Enabling environments is one that offers a rich, varied, and safe space in a setting in which individuals can thrive and function to the best of their capabilities. The World Health Organization (WHO) records that there are over a billion persons in the world who are living with disabilities and this makes up about 15% of the world population. Aiding the development of these enabling environments has turned out to be a very important contribution to be made by health organizations and the government, as neglecting them either affects the participation and inclusion of individuals in the ecosystem or completely mar the contribution and addition that is to be seen. The focus of this piece would be to put a magnifying lens on fostering these environments for persons living with disabilities. The term environments in this context strive to cover the physical, communal and attitudinal aspects for development as these three key areas are interconnected and lack of improvement in one of these areas will render other developments a futile effort.

The World Health Organization (WHO) champions the call for fostering enabling environments for persons living with disabilities as it initiated programs that seek to define disability as the relationship between persons with disabilities and their environment. It declared the year, 1981, the International Year of disabled persons, and celebrated it with several programs, research projects, policy innovations, and recommendations. On 3rd December 1982, the General assembly went further to ensure the effective follow up of the International Year by adopting the World Programme of Action concerning Disabled persons. The Programme brought about restructuring the aforementioned programs into three areas which are rehabilitation, equalization of opportunities, and prevention. 

For communal and attitudinal aspects which is to make sure that persons living with disabilities get the right amount of care and support they need in the society and get equal opportunities as said earlier. The government needs to find a way to integrate them into the society by properly sensitizing schoolers and adults on the fact that persons with disabilities are humans who need all the love and care they can get as it can be seen that these barriers have majorly been caused by ignorance, indifference, and fear. Some of the other initiatives that can be inculcated include training of workers in general fields such as public health, medicine, social assistance, education, and vocational rehabilitation. Laws should also be made to prevent discrimination in workplaces and societal groups.

Some of the pertinent issues that need to be addressed in the physical environment include increased access to public places such as roads and buildings, provision for public transportation, and access to information and proper communication channels. Lack of entry to these facilities can exclude people living with disabilities from participation in everyday life and make them dependent on other individuals. These have posed as a major source of discouragement for some disabled people living in highly developed countries too. For increased access to public places such as roads and buildings, the agencies must attach importance to developing effective policies, increase standards, enforcing the laws and regulations, and monitoring. The basic features of access in new construction should include the provision of ramps, safe crossings across the street to access entries, an accessible path of travel to all spaces, access to public amenities, such as toilets. In most countries, accessibility standards have evolved, especially in the domain of public accommodations. A country such as Brazil, have extended their laws to private businesses that serve the public. In new construction, full compliance with all the requirements of accessibility standards is generally feasible at 1% of the total cost. Making older buildings accessible requires flexibility, because of technical constraints, and the number of resources available to owners. Expanding the scope of buildings covered by laws and standards after introducing the first stage of accessibility may be a better approach than trying to make everything fully accessible. For developing countries, a strategic plan with priorities and a series of increasing goals can make the most of limited resources. Policy and standards in the first instance treat traditional construction in low-income rural areas differently from other types of construction – focusing, perhaps, on ground-floor access and access to public toilets. For pedestrians, the major innovations that should be incorporated are lower first steps, better interior and exterior handrails at entrances to buses, priority seating, improved lighting, raised paved loading pads where there are no pavements, the removal of turnstiles.

Provision for public transportation provides independent access to employment, education, health care facilities, social and recreational activities. Without accessible transportation, people with disabilities are more likely to be excluded from services and social contact which can lead to depression and more discomfort for the individuals. Increased access to public buildings and roads is beneficial for participation in education and civic life, the labor market, health care, and other important facilities needed for people with disabilities. Express bus lines with dedicated right-of-way routes into the city center, Conventional local bus routes connecting at major terminals; Interline “connector” buses traveling around the perimeter of the city, “Parataxis” vans for door-to-terminal service for those requiring them. Lifts or ramps on all transit vehicles a raised pad at a bus stop with ramp access, making it easier for someone with mobility impairment to enter a bus, helping visually impaired and cognitively impaired individuals find the stop, and improving the safety of all those waiting for a bus, real-time information on waiting times, smart cards for fare collection, gates, and ticketing, visual and tactile warning systems at the edge of platforms – or full safety barriers along with the entire platform, railings, and posts painted in bright contrasting colors, audible signs to help people with visual impairments find gates and identify buses, web access to real-time information about accessible routes and temporary obstacles, such as a lift out of order.

Lack of access to information and proper communication channels affects many disabled people, individuals with communication difficulties such as hearing impairment or speech impairment, are at a significant social disadvantage, in both emerging and advanced countries. People with intellectual impairments need information presented in clear and simple language. People who have severe mental health conditions need to encounter health workers who have the communication skills and confidence to communicate effectively with them. Non-speaking individuals need access to “augmentative and alternative communication” systems and acceptance of these forms of communication where they live, go to school, and work these include communication displays, sign language, and speech-generating devices.

 According to World Health Organization (WHO) estimates, in 2005, around 278 million people worldwide have moderate to intense hearing loss in both ears This disadvantage is particularly experienced in sectors where effective communication is critical such as those of health care, education, local government, and justice. Disabled individuals who have hearing difficulties need speech-reading, assistive listening devices, and good environmental acoustics in indoor settings. Deaf and deafblind people use sign languages but the need for multi-lingual education in sign language and the national language, as well as sign language interpreters, including demonstrative or hands-on interpreters. About 314 million people around the world have impaired vision, due either to eye diseases or uncorrected refractive errors. Of this number, 45 million people are blind. People who are blind or have low vision require instruction in Braille, and adequate equipment to produce braille materials, and access to library services that provide braille, audio, and large-print materials, screen readers, and magnification equipment. 

The burden of fostering enabling environments for persons living with disabilities lies on the shoulder of humanity and this comprises people across all races and cultures with no gender bias. The essentialism attached to this cause cannot be overemphasized as persons living with disabilities have a lot to contribute to society and deserve a good life like every other human. The onus lies on individuals, governments, non-governmental organizations, and health organizations to develop effective policies and create enabling environments such as better nutrition, education, housing, improved sanitary conditions, and adequate primary healthcare for these persons.

Ajewole Emmanuel is a student of the University of Lagos with great analytical, oratory, and people skills. He is passionate about making societal impacts and the Director of Growth and Retention for Junior Chamber International University of Lagos chapter.

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