I believe that access to public space is a fundamental right, and a fundamental freedom. As a person with a disability and one of the few leading urban planners working to promote access and inclusion, I realize how important it is to create partnerships and initiatives that include person with disabilities. These initiatives need to focus on removing unnecessary barriers to public life. In June 2014 during the UN Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities I had the honor to organize a side event on the topic of Accessible and Inclusive Citiesand that event stimulated discussions at the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) as it was highly attended and drew in a large audience of over 70 people.
Over the summer of 2014 we developed a network of supporters and partners and called it the Inclusive Cities Lab (ICL). The Lab is a joined initiative between various partners to promote and facilitate more inclusive and more comprehensive approaches to inclusive urban development.
Last year, In the fall of 2014, I and a few colleagues completed a comprehensive 5 year plan for the City of Dubai. This plan was adopted and is being implemented through cooperative efforts by all government segments in Dubai.
Since then we have visited several countries to explore and document efforts on Inclusive Urban Policies and Programs including France, Israel, Palestine, India, Armenia, and Peru. We completed a study for DESA on Inclusive Urban Development, this study will be published in the inaugural Global Status Report on Disability Inclusive Development. In helping to lead these efforts we were selected to join the World Urban Campaign as associate partners focusing on mobilizing efforts that include the perspectives of people with disabilities and coordinating with UN partners on elevating visibility of the CRPD in the Habitat III process.
Unfortunately the Habitat III process has been very slow to adopt a meaningful response to our demands that universal design be a core pillar or mandate Habitat III process. In April my team reviewed over 73 country reports submitted to the second preparatory meeting to Habitat III and found that no country had meaningfully included a reference to accessibility for persons with disabilities. We raised this issue with the UN Special Envoy for Accessibility and Disability Rights, former president of Ecuador Lenin Moreno, as well as State Department Special Advisor for International Disability Rights, Ms. Judith Heumann. Both have made strong commitments to ensure that a focus on inclusive urban development remains at the forefront of our advocacy leading up to Habitat III.
A key stakeholder in all this work is also the World Bank, our good friend Charlotte McClain Nhlapo has done a fantastic job over the past year in moving a range of activities forward from their Urban and Social team. This past October I had the honor of speaking on “The Power of Inclusive Thinking” at one of the opening sessions of the IMF / World Bank Annual Meeting in Lima, Peru. In addition to other important work, this talk helped ensure that the topic of Inclusive Development strongly represented and included the perspectives of persons with disabilities. This lead to strong commitments by senior staff at the World Bank to ensure disability perspectives are fully mainstreamed and rolled out across all bank activities.
As part of this work, myself and a small team travelled head to Mumbai and New Delhi to support a coalition of stakeholders with the Accessible India Campaign. We connected with leaders in governmental, civil society and the private sector. DPI President Javed Abidi helped convene the top stakeholders in Delhi for a special round table on Urban Accessibility in Delhi on January 20th. The roundtable was partnership with the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment and National Center for the Promotion of Employment of Disabled People. The outcome of the meeting was critical as it set in motion a variety of efforts, including research initiatives at the School of Planning and Architecture and the Indian Institue for Public Administration. The meetings also stimulated discussion with partners at the World Bank and with disabled persons organizations.
Later this year I will be publishing my book "Inclusive Cities" with Palgrave/Springer and a short documentary on the topic of Inclusive Cities completed by June 1st. So the year is busy and exciting. We look forward to working closely with you to realize a barrier-free world and help shape a more inclusive future, because #inclusionmatters.