MasterBuild Africa

Inclusive design in Africa

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People with disabilities face various types of barriers everyday especially when it comes to a building’s design and the professionals who design, commission and construct these buildings need to keep these barriers in mind when designing a particular building. People with disability need to be given due consideration since they have rights as everyone else. As such, building designers and allied professionals need to adopt an all-inclusive design approach while designing, especially public buildings and spaces.


Accessibility in building design

[Image: The Seated View]

With reference to the British Standard Institute (2005) standard BS 7000-6:2005, inclusive design refers to the design of mainstream products and/or services that are accessible to, and usable by, as many people as reasonably possible … without the need for special adaptation or specialized design.’ Thus, buildings and spaces, especially public facilities, must be such that accommodate all users irrespective of physical limitation. As such, designers and allied professionals must ensure that the interests of all users are adequately covered.


Benefit of Inclusive design for all

[Image: Disabled access denied]

In 1982, United Nations member states unanimously adopted the “World Programme of Action Concerning Disabled Persons” in response to various needs facing people with disabilities with respects to the physical environment accessibility. As such, many countries, especially in the developed world begin a radical review of Building Codes and Regulations to incorporate accessibility in the design and construction of the buildings and spaces to ensure a barrier-free environment in response to the international concern over the accessibility of disabled persons to the built environment. One of such radical moves was witness in Wangfujing shopping street in Beijing, China where ramps with lowered handrails were installed in selective commercial and recreation stores. In addition, street sidewalk curbs were converted to ramps for easy access and audio instruction boards were installed to help the visually impaired find their way along the street.


Wangfujing shopping street, Beijing, China

[Image: gettyimages]

However, in most African countries, in spite of the robust legislative frameworks developed to address various issues surrounding design and architectural barriers in the built environment in response to the 1982 UN resolution, very little progress has been recorded in the implementation of various building codes and regulations to ensure an all-inclusive design in built environment. In Nzioki et al. (1991) report on accessibility legislation in Kenya, they noted that “the built environment is designed by and for the healthy young persons”. This is equally true for most countries in Africa, as most accessibility features, such as ramps and handrails, are only limited to the entrance of many public buildings and spaces with no due consideration to the ease of using such facility by physically challenged individuals once inside. Thus, to ensure an all-inclusive design and barrier-free built environment, various regulatory bodies and agents must ensure buildings and spaces are designed and built as per various requirements to ensure safety and accessibility for all persons irrespective of status.


Further Reading:

Nicky, N., Agnes, M. and Catherine, K. (2016). A review of current accessibility legislation in Kenya | Independent Living Institute. [online] Available at:



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