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Designing experiences that promote access for PWDs should be compulsory

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Designing experiences that promote access for PWDs should be compulsory. PHOTO | POOL

The design is not just what it looks like and feels like. The design is how it works — Steve Jobs.

Last Saturday marked the International Day of Disabled Persons. The United Nations estimates that one in 10 people lives with a disability globally.

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According to the 2019 Kenya National Bureau of Statistics census report, 1.33 million Kenyans were living with disabilities, of which 385,417 (28 per cent) had mobility impairment.

It also revealed that 333,520 Kenyans had visual impairments followed by cognition impairments at 212,798, hearing(153,361), self-care (139,929), and communication impairments (111,356)

Recently there were protests in Mombasa County by people living with disability (PWD) due to challenges in accessing government offices because of a lack of access-friendly infrastructure.

This is a story that is replete across the country. As a caregiver of a PWD, I have also encountered numerous challenges trying to access buildings in Nairobi.

In many buildings, a ramp for a wheelchair does not exist and if it does, it is more of an afterthought as a metal or wooden structure appended at the entrance.

In design, accessibility is determined by whether a product or service can be used by everyone in whichever way they encounter it. For instance, a ramp not only facilitates wheelchair access but also prams for toddlers, people with repetitive physical stress injuries, and the elderly.

Design fails when limited to aesthetics and costs alone. Functionality should also be considered at conception, not after implementation. Designing experiences that promote access for PWDs is imperative not only for inclusion but also for inspiring innovation.

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The ideal scenario would be to have buildings with wheelchair ramps, Braille signage at the entrance and lifts or audio signals, standardised door widths, and grab bars.

One could argue that intense competition for commercial and residential space coupled with extra cost implications has compromised the design considerations for building accessibility.

It could also be that the buildings have not been intentionally designed to exclude PWDs, it is just that there is a lack of awareness.

There ought to be legislation that enforces compliance to enhance access to services and places by PWDs.

Many jurisdictions, including the EU, have penalties for failure to create accessible designs.

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