Persons living with disabilities (PLWDs) in Kigali and other major cities continue to face challenges accessing a large number of buildings, including some public structures.
Despite a 2009 ministerial order that all public buildings should have features and facilities for Persons Living With Disabilities(PLWD), a number of city buildings have been found to fall short of complying with the requirement.
In some buildings, the facilities are non-existent while in others inspectors say that the features are not usable whereby ramps are too steep or washrooms lack certain specifications.
Experts say that the features are not solely for persons using wheelchairs, they are also used by the visually impaired, those using clutches and the mentally unstable among others.
A spot check by this paper around the city centre, suburbs and surrounding areas showed that a large number of city buildings most of which host commercial enterprises and offices often frequented are yet to comply with the regulations.
Non-compliance is especially high in older buildings compared to newly constructed buildings. The non-compliance among older buildings, according to engineers and inspectors is largely due to the structure of the buildings.
Persons living with disabilities also noted that in most cases parts of the buildings are inaccessible.
Harouna Nshimiyimana, the Housing Regulations and Standard Division Manager at Rwanda Housing Authority told The New Times that according to their inspections, the compliance is still low with most of the older buildings yet to comply.
“Compliance is still low, most new structures are mostly compliant but few of the older buildings are compliant,” he said in an interview.
Nshimiyimana said that they regularly carry out inspections and issue advisory notes to the building owners on levels of compliance.
In older buildings which cannot have the facilities installed due to their structure, he said that they have been working with building owners to make sure that all necessary aspects of the buildings such as washrooms, central secretariat are available on the ground floor.
To increase compliance, he said that as a pre-condition to acquire a permit to expand or refurbish a building, the owners are also required to install facilities to ease access for PLWDs.
Rwanda Housing Authority has also gone beyond raising awareness and sensitisation among building owners to architects and engineers since they often have the largest impact on the final design.
Emmanuel Ndayisaba the Executive Secretary of the National Council of Persons with Disabilities told this paper that from their accessibility audits in Kigali and secondary cities, there is still much to be done to reduce barriers to accessibility.
Their audits, he said also indicate that older buildings built before 2009 are leading in non-compliance while a majority of the newer buildings are compliant.
He said that they are set to introduce fines probably in the coming year which is likely to improve the levels of compliance.
“There will be fines which are likely to kick off in the coming year after sensitisation. That is the only remaining solution,” he said.
He noted that they are also working with government officials across agencies and districts urging them to ensure that their work premises are compliant to be able to serve all citizens.
In our previous story, The New Times interviewed Jean-Marie Nuwamanya an NGO employee living with disability who at the time had expressed challenges in accessing a majority of buildings in the city due to lack of necessary facilities.
Commenting on his experience in the modern day, Nuwamanya who walks with the aid of two clutches said that getting around a number of city buildings is still as complex as it was previously though easier in newer buildings.
With his children growing, he expressed difficulties when going out with them shopping.