Sunday, November 28, 2021
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Are people with disabilities being neglected in road safety?

Man pushing his own Wheelchair at a robot in Masvingo

…unfriendly roads, public
transport are big challenges

Clayton
Shereni

MASVINGO

The fight to reduce human error on the roads, and the gospel of road safety
have been there for many years in Zimbabwe but issues of People With
Disabilities (PWDs) seem to have been largely ignored in these efforts.

More often than not,
the discourse of road safety overlooks people with disabilities, with the
safety of this disadvantaged group being left to the hands of fate.

The narrow and ever-shrinking
roads in Zimbabwe have made it a mammoth task for pedestrian PWDs and those
moving on wheelchairs to maneuver safely.

Even those with aides
find it hard to cross busy roads in the Central Business District (CBD) where
there are high traffic volumes.

Sustainable Development
Goal (SDG) 11.2 calls for safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable
transport for all.

It further calls for the
improvement of road safety notably by expanding public transport with special
attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations; women, children,
persons with disabilities and older persons.

Rumple strips have been
seen as a major contributor in the fight against traffic accidents and in
Zimbabwe, this feature is mainly found at tollgates along major highways.

This road safety
feature is a rarity in some CBDs like Masvingo where the traffic volumes are
surging on the same roads that have never been expanded.

According to a World
Health Organization (WHO) 2004 report, rumple strips that were built at the Suhum
junction in Ghana, an accident hotspot, reduced the number of recorded cases by
35 percent.

Countries like United
States of America (USA) and United Kingdom (UK) have well-developed accident data
collection systems but they fare badly in disaggregating in terms of PWDs.

Although little
statistical data exists, WHO also reports that people with disabilities are at
a higher risk of non-fatal unintentional injuries from road traffic-related
accidents or crashes.

In Masvingo, a straight
stretch of Charumbira Street which starts at Craft Centre and ends near Mucheke
Bus Terminus is one of the roads that need urgent
attention to cater for PWDs.

A ride along that
stretch during the morning and evening peak hours shows that homeless PWDs who
stay at the terminus are exposed to a big risk of being hit by cars when they
travel to and from town, where they beg for survival.

Those on wheelchairs
push themselves along the busy road while the visually-impaired use their
walking sticks to guide themselves along the road.

Before a wheelchair was
donated to him by Marvelous Tshuma (known on Twitter as Queen of BaTonga),
Samuel Rangaridzayi used to crawl to and from town daily.

He would wear gloves to
avoid direct contact with the hard surfaces since he would crawl all day in
town; begging for alms and sometimes cars would stop for him to cross the road.

Disability Amalgamation
Community Trust (DACT) chairperson Henry Chivhanga bemoaned the state of roads
in Masvingo and called upon authorities to come up with systems that make the
roads friendlier to people with disabilities.

“Our roads are not
user-friendly to pedestrians with disabilities. Traffic lights are not
configured to allow passage to PWDs. We urge responsible authorities to erect
traffic lights that are user-friendly to PWDs and we urge motorists to give the
right of way to PWDs on wheelchairs and all those walking with cane and on
crutches. We also need to continue educating all road users on proper ways of
using the roads,” said Chivhanga.

He said the dusty road across
Chimusana Bridge was one of the inaccessible roads for wheelchair-bound people
who move between Mucheke and the CBD every day.

“Pushing a wheelchair
into town every morning during peak hours is not by choice because work and
vending for a living demands such movements. The road through Chimusana Bridge
is not wheelchair-friendly at all. We also do not have a transport system that
is user-friendly generally to PWDs and particularly to those using wheelchairs.

“Road users, in
particular motorists, must drive cautiously to avoid accidents and particularly
give way to PWDs. We also urge PWDs not to be reckless and careless when using
roads and to observe road rules,” Chivhanga said.

In their research
titled ‘Rejected People: Beggars with Disabilities in the City of Harare,
Zimbabwe’, Dr Bekezela Siziba and Tafadzwa Rugoho reveal that there is an
increase in homeless beggars on the streets.

The two academics,
however, do not probe the question of safety of PWDs when they go about their
daily routine and the hustle of travelling to and from town.  

Zimbabwe Disability
Advocacy Empowerment Rehabilitation Technology (ZIDAERT) International founder
Pastor Cover Mugwadhi shared the same sentiments saying the lack of up-to-standard
technology and poor road infrastructure was a serious problem.

“The conditions of our
road network especially in cities pose a great danger to the safety of
pedestrians with disabilities. Even at the designated crossing points, the
absence of assistive technology friendly to those with visual impairments is
lamentable. We are terribly behind the international standards,” said Mugwadhi.

He said potholes were a
great danger to the safety of pedestrians with disabilities who are hardly considered
when road safety laws are passed and when roads are planned.

“The scarcity of cycle
tracks and the many potholes on the roads forces motorists to sway to road
sides, thereby increasing the vulnerability of pedestrians especially those
with disabilities. Planning and road safety laws should take into consideration
the fact that people with disabilities are a permanent mark of our community,”
he said.

Little children often
aid their parents and relatives in the CBD but their little judgement as minors
mean that their safety and the safety of the elders they guide is imperiled.

Some have attributed
this plight of PWDs to poor planning of roads in cities whereby engineering
departments of local authorities and other roads authorities fail to consider
that some pedestrians are disabled.

Crossing a road at
undesignated points is prohibited in Zimbabwe and is regarded as jaywalking but
this fails to acknowledge that there are very few designated crossing points
like zebra crossings.

However, pedestrians
with physical challenges especially those who are wheelchair-bound are always
part of society and jaywalking is inevitable in face of the harsh realities on
the ground.

Traffic Safety Council
of Zimbabwe (TSCZ) director Clifford Gobo said major efforts were being made
towards building an inclusive road infrastructure which caters for all
regardless of physical abilities.

“No one should be left
behind in developmental issues and that is why you find government emphasizing
the idea of streamlining disability. You will find out that new infrastructure
has walkways and cycle tracks. We are working for our infrastructure to have
security features that cater for everyone including people with disabilities,”
said Gobo.

Speaking to TellZim
News, Road Safety Zimbabwe Trust (RSZT) director Samson Nyaude said ending road
carnage was a burden for every road user and that the poor road infrastructure
in the country was a cause for concern.

“Road safety is a
concern for everyone but it is worrisome that some of us seem to disregard road
rules. Let’s be more careful on the road, there are many facets to improving
road safety in Zimbabwe and we cannot turn a blind eye to the dilapidated road infrastructure.

“We comment latest
government efforts to fix roads through the emergency roads rehabilitation
programme. However, we need to press hard on the dangerous behavior by a lot of
road users. We put emphasis on protecting our children, pedestrians and
cyclists since they are the most vulnerable group of road users,” said Nyaude.

In public
transportation, some PWDs with money to pay for transport often fail to board
buses and kombis as these too are not disability-friendly.

When President Emmerson
Mnangagwa commissioned a fleet of Zimbabwe United Passengers Company (Zupco)
buses in July 2019, he said government was aware of the problems faced by PWDs.

He said authorities
will modify some of the buses to make them friendlier to people with
disabilities but there seems to be no progress in that regard so far.

As such, it can be said
that prevailing societal attitudes towards PWDs call for a greater need to engage
the government and civil society on the exclusion of PWDs in the quest for road
safety.

 

TellZimNewshttps://tellzim.com
TellZim News is the leading news organization in the Southern region. It provides candid, balanced and timely news from the communities. Keeping it real. Committed to tell Zimbabwe.

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