Inclusive Kyiv: Situation with disablility accessibility in Ukrainian capital

Author : Iryna Shostak

Source : 112 Ukraine

According to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Ukraine undertakes to ensure and promote the full realization of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities without any discrimination on the basis of disability. In particular, to take all appropriate legislative, administrative and other measures for the implementation of the rights recognized by an international treaty. However, what the situation with the implementation of the Convention today actually is, can be analyzed on the example of the capital, namely its convenience for various population groups.
10:34, 12 March 2019

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Article 9 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which was ratified in 2009, states that states parties of the treaty must provide persons with disabilities with the opportunity to live an appropriate life and ensure access to the physical environment, transport, information and communication as well as facilities and services, on an equal basis with others. That is, all barriers that impede accessibility should be removed, because such problems as lack of ramps, elevators, lifts, tactile plates and Braille tablets make it impossible to feel self-sufficiency and equality alongside other people without similar problems.

Unfortunately, Ukrainians demonstrate indifference in relation to the limited mobility population and people with disabilities. People forget that such problems can arise for everyone, and the trauma or natural birth of a child and aging make each of us potentially immobile. And only when they themselves feel injustice in the attitude the problem becomes actualized.

Considering the issue of accessibility in the world, people are increasingly moving away from the medical perception of the problem, talking about its social aspect - inclusiveness, universal design. The principles of universal design were found to solve the problems of the entire population, without dividing people along different lines. In Ukraine, this practice is only beginning to develop and is already faced with many problems. One of the most significant is that people do not know about their rights, so they do not ready fight for them, prompting changes. Every citizen of Ukraine in accordance with the Constitution of Ukraine, the State Building Standards of Ukraine, the Law on the Basics of Social Protection of Persons with Disabilities in Ukraine have the right to unhindered access to social infrastructure. If there is no access, the project manager of Center for Social Action, Olena Bondarenko advises to act: from negotiations with the companies themselves to going to court. The right to go to court is enshrined in a number of legislative acts and international obligations. This applies to the formation of neighborhoods, design, construction and reconstruction of objects of the physical environment, as well as enterprises, organizations and individuals - entrepreneurs engaged in transport services to the population.

Other difficulties are the problems of distrust to the judicial authority of Ukraine and the complexity of litigation for an ordinary citizen (lack of knowledge, time, and money). But we should not forget that there are elements outside the court proceedings, such as: posts on social networks, exchange of opinions, appeal to the media, petitions. After all, unfortunately, as long as people will accept the failure to meet basic needs, government officials will remain silent, thereby slowing down Ukraine’s development.

Inclusiveness of the Ukrainian capital

Kyiv, as the capital, would have to show good results in fulfilling the conditions of accessibility of all services and benefits for every citizen of the country. But according to the results of the all-Ukrainian municipal survey of 2018, we can conclude that the capital is almost not adapted not only for people with certain visual, hearing and musculoskeletal disorders, but also for the limited mobility population.

For example, if we talk about the Kyiv subway, which is considered a convenient transport and helps the people of Kyiv to avoid a lot of traffic jams, for some people it becomes a real problem, which forces them to choose land-based travel options.

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The metro map indicates that 12 of the 52 stations are equipped with elevators and lifts: 3 stations on the green metro line; 3 on the red line; and 6 on the blue line. It is believed that at these stations everything was done for the organization of comfortable and equal use of the subway by all citizens of the country. At first glance, this is true: some stations are not only equipped with elevators for convenient movement, but also their platforms covered with tactile tiles, which tells you where to stop.

But is it really possible to talk about the real security and availability of other stations for people with limited mobility? Indeed, according to the people of Kyiv, some elevators at the stations do not work, moreover, they are being opened only at the request and not for everyone.

If this problem can still be resolved by bringing the subway employees to responsibility, then doubts arise as to the convenience of the lift and the stations themselves. Volodymyr Vysotsky, an expert on architectural accessibility, co-founder of the ORFO universal design studio, notes that the Kyiv subway is not designed for dramatic changes according to the universal design concept, because 20 stations from 52 are deep-placed stations (their depth is more than 20 m). Therefore, it is worthwhile to follow the construction projects of new stations to ensure that the projects comply with the requirements of state building standards for accessibility and convenience of new underground stations for every citizen.

Ground public transport also raises doubts about the readiness for the safe transportation of people with various disabilities - about 90% of transport is absolutely not prepared for people with limited mobility. The problem with low-floor transport could be solved by the construction of a high-speed tram, however, in order to get to some stations, passengers first need to go down to purchase a ticket, and then - to go up again to the station itself. In particular, such manipulations must be carried out in order to get to a number of stations of the Borschagivska tram line. Most of the platforms at the stations are not tiled with tactile tiles. However, the reconstruction has not changed the situation with lifts and elevators, which for various reasons do not work. For example, the lifts of the station "Vaclava Havela" still do not work after the attack of vandals, and the workers of the station "Polytechnichna" shrug their shoulders, saying that there is a lift, but there is no operator who would work with it.

Low-floor buses with retractable ramps could also make life easier for certain groups of the population if all the drivers drive up close to the sidewalk; stops would be built at the same level; the roads would be  without bumps and holes, and most importantly, if these ramps would be really used and not just installed. Speaking on the topic of retractable ramps in buses, many people of a low-mobility group immediately have a question about another problem that prevents them from getting into the salon: how to do this in a wheelchair or with a wheelchair when there is no conductor and the driver responsible for lowering the ramp cannot leave the wheel? As an option, experts advise in future to make a retractable ramp automated (it should be lowered using a certain button) or to explain to citizens how to do it with their own hands using instructions. Then everyone can help each other.

Returning to the topic of ground movement, it is worth noting that even small bumps on the roads, curbs and holes can become an obstacle to the movement of people with disabilities.

Speaking about the problems in creating an accessible environment for people with visual impairments, Voloymyr Vysotsky, an expert on architectural accessibility, co-founder of the universal design studio ORFO, notes that tactile plates, which are currently not in compliance with the standards, can be replaced with different types of paving stones. After all, people with visual impairment are guided precisely by the sound of a cane. According to the expert, the role of tactile strips in the street space can be performed by a curbstone, a lawn, a footpath, which on one or two sides have different textures from standard materials, combined coatings of different types and paving colors. The main thing is the tactile and color difference between the coatings. If we talk about traffic lights, then in most cities of Ukraine there are already modern traffic lights with sound signals for warning, also for blind pedestrians, the Ukrainian inventors have developed a special audible beacon that works using an application on a smartphone or a small remote with batteries. The application interface is adapted for users of any age, and when activated, various models of beacons are able to sound the color of the traffic light, the number of vehicles, to inform about the status of the system. For fans of atmospheric movie screenings in cinemas, special film screenings are held as part of a project on the adaptation of films for people with visual impairment, where the audience is informed about what is happening on the screen through an earphone (audio description).

Last year, a government "hot line" for citizens with hearing impairments was opened, where people can appeal to executive authorities via Skype. However, despite the fact that in Ukraine about 223,000 people speak exactly in sign language and the state, according to the law of Ukraine "On Language", has committed itself to promoting the development of Ukrainian sign language to communicate with and between people with hearing impairments, only a few Ukrainian TV channels use it.

Accessibility of buildings and structures according to the State building code

State building codes ensure that persons with disabilities and people with limited mobility have the opportunity to travel to the desired place of arrival as conveniently as possible. They contain not only the norms for building ramps, laying tactile plates, the arrangement of parking spaces, entrances and paths to buildings, but also the service areas for visitors in public buildings and facilities, which should be equally accessible to all groups of the population. And although there are clearly written norms on paper, which are created in order to provide real relief to persons with disabilities, due to negligence and unwillingness to spend money on the improvement of institutions and facilities, they are often not-fulfilled. For example, the importance of having a button to call staff at the entrance to the pharmacy is mentioned. However, in fact, we see something quite different. Call buttons are only available in around-the-clock pharmacies, which are mostly located too high for a person in a wheelchair.

The issue of accessibility and universal design also applies to private owners, because any entrepreneur must obey the laws of the state in which he conducts his business. Project Manager, of the Social Action Center Olena Bondarenko notes: "If a person is made to feel different, because of barriers, this can limit certain rights (for example, limit access to services that should be accessible to all). This indicates a possible discrimination. According to the law "On the principles of preventing and combating discrimination in Ukraine", the prohibition of discrimination applies in all spheres of public relations, and therefore applies to private companies, just like other laws, such as tax rules. "Therefore, a number of articles protect the rights of citizens and regulate equal treatment and equal rights for all visitors or buyers. Therefore, all public institutions, regardless of the form of ownership, must comply with the norms, which is now mostly not happening. The solution to this problem may be to toughen the responsibility for non-compliance with the laws and Ukraine’s Building Code  in the form of fines, media coverage and a court sentence to remake the object.

There are also positive examples that make you think about the fact that equality and accessibility are not idealization of society, but a reality towards which we should strive. As Olena Bondarenko notes, in addition to ensuring accessibility in the world, there are requirements for training personnel to work with clients with disabilities, implementing equality policies in relation to customers and personnel, and making information available to companies, etc. For example, in the Canadian province of Manitoba, there is a law on accessibility for all residents of the province. It regulates not only architectural accessibility for its citizens, but also fosters equal treatment of everyone in accordance with the Human Rights Code (Manitoba). And the Warsaw metro is equipped with special relief lines that show where the platform ends and how to find the elevator and the exit from the platform.

Ukraine is trying, step by step, to catch up with the more developed countries in this regard. In particular, the National Museum of Taras Shevchenko has been reconstructed, and now special alternative excursions are held there for people with disabilities, and guides and interpreters are available in sign language. There are special tactile paths, for a limited mobility population, normative ramps with a small angle of inclination and handrails, elevators.

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The Bogdan and Varvara Khanenko National Museum of Art offers art therapy programs for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, as well as guided tours for people with visual impairments, noting that contact with art is a therapy that can change life UNIT.City IT-park, according to its name, creates free space for uniting people: roads are marked, clear signs, electric parking, parking places for people with disabilities, open spaces and ramps with elevators - everything that makes talented professionals sphere accessible to any group of the population.

City cafe "Harms" offers visitors the Braille menu, the institution also takes care of a limited mobility population, arranging the space so that the person on the wheelchair feels comfortable. Ukrainian McDonald’s restaurants also offer Braille menu to the visitors with a visual impairment.

Mystetsky arsenal and art factory Platform adapted for people with disabilities - free space, ramps and the lack of curbs greatly facilitate movement. Also on the territory there are several "quiet zones" where people with mental disabilities can spend time.

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And, despite the fact that it is thanks to the public, caring people who unite and contribute to the actualization and solution of many important issues (in particular, the community friendly for parents and kids and the community of the restaurant Urban Space 500), museums, libraries and other institutions are improving and becoming accessible, but it is up to the public authorities to monitor compliance with the law and respond to complaints of violations, developing strategies to ensure accessibility with private companies. After all, it is still problematic to get to the inclusive library, museum or catering facility for people with disabilities.

Problems in the sphere of ensuring the availability and comfort of life for people with disabilities and people with limited mobility require urgent solutions. Each of the problems is a good opportunity — a base from which to begin. It is necessary to analyze the experience of other countries and catch up with them - without waiting for the introduction of changes at the state level, we must begin the changes from ourselves. People need to realize that they have the right to a quality life, and can demand it, talk about what they need, find like-minded people, become more attentive to each other, cultivate morality, education and tolerance.

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