Windhoek — Deputy Minister in the Office of the Vice Presidency for Disability Affairs Alexia Manombe-Ncube wants organisations of people living with disabilities to be consulted when standards and norms for accessibility are being developed.
There were 29,505 people living with disabilities in urban areas compared to 68,908 people with disabilities in rural areas, according to the 2011 Disability Report.
She said they should also be involved from the initial planning stage when public construction projects are being designed to ensure maximum accessibility for people with disabilities. She made the remarks when she contributed to the Urban and Regional Planning Bill in the National Assembly last week.
She noted that people living with disabilities are confronted by all sort of barriers, such as the lack of physical environmental access to roads, housing, buildings, more so public buildings, spaces and lack of access to basic services, such as sanitation and portable water.
"Many a times when confronted with limited access to physical environment for people with disabilities, authorities' position is that the fault was in the planning and design stages and that there is not much that can be done; and if anything should be done, the cost out-weighs the benefit."
Further, she said she had personally experienced situations in which the solution offered was to carry her up a flight of stairs. Therefore, she said, the bill could not have come at a better time, saying it was vital to plan for disability inclusion from the outset.
She said more effective and better value for money is ensured when planning from the outset for physical environmental access for people with disabilities, compared to retrofitting programmes (making adjustments to existing buildings to accommodate all citizens).
She motivated that there was a need to initiate measures to remove the obstacles to participation in the physical environment.
The measures, she said, include the development of standards and guidelines and enacting legislation to ensure safe access to housing, public buildings and public transport services, as well as other means of transportation, streets and outdoor environments.
Therefore, she explained the proposed decentralisation of planning powers was a crucial milestone in ensuring that indeed no one is left behind and a huge opportunity for decision makers, planners and communities to redress past imbalances in respect of access to land, land ownership and land allocation.
She highlighted that it was an unfortunate reality that people with disabilities experience higher rates of poverty and are more vulnerable to food insecurity, poor housing, lack of access to land, lack of access to safe water and sanitation, inadequate access to health care, and own fewer assets.
Moreover, she said spatial planning refers to methods and approaches used by public and private sector to influence the distribution of people and activities in spaces in various scale. This involves land use, urban, regional, transport, environmental, economic and community planning.
She said the Urban and Regional Planning Bill is informed by economic and social plans and its objectives are well aligned to redress past injustices.
"Therefore, we in the disability sector welcome it and trust that our contributions are considered for the process of redressing past imbalances," she remarked.