For the first time in history, an international agreement included not only to set out a plan for global sustainable urbanization, but also a promise to ensure the rights of persons with disabilities to benefit from and contribute to building a more inclusive urban future.
The United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, also called Habitat III, was hosted by the Government of Ecuador in Quito from Oct. 17-21. This is the third global meeting on this topic, and happens every 20 years since 1976. The outcome of the meeting was the adoption of the United Nations' New Urban Agenda. The strategy is a part of the UN’s efforts to provide guidelines for cities and states to achieve sustainable urban development.
In a new move for the Habitat meeting, persons with disabilities were considered to be equal stakeholders in the development of cities -- the issue was even granted a standalone paragraph in the agenda.
"For the first time in history, people with disabilities are seen as equal stakeholders in shaping the future of our cities," said Dr. Victor Pineda, founder of the Global Network for Disability Inclusive and Accessible Urban Development (DIAUD). Dr. Pineda is a global leader on equitable and inclusive urban development, and has worked to ensure that people with disabilities were included in the drafting of New Urban Agenda. DIAUD enhances networking among disability rights advocates, policymakers and government officials, urban development professionals, academia, foundations, the private sector, and development cooperation partners.
The urban agenda outlines standards and goals for urban planning policy in cities across the world – the 193 countries in the UN have agreed to uphold the standards outlined in the framework. It especially addresses smart cities – a relatively recent phenomenon in which cities adopt technology to address urban problems.
As cities increasingly begin to develop their physical and digital infrastructure, people with disabilities, especially those who have difficulty seeing or hearing, are increasingly inhibited from using all the services their city has to offer. Therefore, the intention on including the rights of persons with disabilities in the New Urban Agenda is to create guidelines and tools that specify and enable the adoption of accessibility standards in urban areas.
"We have to ensure that smart cities are also accessible cities", Pineda said. Cities are increasingly deploying innovations in city management, and public services. These innovations include digital infrastructure that if not properly designed could leave people with disabilities and older persons behind.