According to the World Bank, in 2016 54% of the world population lived in cities. The urban population is expected to grow at the rate of 1.84% per year between 2015 and 2020. Persons with disabilities, which take up about 15% of world population, are also part of the growing urban population. This is why many international policy initiatives are starting to include access to cities for persons with disabilities in their development agenda. For example, in Goal 11 of the Sustainable Development Goals, there are direct references to “persons with disabilities” in terms of access to public spaces and transport systems. These policy initiatives that include persons with disabilities are indeed a sign of progress for the field of international development. But not all policy initiatives have made the same progress. For example, in “Inclusive Cities” published by the Asian Development Bank in 2011, although it states that one of the goals is to improve “urban environmental infrastructure development… to serve the poor and the vulnerable,” persons with disabilities are not directly included in “the vulnerable.” “Slums” seem to be the keyword connected to “the vulnerable” and not “persons of disabilities”. It is important that we reflect on why there are such differences between policy initiatives and how we can ensure inclusion of persons with disabilities in future initiatives.
One important factor that leads to omission of persons with disabilities in policy initiatives is that persons with disabilities don’t have access to the discussion table. The UN Sustainable Development Goals are able to have direct references to persons with disabilities because those who are affected by the goals participated in the process of policy-making and made an impact on the final document. Inclusion of major groups and other stakeholders should be regarded as a requirement for future international convention. Some may argue that there are too many physical and logistical difficulties to try to include diverse groups, especially persons with disabilities whose ability to travel is limited. Luckily, there are some tools invented to solve these issues. The Disability Inclusive Development (DID) Policy Collaboratory developed by the Institute on Disability and Public Policy is a tool that will allow persons with disabilities to participated in governance processes at all levels virtually. Governance institutions at different levels can only build truly inclusive cities by including representatives of all urban dwellers. With technological advances, persons of disabilities will have more and more opportunities to voice their opinions and make an impact on policies that will affect them.
It seems that despite these obstacles, a truly multi stakeholder process is gaining traction in these international bodies. Your mention that this should be a requirement is very interesting. What do you think is the potential for this being implemented?
Also, in regards to sustainable urbanization, it seems that the international community is trying to be a lot more proactive in building sustainable infrastructure for vulnerable populations. Do you think this could have a larger impact on the conversations about persons with disabilities instead of being retroactively building in rights like most of the policy we see?