In Belarus road traffic crashes are a leading cause of disability. It is forecast that if no measures are taken, the number of road traffic crashes will only increase and by 2030 will have become the seventh leading cause of death and disability. As such, people with disabilities are also more vulnerable on the roads, as highlighted in the WHO World Report on Disability “people with disabilities are at a higher risk of non-fatal unintentional injury from road traffic crashes”, meaning that, in addition to preventing road crashes from occurring in the first place, more care and understanding needs to be taken to address the specific requirements of disabled people as road users to ensure their safety and rights are met. In 2016, EASST partner, the Belarusian Auto Moto Touring Club (BKA), surveyed over 1000 disabled people and their carers across Belarus in order to identify the needs, desires and problems they face as drivers, pedestrians and public transport users in order to address this important issue.
Problems disabled people face as drivers
The project found that among the top problems faced by disabled people as drivers is winning the right to drive at all. Indeed, the survey found that 54 per cent of people with congenital disabilities have faced problems getting a driving license due to restrictions set by the Ministry of Health. Interestingly, it was identified that those who set these restrictions often have little to no driving experience themselves, do not have a driving license and have little understanding of the effects of congenital disabilities.
For those respondents who do drive, parking was reported as a significant barrier to their mobility. Many complained of a lack of parking spaces designated for disabled drivers and/or a lack of enforcement of designated spaces, which are frequently occupied by mobile drivers. Some respondents also highlighted that the lifting gates allowing access to car parks, in many instances, do not leave enough time for disabled people to go through.
One of the main concerns reported by over 60 per cent of respondents included driver behaviour and the attitudes of other road users. Several respondents reported incidents such as other drivers over-running or cutting across their cars, which are marked with a ‘disabled persons’ badge, as well as some occasions where they had been subject to derogatory remarks from passers by.
Problems disabled people face as pedestrians
As pedestrians, 90 per cent of those surveyed with locomotor impairments reported difficulties in using so-called facilities for disabled people at walk-through tunnels and bus stations as well as highlighting issues with the general road environment, such as the absence of ramps near steps and the height of kerbs. Of those respondents with visual impairments, 50 per cent reported problems with the high number of cars that park in their yards and on the roadside which cause problems when leaving their houses and crossing the road. While, a common complaint among those that suffer from brain injuries was the short duration of traffic lights in allowing people to cross the road safely.
Social attitudes were again perceived as one of the main problems faced by disabled pedestrians, with 30 per cent of those with sensory impairments reporting that they often find it difficult to ask others for assistance when out and about, stating that most people seem indifferent when they see a person with disabilities having trouble.
Problems disabled people face as passengers
The accessibility of public transport is a crucial issue for people with disabilities, and one that seriously restricts their mobility. Indeed, the BKA survey revealed that at least 78 per cent of those with locomotor impairments had faced problems with getting in and out of public transport vehicles and taxis, as very few buses and trolleybuses have ramps or grab-handles to help with accessibility, while the passages between seats in many rote taxis are too narrow for wheelchair users. Trams were determined to be the least accessible form of public transport with underground trains deemed the most accessible, despite the fact that not all underground stations have lifts or ramps for wheelchair users.
In addition, of those respondents with visual impairments, 22 per cent reported problems with indistinct ‘stop’ announcements on board buses, trolleybuses and trams. While 18 per cent of those with hearing difficulties reported feeling disoriented when faced with inactive electronic displays.
Sixty-seven per cent of those surveyed highlighted that when using public transport, seats reserved for disabled people are often occupied leaving them feeling particularly vulnerable and increasing their risk of being injured as a result of overcrowding and pushing.
As a result of these survey findings the BKA have set out the following recommendations related to road infrastructure, public transport accessibility, driver behaviour and public awareness to improve mobility and reduce the road risk of disabled road users.
- Installation of ramps at the entrances to hospitals, shops, universities and other public places
- Adjusting traffic lights to allow disabled people enough time to cross the road, as well as making all traffic lights sound assisted
- Areas where a lot of deaf or blind people reside should be marked with special signs for drivers to be careful and slow down
- Expansion of car parks, designating more spaces for disabled drivers and tightening the laws prohibiting others to park here
- Introducing tactile and colour-contrasting pavements to assist blind and visually impaired pedestrians wherever possible
- Applying good quality paint on roads, making zebra crossings more visible for people with visual impairments
- Tactile and lower kerbs at crossing points for people with locomotor and visual difficulties
Public Transport accessibility:
- Equipping public transport vehicles with ramps and grab-handles as well as installing lifts at all underground stations
- Increasing the number of seats specially designated for disabled people
- Increasing of the frequency of public transport routes in order to reduce overcrowding on public transport
- Ensuring clear announcements are made for all stops along transport routes and that electronic displays are always in working condition
- Increasing the number of social taxis in circulation that are especially designated for disabled people
Driver behaviour and public awareness:
- Driver awareness campaigns to build better understanding of the challenges faced by disabled pedestrians, drivers and passengers
- Roads should be regularly checked for their compliance with disabled people’s needs
- Regions where a lot of deaf or blind people reside should be marked with special signs for drivers to be careful and slow down
- Broadcast social videos on public transport and on TV to raise awareness and encourage people to consider their actions
Improving road infrastructure and public transport accessibility are long-term objectives, but the most urgent action – as highlighted in the survey results – is to change social attitudes towards disabled people in Belarus. The BKA’s project is one way in which this is being achieved, as in addition to conducting this survey, they have also produced a public awareness video demonstrating the daily struggles faced by disabled people on the roads and encouraging people to show more consideration in helping vulnerable road users. Watch their video here.