I have had the honour of attending and contributing to several city planning workshops and conferences. A common occurrence in most of these meetings is that the disabled community is invited to be participants. They are given the chance to express their needs and requirements to live in cities as respected persons in society, yet when the time comes to realise the development plans, the plight of the disabled community and truisms around disability are forgotten.

We have witnessed the changes cities are making to accommodate the Covid-19 pandemic, yet with approximately 80% of disabled people living in cities, cities are yet to fully innovate solutions to ensure urban spaces are usable to all.

In 2021, The Gambia held its presidential elections. A symbolic occasion where every citizen was encouraged to cast their vote and reflect their free choice in who they choose to lead them. Browsing the content shared on social media from that day, a video of a wheelchair-bound man who had to abandon his wheelchair and crawl into the voting station struck me. He negotiated his way through that situation in a manner that made it clear that that was not the first time his dignity had taken a blow. That heart-wrecking moment made one thing clear – the government had failed him. The planners and architects had failed him. The city had failed him and so many others who are physically different from what is deemed ‘normal’.

Most disabled people, particularly those in wheelchairs, do not view the city as we do. Where we see an urban area filled with opportunity, they see a battle ground where they face hurdles to do the most mundane things such as accessing public city spaces. They are the marginalized people of society.

Inner cities in The Gambia have grossly inadequate accessible urban public spaces for disabled people. The car-only roads are uninviting. The potholes littering every street in neighborhoods are unsuitable for navigating. Disabled people are restricted to areas where they feel safe, which is often their own homes. They are unable to be independent, often not because of their disability but because the outside world has not been designed to include them.

But, it is not too late. Changes can be made. Developing countries like The Gambia still have a chance to join Germany and other countries around the world who work to empower and create equality among their citizens by adapting standardized development plans that better accommodate the physically challenged, particularly in public spaces. As stated in the United Nations Sustainable Goals, cities must prioritise “universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, in particular for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities.” Providing accessible urban spaces to all is a fundamental human right!

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