UNACCESSIBLE SPACES: Do we need a different approaches

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The construction sector is bouncing back. After the paralysis following the earthquakes, a tour around the Valley will show you its resurgence: from international hotels to new midsized commercial building, new buildings are coming up and at very fast speed, proving that the investors do mean business and have no time to lose.

Sadly many of these new constructions have not been planned to be disable friendly implying that physical barriers will prevent persons with physical disabilities from using them, depriving them from their rights, including, the one to “shop”.

For example just few meters from Jawalakhel roundabout, the brand new shop of an international chain selling makeup products that was recently inaugurated, is totally inaccessible being the entrance few steps down the road, meaning that customers with physical disabilities are not allowed to access the complex.

With the exception of Labim Mall, the majority of new buildings ignore not only the universal rights of persons with disabilities but also their constitutional rights.

While the disability community is waiting with anxiety the approval of a new disability law by the Cabinet, what is truly shocking is the fact that the existing law on disabilities already has provisions to ensure that, all new buildings for public or commercial use, must be accessible and disable friendly.

I am afraid that even a new bill, whenever it will be enacted, might prove to be totally ineffective in improving the living conditions of persons with disabilities in the country.

Persons with disabilities have been struggling for their rights the world over. The revolutionary Americans with Disability Act, ADA, probably the most comprehensive piece of legislation in matter of disability, was achieved only after decades of court battles and non violent protests, including occupying even for short the Congress.

Only working through incremental “wins “and by combining an hybrid approach that at the same time challenged the unequal and unjust status through legal suits and street protests, persons with disabilities succeeded to have in place the best possible piece of legislation not only defending but also asserting, unequivocally, their rights.

Something similar is happening in the European Union these days with disability activists from all around the member states, strongly pushing for a European Disability Act that is aimed at creating one single piece of legislation legally bound throughout the Union, replacing the currently existing fragmentation of laws in place in the state members.

The Act is specifically focused on extending the rights of persons with disabilities in different sectors like services, covering products like ATMs, smart phones, ticketing machine and, very strategically, the entire transportation sector across the European Union that means the way planes, trains, buses and ferry or cruising boats are accessible to persons living with disabilities.

On March the 6th, a vast coalition representing the civil society from across Europe, disability organizations and other not for profit organizations, organized a public demonstration, Accessibility? Act! outside the European Parliament, right in the middle of the European Quarter, the decision making heart of the Union.

The protesters are not happy with a draft of the Act proposed by the European Commission, the executive body of the Union.

In a classic “European” compromise among the member states, the Commission offered a diluted version of the Act that is still too far from meeting the expectations and the real needs of European citizens living with disabilities.

In a statement, the European Disability Forum, one of the biggest platforms representing the interests of 80 million citizens with disabilities issued a statement, calling on the European Parliament broaden the scope of the legislation by including all products and services such household appliances and hotels and ensuring that new law can be taken into account by any other common legislation. 

The Forum also demands not to exclude micro, small and medium-sized enterprises from applying the Act while calling for strong implementation system.

The demand shows the level of ambition and thoroughness of the European citizens asserting their rights.

Probably there will be more demonstrations in the coming days if a specialized technical committee of the European Parliament in charge of the legislation will not change its position and rewrite the draft.

While in countries like USA and in the state members of the European Union, the difficult part lays in the enacting a set of legislation supporting the rights of persons with disabilities, in countries like Nepal with a weak rule of law, the challenge is not only in lobbying the Government for a stronger and better law but also and this is the trickiest part, in ensuring its enforcement.

With this a consideration on the way forward to ensure that any new public and commercial constructions can abide to the existing legislation.

It is probably the high time the disability community in the country, already a strong advocate for the rights of persons with disabilities, adopt a new strategy that combines the legal pathway together with a stronger, louder forms of pacific protests on the streets.

While doing workshops and organizing forum of discussion is always important and not per se a waste of money and resources, while filing legal suits in the Supreme Court like has been done in the past will remain key, probably we need to be a bit more confident and vocal to spread the message for a more inclusive Nepal across the society.


One idea would be to gently let the owners or the tenants of upcoming commercial buildings that are not disable friendly, know about the existing legislation in matter of disability.

We could start with public accessibility audits, followed by roundtables explaining faults in the compliance.

We do not need, at least not right at the beginning, to demonstrate loudly outside their shops and complex but simply we need to nudge them towards compliance.

After all a constructive but at the same rights ‘asserting dialogue should always be the first step to pursue.

Only if this method does not bring any result, we should grow louder but always in a pacific and not violent way.

Obviously media can play an important role in amplifying the needs of more inclusive urban spaces in the country.

At the same time, a firmer right based approach should be used with the local authorities in charge of giving the permission of new building that are infringing the law.

It is high time the public servants take the rights of persons with disabilities seriously and this time persons with disabilities should show no tolerance towards the incessant abuse of their rights.

Position: Co -Founder of ENGAGE,a new social venture for the promotion of volunteerism and service and Ideator of Sharing4Good

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