11 percent to 15 percent or (58 716 to 96 125) moderate to severe disability rates, in a population of a little over 2 million, has a lot of catching up in terms of addressing people with disabilities (PwD’s), like access to public transport, buildings, health care, service centres including places of worship.

Motingwa said in the wake of these anomalies by the powers-that-be, PwD’s in Botswana incur additional expenses to achieve standards of living enjoyed by their physically-able counterparts such as costly health care, assistive devices, transport options and special diets, to name a few.

The logic behind having legislation enforcing PwD’s access is that apart from encouraging participation of all stakeholders in the Building Control Act, it promotes their independency, reduces reliance or dependency and promotes empowerment.

The laxity in supportive legislation has also resulted in impeded access to employment, assistive technology and adaptive technology, housing, telecommunications and IT, meetings and conferences and education.

Sensitizing the importance of accessibility to infrastructure for PwD’s during the Ministry of Infrastructure, Science and Technology (MIST) Pitso held in Gaborone last week, Motingwa said: “Accessibility has become an inalienable human rights issue and crucial, especially in our life time, as we all have a form of disability one way or the other. It calls for technocrats in the area to begin thinking outside the box because neglect has negative economic implications. Because very few people remain healthy and able bodied all their lives due to road traffic and other incapacitating accidents, it is important to have in place a barrier free built-up environment and adapted to fulfill the needs of all people. In Botswana, the disabled suffer unmet needs across the health care spectrum in the quest for prevention and treatment.”

Accessibility is very critical, the 2006 United Nations Convention on the Rights of PwD’s, which Botswana has rectified, acknowledges and further stresses that incumbents should be able to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life.

The full travel chain from home to office needs to be made accessible, benchmarking on developed countries models, such as Sweden, where universal design is increasingly being adopted in public transport systems, lifts and ramps for vehicles and visual tactile warning signs, he said.

“What have we done about disability parking space at busy shopping malls and what measures have we put in place for buildings not accessible? For instance, there is need for embarking on an education and awareness campaign on the malice by unscrupulous security making a fast buck by selling free parking space to able-bodied people, reserved for PwD’s at Game City.

“The policy on care for PwD’s also mandates MIST to ensure that all buildings are accessible. The youth should embrace the concept of accessibility, such that at the design phase of all building constructions this is taken into consideration.”

Motingwa said in view of the magnitude of the PwD’s plight, the Office of the President Disability Coordinator, in conjunction with MIST, is conducting an audit of government buildings in preparation for modifications allowing them access and making facilities like elevators and toilets user-friendly. However, when completed, modifications to facilities such as toilets, passageways, elevators and other essential architectural add-ons may take time in terms of a cost-benefit analysis.

The importance of PwD’s access should be best left to research and thereafter implementation rather than the rhetoric of public debates on how to solve the problem. Urban design architectural design considerations should include addressing obstructions, entrances, doors, elevators, platforms lifts, stairs, railings and handrails, corridors and rest rooms, signage, pathways, curb ramps, pedestrian crossings and parking space.

Botswana Bureau of Standards Principal Engineer, Mothusi Ntau, says uniform standardization of architectural design contribute to and protect the rights of PwD’s, among others, in terms of usability, interoperability, compatibility, health and safety.

“Lack of standardization may affect quality of life for disabled people who may have access challenges to consumer products, public transport and buildings if their challenges are not considered at design stage,” said Ntau. “The engineer’s first problem in any design situation is to discover what the problem really is.”

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