|Man pushing his own Wheelchair at a robot in Masvingo|
…unfriendly roads, public transport are big challenges
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.
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.