What good are escalators if you have to walk up stairs to even access them? Not a whole lot as a group of disabled rights activists found out in Yangon this weekend.
In a bid to highlight Yangon’s systemic problem with accessibility in public spaces for residents with disabilities, a group of volunteers from NGO the Myanmar Independent Living Initiative (MILI), 14 of whom were in wheelchairs, undertook what they described as an “accessibility check” of the city.
Visits to areas including Pyay Road, Hledan Junction and Hledan Center, documented the difficulties they encountered in a series of Facebook posts in which they can be seen lining up in front of pedestrian walkways and posing with a post reading: “Make Yangon Accessible. Let’s participate to create universal design to promote accessibility in Yangon.”
အမ်ားျပည္သူႏွင့္ဆိုင္ေသာေနရာမ်ားတြင္ မသန္စြမ္းသူမ်ား အလြယ္တကူ လက္လွမ္းမွီ သြားလာအသံုးျပဳ ႏိုင္ေရး အသိပညာေပး…
“We have been launching campaigns to bring awareness around accessibility in public spaces in Myanmar since 2013. Whenever there is a new public space, we get together a group of PWDs (persons with disabilities) to assess its accessibility,” longtime disability activist and MILI consultant Daw Yuya Thu told Coconuts Yangon this afternoon.
For this particular campaign, MILI is taking aim at a new 30,000 kyat-fine targeting pedestrians who cross thoroughfares at street level rather than use the newly built elevated footpaths cropping up around Yangon, often the only option for PWDs.
While the city government has implemented certain measures to improve accessibility, some of the design solutions have proved to be counter-intuitive and impractical.
“In Myaynigone, Sanchaung, there is an escalator that can take PWDs and elders up to the walkway and down. However, there are a set of stairs leading up to the escalator, making it impossible for them to access the escalator. On Inya road, they installed new ramps leading into the sidewalks, but there are utility poles in the middle of the sidewalk,” Thu said.
But if the public reaction to the Facebook posts is any indication, there is still a long way to go when it comes to public understanding and acceptance of disability rights in Myanmar.
In the comments on the Facebook post showing PWDs traversing Yangon’s urban landscape in wheelchairs, some praised the courage of the activists and the necessity of accommodating their needs, but others questioned the very idea of true independence for people with disabilities.
“I feel sad and angry that the public doesn’t understand that we deserve to have the same rights as people without disabilities,” Thu said when asked about some of those comments.
“However, it reminds us that there is a lot of work to be done, and it motivates us to continue.”