Good Practices of accessible urban development – reporting from the UN Habitat III in Ecuador

The Zero Project is present at the UN Habitat Conference in Quito. Read a report about our activities!

Tom Butcher, Zero Project Representative, reports from Quito, Ecuador, about Habitat III and the presence of the Zero Project.

The Zero Project Participates in UN DESA High Level Forum on Disability Inclusion and Accessible Urban Development held at Habitat III and introduces UN Publication “Good Practices of Accessible Urban Development”

Michael Fembek and I are here in Quito for UN Habitat III. This is the UN’s Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (held every 20 years) that is going to set the agenda, entitled the New Urban Agenda (NUA), for future global urban development.

Because of their great importance for persons with disabilities, ensuring not only that inclusion and accessibility are integral to the NUA (http://habitat3.org/the-new-urban-agenda), but also that policy makers are aware of the issues involved, and the availability of solutions, have been of paramount importance.

Whilst our friends at DIAUD (http://www.disabilityinclusivedevelopment.org/diaud-network) have been signally successful in ensuring inclusion of the rights persons with disabilities within the text of the NUA, we at the Zero Project have been playing our part in helping make people aware of the fact that there are good practices already out there that address and promote inclusive and accessible urban development.

Part of what we have been doing in this respect has been to help Akiko Ito, Eric Zhang and their team at UN DESA – long friends of the Zero Project and, indeed, champions of what we do – produce a book (published by the UN to coincide with Habitat III) entitled “Good Practices of Accessible Urban Development – Making Urban Environments Inclusive and Fully Accessible to All” (http://www.un.org/disabilities/documents/desa/good_practices_in_accessible_urban_development_october2016.pdf)

Our contribution was to provide examples of a number of such practices, practices that have also been named Zero Project Innovative Practices, roughly two thirds of the 24 Good Practices that UN DESA decided to include in the Report.

Whilst there are too many of these to discuss here, we are really happy that some of them are here in Quito with us. Last night Michael and I were happy to meet up with Michal Rimon and Rani Benjami of Access Israel whose innovative practice “Help me helps you: accessibility of public services” is included in the publication.

We are also here with Agathe Bogacz, whose civil society initiative “Q8: One Quarter for All” is included in the publication. The news of Q8 being present in the UN Report made headlines in Hamburg, and made it to cover pages and TV News.

This conference is HUGE. Over 40,000 participants have been registered. It’s really not all that easy, therefore, actually to meet up with the people you want to see. And things have not been made any easier by both a less than efficient wi-fi set up for the event and a queue in which I had to stand some four hours yesterday just to get in to the event site. (Michael jumped it very effectively and took only an hour as he had to speak at an event. Sadly he missed the event, but was actually able to speak with the UN’s Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. So that was a good outcome. I, however, have now got a very sunburned bald patch!)

So you’ll now understand when I say that as of to-day, Tuesday, we have still to meet up with Delilah Bee Abdullah from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia whose action plan towards Kuala Lumpur as accessible city is another wonderful innovative practice included in the UN publication.

So, on Sunday, before the formal start of the conference, Akiko Ito, Eric Zhang and their team organized (in the face of many logistical challenges) a truly excellent high-level forum on Disability Inclusion and Accessible Urban Development in the newly-built bamboo UN Pavilion here.

One of the most interesting issues discussed at the forum was Universal Design. Sitting in the café after the event, we learned from Jutta Treviranus of OCAD University of Toronto (another of the Good Practices of the UN Report) more about her radical rethinking around Universal Design that has inspired so many already, including Microsoft. Jutta had had time only to touch on this during the Forum.

Michael was assigned the equally challenging task of acting as the forum’s rapporteur for the concluding Session. Certainly not an easy job, Michael was able to sum up all the speakers’ many points clearly and precisely (with a rainstorm beating on the bamboo roof overhead) in just 10 minutes. Most important, however, he was able to tell the forum’s invitees not only a little about the Zero Project, but also to introduce them to the UN publication to which we, the Zero Project, had contributed. (You can find this online at www.zeroproject.org/downloads)

It has been a great honor for the Zero Project to be invited both to make this contribution and to be invited to participate at the forum. Michael and I both much enjoyed it and, from our discussions afterwards, he and I are quite sure that there is so much more that we and DESA can do together to promote the rights of persons with disabilities. Maybe we’ll even be asked back to speak at Habitat IV. But since, by then, I’ll be over 80, I’m not that sure I’ll be there!

We’re here for the next three days and will be sure to report back again on anything of interest.