Farangiz Bakhtiyorova

Image source: www.thenews.com.pk

1. Introduction

The World Health Organization reports that globally, about 1.3 billion people, constituting 16% of the world’s population, live with some form of disability, with 80% of them residing in developing countries. In Uzbekistan, research from the World Bank indicates that 13.5% of the total population aged 3 and older have a disability, and the country ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on June 7, 2021. Despite their significant presence in the population, individuals with disabilities are almost absent in the country, facing barriers due to inadequate infrastructure, hindering their enjoyment of equal rights.

In this blog post, I shall discuss why substantial parts of the country remains inaccessible, the crucial role of implementation and law enforcement in creating an inclusive environment, and potential solutions to existing problems.

2. Obligations of member states according to the Convention

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, particularly Article 9, highlights the obligation of member states to ensure accessibility in various settings, including buildings, roads, transportation, and other facilities.

The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) commented on the above-mentioned article of the Convention, it includes accessibility as one of the key underlying principles — a vital precondition for the effective and equal enjoyment of different civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights by persons with disabilities. It imposes on States the duty to ensure accessibility both in urban and in rural areas. According to the third part of commentary, states parties are obliged to adopt, promulgate and monitor national accessibility standards Therefore, states parties should undertake a comprehensive review of the laws on accessibility in order to identify, monitor and address gaps in legislation and implementation.

3. The lack of access to essential infrastructure

Historically, the disability rights movement has emphasized the importance of access to the physical environment as fundamental precondition for freedom of movement as guaranteed by Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Despite these international standards, recent analyses reveal that 85% of buildings and social infrastructure in the capital of Uzbekistan, are not adapted for use by persons with disabilities. Multi-story buildings, roads, public places (mostly subway stations) lack essential features such as ramps, lifts, or adequate space for maneuvering, stopping, or lifting. For instance, parking spaces. While standards exist for accessible parking, they are often underutilized or misused by ordinary population, with few special spaces available. According to international standards, parking spaces for persons with disabilities should offer at least 1.2 meters of additional width compared to standard spaces, which means the minimum width of an accessible parking space should be 3.60 meters, providing sufficient room for individuals with disabilities to safely access their vehicles and assemble necessary equipment such as wheelchairs or prostheses. However, let alone sparsely-provided parking spaces, in many regions of Uzbekistan, roads and sidewalks have numerous cracks, posing risks to individuals with disabilities. Moreover, existing public buildings such as schools, hospitals often lack ramps, elevators, or special signs, further impeding accessibility. As per the data, over the course of three years from 2018 to 2021, only 30 tenders listed on the public procurement portal featured the terms “ramp” and “elevator”. Even in buildings where disability status certificates are issued, such as medical and labor expert commission facilities people face steep ramps that fail to meet slope and gauge norms, inadequate handrails, and restrooms lacking sufficient turning space for wheelchairs.

4. Problems with accessibility standards in Uzbekistan

Several normative legal documents in Uzbekistan contain general rules stipulating that the physical environment should be accessible to persons with disabilities. For example, Urban Planning Code outlines these rules in only Article 10, emphasizing the consideration of the interests of persons with disabilities in urban planning activities. Similarly, Article 9 of Law on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities regarded as a primary document addressing the rights of persons with disabilities, incorporates general provisions derived from the Convention.

National legislation has established detailed guidelines concerning the approach to construction works, aiming to accommodate the interests of persons with disabilities. Rules concerning accessibility are delineated across several legal documents, including decrees issued by governmental ministries and rules stipulated by the State Architecture and Construction Committee. However, the dissemination of these regulations across different legal documents present may challenges in accessing and awareness of such norms and obligations among the populace.  Among such documents, Norms and Rules of Urban Planning 2.07.02-22, which focuses on designing construction objects with consideration for the needs of persons with disabilities and the elderly, and Rules on Public Building and Constructions outlines rules to create an accessible physical environment. Although these rules set requirements for the design of residential and public areas, traffic routes and recreation areas, existing designs of such places often overlooks the needs of persons with disabilities. In the former document, it has not missed even detailed imperative for a 0.7 – meter barrier when the space beneath stairs measures 2 meters or less, yet the document (other documents) falls short in specifying the competent bodies and the procedural framework mandated to assess compliance with these rules. This deficiency leaves a significant gap in understanding how building projects are evaluated and approved for accessibility, hindering progress towards accessible physical environments. As a result, many public buildings, transport systems, and urban development projects by private organizations do not adhere to national legislation. Besides, the consequences of non-implementation of rules mentioned in these national documents are not specified, leading to the term “dead norms” to describe the situation. In essence, while norms exist on paper, there is insufficient enforcement of these norms.

5. Feasible solutions

To achieve satisfactory implementation of national and international standards, several measures can be undertaken:

I. The Ministry of Construction, Housing, and Communal Services should develop an accessibility assessment tool reflecting accessibility standards, integrating it into the certification process for urban compliance and construction permits. Additionally, conducting training sessions for construction organizations (both private and public sector) on accessibility rules.

II. Existing scattered accessibility rules should be consolidated into a single normative legal document. It reduces the quantity of rules and regulations, increases quality of legal acts. Professor and Doctor of Legal Sciences X.T.Odilqoriyev (2018) suggests that it is appropriate to separate the group of norms aimed at regulating the rights and obligations on the same subject matter into a distinct normative act within the legal system. This is because the primary goal of systematizing legal documents is to assist citizens in quickly and easily finding the law they seek. As for international experience Canada, USA, Germany and Netherlands, the most accessible and disabled-friendly in the world, have separate ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) Accessibility Standards, Canada Accessibility Standards and the European Accessibility Act respectively, which combines all accessibility requirements.

III. Accountability for non-compliance with accessibility requirements should be strengthened. Article 511 of Code of Administrative Responsibility outlines that failure to establish conditions allowing individuals with disabilities to utilize buildings, facilities, transportation, information, and communication devices, including information and communication technologies and systems without hindrance, as well as the failure of property owners of hotels to equip at least one room from the total room stock with facilities accessible to individuals with disabilities, constitutes non-compliance with requirements for convenient provision of accommodations for persons with disabilities, resulting legal penalties from tenfold (approximately 269 U.S.D.) to fifteenfold (approximately 398 U.S.D.) of the base calculation. The amount of legal penalty should be increased, it potentially enhances the efficiency of legal acts. This adjustment is intended to foster greater adherence to established laws and regulations, thereby serving as a deterrent to future breaches. As an example, in USA, fines may be imposed even up to 75,000 U.S.D. for the first violation and 150,000 U.S.D. for each additional violation on businesses for non-compliance ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) rules to make it impactful. Besides, it is hard to find information about violations, related to how many fines charged and about the fines collected in Uzbekistan. Therefore, statistics on this matter should be presented publicly and the identified cases should be disclosed, as it is one of the most effective ways to increase public awareness.

6. Conclusion

In conclusion, ensuring equal rights and opportunities for persons with disabilities is imperative for a fair and inclusive society. Prioritization of accessibility requisites within the realm of urban planning and infrastructure development constitutes a pivotal strategy for fostering an inclusive environment conducive to the comprehensive engagement of diverse individuals in societal, economic, and cultural spheres.

Cite as:  Farangiz Bakhtiyorova, “From Paper to Practice: Bridging the Gap in Accessibility Legislation for Persons with Disabilities in Uzbekistan”, Uzbekistan Law Blog, 06.05.2024.