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Barrier Freedom

In Rwanda today, there is still a long way to go – and to roll – in raising awareness about the topic of accessibility for people with a disability. Currently, people in a wheelchair meet insurmountable barriers in daily life on three levels that 4BF Inzu tries to bring to the attention and break down.

Physical barriers

Dirt roads, high curb stone edges on sidewalks, only stairs leading to public institutions, restaurants and shopping centres, narrow elevators not allowing an independent use of a wheelchair, non-existing public transportation for wheelchairs and other physical barriers in daily life automatically lead to exclusion of people with a physical challenge in Rwanda.

However, the country has adopted laws and regulations related to persons with a disability:

  • Rwanda building control regulation (March 2009), Edition 1; Sub-section 3.3.15: Facilities for persons with Disabilities.
  • Law No. 01/2007 of 20/01/2007 relating to the protection of disabled persons in general:
    Chapter VI: Rights of disabled persons in matters related to transport and communication and access to infrastructure;
    Article 25: Public buildings are required to be built in a way such that they facilitate disabled persons to acquire access to services.

Additionally, in the country’s Building Control Regulations (Rwanda Housing Authority, November 2011), the importance of adjusted facilities for people with a disability as for aged persons, pregnant women and children who all profit from an easier accessibility of public space is displayed:

Facilities for persons with disabilities in public buildings are important and necessary because of the following main reasons:

  • They are human beings and they have right to access public
  • They don’t need permanent assistance because they can live
    independently especially in public areas
  • They are our clients, partners, sometimes our counterparts,
    friends, brothers ,sisters, relatives, etc
  • Once planned and installed, the cost is worthy as the facilities
    increase the value of the building after construction.

Also, detailed instruction for accessible buildings are mentioned: ramps, signposting, parking and lift facilities etc.

Download the whole booklet by Rwanda Housing Authority here.

However, reality looks different: Most of the already existing buildings are not accessible, new constructions such as Kigali Heights respect international accessibility standards but already the pavewalk in front of it is too high to overcome with a wheelchair. And often, if the requirements are formally fulfilled, they still become unserviceable due to ignorance and non-sensitization of constructers as shown below.

APARUDE / College de Bethel

The issue of accessibility and barrier-freedom increases looking for private accommodation as there does not exist any accessible residential house meeting international standards for wheelchair users in its equipment and construction. Therefore, an independent life for people with a condition like Mechack is not possible neither in private nor in public space.

Though, especially awareness in public is badly needed because, besides the described physical barriers, there are especially mental ones that 4BF Inzu wants to challenge.

Mental barriers

The barriers wheelchair users in Rwanda meet on the social level are at least as high as the physical ones. PWD, especially young ones, are confronted with radical exclusion of social life and with prejudices. It is due to the non-accessible public space why wheelchairs are not often seen on the streets in Rwanda what consequently leads to more alienation and ignorance in society towards people e.g. suffering from paraplegia.

The planned socio-economic fully accessible hub in Nyamta and barrier-free model residency for wheelchair users in Bugesera District could change this on a small and perhaps later bigger scale as it would bring the topic into daily life of people with and without disability in the area and raise awareness. Our house (Inzu) will become a symbol of breaking physical and social barriers.

Economic barriers

The two levels wheelchair users in Rwanda meet difficulties on (physical and mental barriers), lead to a third level where they experience almost total exclusion: the level of career and economic opportunities.

Many wheelchair users in Rwanda can not pursue studies since being wheelchair-bound, the inaccessibility of education institutions becomes a major issue. This also applies to companies which are not easily accessible with a wheelchair. Consequently, the unemployment rate amongst people with physical challenges in Rwanda is relatively high and many of them meet huge financial issues.

However, there is one fast developing economy sector that can be accessed  in a wheelchair too: the ICT sector.

Yet, also the newly founded, growing technology hubs in Kigali do not meet inclusive standards. Still, the Internet remains one of the biggest barrier-free studying and working areas where people with physical challenges can access and enter a career. This is why we will plan a modern technology hub with a little café-bar in Nyamta, meeting international standards not only in barrier-free construction but ICT-requirements.