The Zero Project participates in “INCLUSION” Aerial Human Art, attends the Persons with Disabilities Stakeholders Roundtable and presents at a side event organized by the World Future Council on “Regenerative Cities: the Impact of Inclusiveness and Accessibility”.

Last week Michael Fembek and I were in Quito for UN Habitat III. You may have seen my last piece on the Zero Project site describing our first couple of days in Ecuador. To put things in context for those of you who missed it, Habitat III was the UN’s Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (held every 20 years) that after nearly a week of plenary sessions (and associated meetings) 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 were integral to the NUA, but also that policy makers were aware of the issues involved, and the availability of solutions, were of paramount importance.

Our friends at DIAUD (the Global Network on Disability Inclusive and Accessible Urban Development) were signally successful in ensuring inclusion of the rights persons with disabilities within the text of the NUA, and we at the Zero Project also played 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.

When I last wrote we’d not yet made contact with Dalilah Bee Abdullah from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It was, therefore, with rejoicing (and a degree of relief) that we met up with her on Wednesday afternoon. Her journey had not been easy (over 20 hours) and hadn’t been made any easier at its conclusion when her hotel said it had cancelled her room. However, some justifiable strong words ensured that she was with us for the requisite (and booked) number of nights.

No sooner had we met up than she, Michael, Agathe Bogacz, and I helped around 300 others to create a unique live aerial human art project entitled INCLUSION: A Vision for Unity which made history at the United Nations Habitat III.

We were all given umbrellas of blue, yellow, and orange. The creator of the piece, the famous American artist John Quigley (Spectral Q), then had us sit on the ground at the El Arbolito Park Fountain (which was, needless to say, turned off) with our umbrellas above our heads.

Those with blue umbrellas were arranged to spell out the letters INCLUSION across the middle of the fountain (a large circular paved space out of the middle of which (when on) the water shoots up into the air). Two arcs of yellow umbrellas, above and below the letters, represented the sun. And, finally, a number of people with orange umbrellas represented rays of light radiating from the sun.

It really was quite a feat of organization. It took well over an hour and all the participants were kept engaged not only by a local band, but also by Dr. Victor Pineda, President of World ENABLED, who exhorted us in English and Spanish to follow the instructions we were being given and have fun!

By the time the photos had been taken by two aerial drones, the event had drawn in diplomats from the United Nations, the US embassy, the Canadian parliament, and Zambia; five speakers;

Ms. Quito; academics and students from local universities; over 20 children; and 170 umbrellas – my blue one of which is now hanging in a closet in the hall for this year’s New York winter.

Of all the sessions attended on Thursday,  the Persons with Disabilities Stakeholders Roundtable held at the end of the day was far the most important one. Whilst we all faced the challenge of a room with the most atrocious acoustics, I believe we all benefited from both the excellent question and answer sessions (very adeptly moderated by DIAUD’s Derrick Cogburn) and some very revealing comments from attendees. Of the questions, one concerning where panelists saw the greatest challenges with the NUA was particularly interesting. And from amongst attendees’ comments, the lack of awareness of the existing rights of persons with disabilities obviously continues to be a major issue.

I think, though, that everybody who was there, would agree that some of the contributions from panelist Toshiya Kakiuchi were amongst the most interesting we heard. At only 27 years old, Mr Kakiuchi, who was, in 2014, elected as one of the top 100 CHANGEMAKERS in Japan by the Nikkei Business magazine, is CEO of Mirairo Inc., a company in Japan that provides consulting services in the field of universal design. His enthusiasm, determination and energy were just amazing. Google him and check him out: he’s truly an inspiration.

On Friday morning, Michael was able to describe briefly some of the work of the Zero Project at the side event (organized by the World Future Council) entitled “Heading Towards Regenerative Cities: the Impact of Inclusiveness and Accessibility”.

Perhaps more importantly, though, both Agathe and Dalilah were also able to present their work to the attendees of the side event. With their concrete examples of innovative practices from Germany and Malaysia, I believe we all got a very good idea of what can actually be done when determination and creativity co-exist.

I think Michael would agree with me that, not least from the Zero Project’s perspective, our attendance at Habitat III was most fruitful. But I also believe that, in our small way, we were able to help keep persons with disabilities, together with their rights and needs, before those who are (and will be) responsible for planning our urban environment for the next 20 years or so.