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, paraplegic people in a wheelchair meet insurmountable barriers in daily life on three levels.
Dirt roads, high curb stone edges on sidewalks, 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, Rwanda has adopted laws and regulations related to persons with a disability:
- Rwanda building control regulation, adopted in 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.
Also, the country has Building Control Regulations published by the Rwanda Housing Authority in November 2011. Yet in its introduction 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.
However, reality in Rwanda is 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, the become unserviceable due to ignorance and non-sensitization of constructers as shown below.
The problem of accessibility and barrier-freedom gets again worse when looking for accommodation as in the country, until today, there does not exist any accessible private house meeting international standards for paraplegic people 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 hardly needed because, besides the described physical barriers, there are especially mental ones that 4BF Inzu wants to challenge.
The barriers paraplegic people in Rwanda meet on the social level are at least as high as the physical ones. People being in wheelchairs, especially young ones, still struggle with radical exclusion of social life and with prejudices. It is due to the non-barrier-free public space why wheelchairs are not often seen on the streets in Rwanda what provokes an alienation and ignorance in society towards people e.g. suffering from paraplegia. A barrier-free house for Mechack with an public inclusive space 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 and raise awareness. Our house (Inzu) will become a symbol of breaking physical and social barriers.
The two levels where paraplegic people in Rwanda meet huge difficulties (physical and mental barriers), lead to a third level where they experience almost total exclusion: the level of career and economics. Mechack as many other paraplegic people in Rwanda could not pursue his studies since being wheelchair-bound due to inaccessibility of education institutions and financial issues. Also, companies in Rwanda are not easily accessible with a wheelchair what leads to a high unemployment rate for people with physical challenges in the country. However, there is one fast developing economy sector that can be accessed whether with or without a physical challenge: 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 add a modern technology hub with a little café-bar to the newly constructed house, also meeting international standards not only in barrier-free construction but ICT-requirements.