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Barrier-free environments for disabled and elderly women

In international forums, disabled and elderly women are often excluded, either because of ignorance or are not counted at all. Statistically, the number of women with limited mobility is on the increase due to poverty (like malnutrition), diseases, accidents, wars, physically harassed, and old age. The problem of limited mobility lies in the physical environments that are full of barriers, such as steps. Such environments inhibit them from moving around independently. Despite their disability and old age, many of these women participate in outdoor social life and activities. Research indicates that, in general, women are users of a wider spectrum of the built environment. If the daily activity of men is to go to their workplace and then return to their home (one single trip), women do multiple trips. They bring and collect their children to and from school, accompany their elderly parents to health centres, do the shopping, go to the bank and post office, visit sick people, do household work, and often work to add to the household budget. These works are also done by women with limited personal mobility. Despite their full daily agenda, the city’s infrastructures do not support their mobility. An example is the steps in front of public buildings and public transport which obstruct their mobility.

As a polio survivor, the conditions of the built environment not only limits, sometimes nullifies, my bodily mobility but also the chances to make significant progress which may enhance my quality of life. I live and have worked in Bandung, Indonesia. Since my parents passed away, I live by myself in our parental home (I have four siblings) and do many things by myself even though at a slower pace compared with non-disabled women. I have an old helper who does the household chores that I am not able to carry out by myself. Once outside the house, I used the service of motor-cyclists, who pass my house, to take me to the main road followed by the use of a four-wheel public transport. It is not advisable for me to sit on a motorcycle as I am not agile to sit behind the motorcyclist. Also, my back bone is not that strong which means that I have to embrace the driver firmly in order to sit stable. Many people are against this, but who will regularly take me to the main road. Fortunately, I have been brought up by my parents to be independent as much as I can. Once on the vehicular road I stand and wait for the four-wheel public transport. I have to sit in front of the vehicle as I am not able to enter the rear part. Accordingly, I have to wait for many minutes until I see an empty seat next to the driver.

Waiting on a vehicular road outside the pavement is another challenge. The pavements are high without the construction of unobtrusive ramps. How can I go up the pavement with weak leg muscles and bones? Standing in such an unsafe spot means facing the risk of being hit by a vehicle, but my goal is to arrive at the intended place.

Another unavoidable barrier is the step(s). Worse is if handrails on both sides of the steps are not provided. I walk with a stick and sometimes wear a leg brace. I am a customer of two banks in the vicinity of my house. One of them pays off my monthly retirement fee (I retired from a government organization). At the entrance of both banks are staircases without handrails. If one step paralyzes me, the more so a staircase. Handrails are an inevitable help to move independently, although it remains difficult to go up the steps. ‘Why are builders insensitive about the special need of people with limited mobility’ has always been my obsessed question. When I go to the bank, I ask for human help to get me inside the building. But asking the same persons for help is a nuisance. I loss the liberty to be myself, as I need to smile or show a friendly face, even if I don’t want to.

Against the aforementioned backdrop, I strongly recommend the authorities enforcing the constitution about accessible public buildings, public infrastructures, and public transportations. Disabled and elderly women are in need of safe and convenient facilities. The next generation will appreciate and use the barrier-free environments created by the current government. This is sustainable development.

National leaders of Indonesia ratified the CPRD (Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (United Nations) in October 2011. This means that people with disabilities have the same rights in every area of life as the non-disabled people. Hence, creating accessible environments is mandatory.

Bandung, 30 May 2012

Inge Komardjaja


In partnership with the Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO), World Pulse is collecting personal stories outlining women’s experiences and recommendations on sustainable and equitable development for presentation at the Rio +20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.

All stories submitted on our community platform between now and June 3, 2012 will be presented at the Rio+20 Conference. Additionally, selected entries will be published in World Pulse’s digital magazine and distributed widely to international media partners. Learn how YOUR voice can be included!



jadefrank's picture

Taking your voice to Rio+20!

Dear Inge,

My eyes were opened by your unique perspective within sustainable development, and a population so often overlooked and marginalized, elderly women and women living with disabilities. Your story allowed me to see the world through your eyes and what's possible if increased mobility is prioritized to ensure equal participation in society for all.

Thank you for participating in our Rio+20 initiative and courageously sharing your voice. Your story and recommendations are en route to Rio de Janeiro with our partners at WEDO, and will be presented at the conference to ensure grassroots women's perspectives are included at the negotiating table. Our editorial team is working on an E-magazine for publication next Wednesday which you will receive in your inbox, highlighting selected pieces from our Rio+20 initiative. We will keep you updated on the outcomes of the conference and how you can stay involved as a vocal leader for your community on these issues.

I encourage you to read the stories of your fellow PulseWire sisters and engage in conversation to share experiences, ideas, and best practices for addressing sustainable development issues in your communities.

In friendship and solidarity,

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