Ghosts of Disability Policy Past, Present and Future: What is the legacy of 30 years of promises?

17 February 2021

Poor mobility is a cause of severe social exclusion and poor life outcomes; reducing access to employment and negatively affecting health and social well-being.

In addition to the impact on people with disabilities themselves, parents, adult children and carers can carry a high financial, emotional and time-consuming burden too; one that often continues into a disabled child’s adulthood and throughout old age. 



For thirty years there has been a concerted political, legal and judicial effort to improve accessibility and mobility. Since the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) was passed 30 years ago significant progress has been made in adapting both physical and digital environments to be more accessible. Similar legislation has been passed in the UK and European Union. 

Public policy has also progressed at the international level. In December 2006, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was adopted by the United Nations, following decades of work to change attitudes and approaches to people with disabilities. The Convention recognises the importance of “individual autonomy and independence” and highlights “the fact that the majority of persons with disabilities live in conditions of poverty”. Crucially, it also states the importance of accessibility “in enabling persons with disabilities to fully enjoy all human rights and fundamental freedoms”.

Following this, the World Health Organisation underlined the importance of accessibility and personal mobility in underpinning participation in cultural life, recreation, leisure and sport and fighting poverty. 



Despite this concerted political, legal and judicial effort to improve the situation, there has not been a commensurate realisation of freedom and independence for people with disabilities. Unemployment for people with disabilities remains approximately twice that of the national average in the United States.

Approximately three out of every four people registered blind in the US and UK are unemployed. Research in the UK found that 35% of blind people never leave home without assistance from another person: And, of those that do travel independently, half limit themselves to 2 or 3 routes that they know well. Similar levels of exclusion are seen for many other disability groups also; not all of which are visible.  



This is acquiring even greater urgency. As populations age, many more people are acquiring disabilities, but do not identify as a “person with a disability”. In countries with life expectancies of over 70 years of age, people spend 11.5% of their lifespan living with a disability. It is also of note that the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the situation significantly, increasing social exclusion and unemployment for everyone, but for those with disabilities most of all. 

The benefits of independent travel for people with disabilities are considerable and if achieved will radically change the experience of millions of people around the world. The issue that presents itself is how to provide independent mobility and access to transport that makes the policy ambition possible.

Waymap believes that the answer to this challenge lies in technology solutions like ours, as much as it lies in the relevant policy. Waymap is ready to partner with any venue and any city to provide them with an accessible, integrated experience enabling step by step navigation instructions across buildings or transport infrastructure. It is only through technology developed by and alongside people with disabilities that we can fulfil thirty years of policy promises and open up access for all.

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