Then and Now: Champions for disability rights for a more inclusive environment in Belarus
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.
The project found that among the top problems faced by disabled people as drivers is winning the right to drive at all. For those respondents who did drive, parking was reported as a significant barrier to their mobility. However, one of the main concerns reported by over 60 per cent of respondents included driver behaviour and the attitudes of other road users.
As pedestrians, 90 per cent of those surveyed with loco-motor 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. 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.
The accessibility of public transport is a crucial issue for people with disabilities, and one that seriously restricts their mobility. The BKA’s survey revealed that at least 78 per cent of those with loco-motor impairments had faced problems accessing public transport vehicles and taxis.
The report included key recommendations for public authorities as to how and why building more accessible public spaces will go a long way towards creating a safer and more inclusive environment for disabled people that is free from discrimination.
Since the report was published, the BKA have formed a close working partnership with the Belarusian Association of Assistance to Children and Young People with Disabilities (BelAPDIiMI). Together they continued to campaign for disabled people’s rights when it comes to safe and accessible streets, as well as elsewhere. For example, as a result of the project, the BKA now make a special effort to employ people with disabilities in their call centre for road-side assistance. And now, with the support of EASST they have created an adapted version of the EASST Road Safety Education Pack which they are using to deliver a joint educational programme on road safety for both disabled and non-disabled children. The project has two core aims: firstly, to promote a positive attitude towards people with disabilities in Belarus and break down the prevailing stereotype that people with disabilities are helpless. And secondly, to teach children and young people with disabilities how to behave safely on the road and thereby helping them to become more independent.
A lovely example of the project’s impact can be seen through the story of one child who just three months ago suffered three strokes in a short amount of time. As a result, she almost did not attend the session she was scheduled for but during the activities, she was so determined to participate that she refused to use her wheelchair. She started walking and joining in as she was so excited to be included.
In October 2018, the BKA also hosted the first regional summit on Disability, Mobility and Road Risk in Minsk. The meeting involved international and local experts discussing the impact of poor mobility on both social and economic development, and highlighting practical solutions to improving mobility and supporting people with disabilities, both in Minsk and beyond.
In particular, the meeting addressed the importance of stakeholder engagement and including people with disabilities in the discussion and consultation processes when it comes to making roads and cities fit for purpose – not just for people with disabilities but for all road users. The conference united representatives from across government departments, including the Ministry of Health, with stakeholders from the transport sector and civil society – including a strong representation of people with disabilities from a range of disability groups based in Minsk for dialogue and consultation on such a vital issue.
In 2019, the BKA will continue to champion disability rights by working with the BelAPDIiMI and offering training to the people they support to recycle hi-viz donations made to EASST into ‘mascots’ or tags for school book bags and coats to promote children’s visibility and safety on the roads. With EASST support the BKA will also be conducting research into international best practice when it comes to teaching children with specific physical disabilities how to use the road safely.
Road Safety – An Inherent Right and Equal Opportunity for All People
‘Road Safety – An Inherent Right and Equal Opportunity for All People’ is based on a survey of 1000 disabled people and their carers throughout Belarus and offers fresh data and insights into the particular needs and problems disabled people in Belarus face as drivers, pedestrians and public transport users. The report details the different obstacles to mobility faced by people with disabilities linked to road safety, the attitudes of other road users and access to transport in a bid to better inform public policy makers on how to address these issues proactively.