The signing of the Global Compact on Inclusive and Accessible Cities at the 10th World Urban Forum in Abu Dhabi. Photo by: Global Taskforce via Twitter

BARCELONA — At the 10th session of the World Urban Forum in Abu Dhabi, several special interest groups and local civil society organizations, as well as two city mayors, signed the Global Compact on Inclusive and Accessible Cities.

The declaration aligns key commitments to accessibility, universal design, and inclusion within the Sustainable Development Goals, the New Urban Agenda, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and the World Health Organization’s Age-friendly Cities Framework.

Victor Pineda, founder of World Enabled, a global education and strategic consulting group for inclusion and diversity, and a leading partner in the Cities4All campaign, wants development agencies to continue to partner and support the development of indicators of inclusion. He spoke to Devex about the remaining barriers to truly inclusive cities and the importance of measuring progress on inclusion.

“Participation is key and not just people who use wheelchairs.”

— Victor Pineda, founder, World Enabled

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

What do we mean when we talk about inclusive cities?

Inclusive cities have programs and policies in place that ensure, proactively, that nobody is left behind. There are many stakeholders in urban development [such as governments and development agencies] that have multiple forms of discrimination and exclusion from the perspective of persons with disabilities and older persons.

We’ve identified key mechanisms to ensure that physical, digital, and transportation systems can respond to the preference and needs of people with disabilities and older people, [who] often live on the margins, and in doing so support virtually everyone. We are really talking about cities that leverage universal design principles and the principles of participatory urban development.

What are the costs of not having truly inclusive cities?

There was a really important study developed by the United Nations, World Bank, and International Labour Organization and it talked about $2 trillion of forgotten income by keeping people with disabilities out of the workplace. That is a tremendous loss of potential for any country or an economy.

We are looking at a really huge amount of opportunity for better services, more responsive governments and private sector, products that support and empower people with disabilities and older persons to have choices and to be able to realize some better human agency.

So what’s stopping governments from creating more inclusive cities?

First is really the lack of leadership. Leadership means that there is both a clear indication by the city executives about the importance of mainstreaming disability issues in urban development as well as ensuring that there are budgets allocated to that.

The second is institutional capacity and that’s really about administrative capacity because there isn’t one specific agency that’s going to be in charge of identifying and removing barriers so there has to be a lot of collaboration and coordination.

The third is the participation of people with disabilities in these urban development discussions.

At the World Urban Forum, we partnered with World Enabled, Worldwide Union, and CBM to coordinate over 30 delegates with disabilities to be part of that discussion and these are all delegates that then go back to their home countries and continue to advocate for this change.

Participation is key and not just people who use wheelchairs, it’s people who are working with intellectual disabilities, psychosocial disabilities, visual impairments, hearing impairments so we’re getting a cross-disability perspective and broad representation.

The next area of action is attitudes. ILO, for example, indicates that social attitudes are a much bigger threat than even physical barriers and those kinds of exclusions cost up to 7% of a country's GDP annually. That’s a big issue and it makes economic sense to help shift the awareness and take practical proactive steps to promote inclusion.

The last is legal measures, which is the alignments of laws at international, national, and local level. It used to be the biggest gap, five or 10 years ago, but now we’re in a situation where virtually every country in the world has signed and ratified the U.N. convention on the rights of people with disabilities.

“Over the past 4 years, there’s been a lot of momentum to ensure that cities are accessible.”

And what about multilaterals and other donors, why are these organizations failing to make development projects more inclusive?

One reason is that the digital arena, for example, is changing quickly and there isn’t enough knowledge about digital accessibility. The World Bank has safeguard commitments on transportation and other safeguards in terms of physical infrastructure but it takes time for new areas to work their way through these large agencies.

There is also insufficient knowledge and demand at the country offices. Development agencies in the past used to dictate top-down on what should be done and right now there’s an approach that’s much more about demand-driven development. So unless the countries are demanding it and putting it in their strategic plans for the country development strategy, the World Bank and others aren't necessarily going to be responding to that.

We just completed a study where we looked at 60,000 development projects. Of those, there were about 1,200 that were active digital development projects and of those only 4% identified people with disabilities and older persons as stakeholders and in their workflows, 96% did not mention people with disabilities and older persons as participants. That means vocational training or education systems that have a strong digital development component, are basically leaving people with disabilities behind and that’s a big deal.

How could the inclusive cities index help tackle some of these issues?

The index will help cities understand and measure their capacity to endure, adapt, and transform the city into a more accessible and inclusive city. Over the past 4 years, there’s been a lot of momentum to ensure that cities are accessible.

We have a coalition of partners, from the Ford Foundation, UN-Habitat, and others, to develop this inclusive cities index and make explicit the need to address exclusivity in cities which, up until now, hasn't really been defined. Yet 25% of people in the world live with some type of disability or a physical challenge and urban areas are highly inaccessible.

We really assess that the city ensures the best practices, quantifies progress, [and] is taking a multisector approach. It’s a tool to help cities understand and ensure inclusivity, a robust assessment framework.

We want to work in five cities in year one. We have various areas that we are trying to test and define, these areas are going to be defined over the first year of the study. By the end of 2020, we will have indicators that are robust, resourceful, inclusive, integrated — and these should fit into the local volunteer review process of cities and the local implementation of the inclusive targets and the SDGs.

What would you like to see development organizations doing better?

It really is about ensuring that development agencies continue to partner and support the development of these indicators because we basically measure what we value and if we value inclusion then we need to be able to measure it. Join and support this three-year research initiative to develop the index and to allocate resources towards better data collection that will help us really target investments in the decade of action.

Can you share any examples of these key indicators?

Is there a mayor's office for people with disabilities? Because that allows you to really coordinate efforts. Is there a clear commitment to ensure that all transportation systems are inclusive and accessible to people with disabilities? Is there an active, empowered group in that city that advocates for the rights of people with disabilities and older persons?

Inclusive cities have strong and active civil society organizations.

About the author

  • Emma Smith

    Emma Smith is a Reporter at Devex. She covers all things related to careers and hiring in the global development community as well as mental health within the sector — from tips on supporting humanitarian staff to designing mental health programs for refugees. Emma has reported from key development hubs in Europe and co-produced Devex’s DevProWomen2030 podcast series. She holds a degree in journalism from Glasgow Caledonian University and a master's in media and international conflict. In addition to writing for regional news publications, she has worked with organizations focused on child and women’s rights.