Empor in Kabul, Afghanistan offers an impressive array of orthopedic services, including the production of orthotics, individually-fitted prosthetic devices, and physical rehabilitation to the disabled population in Afghanistan. Mr. Wali Nawabi, the Director and head doctor of Empor, received his medical training in Germany and boasts an impressive resume.
Although this facility is a beacon of hope to the nearly 800,000 disabled Afghans, there is still one major obstacle: the building is inaccessible to those who are unable to walk independently. The irony that Empor was inaccessible to the population it was built to service was recognized by the Washington-based non-governmental organization Clear Path International (CPI). In May 2011, CPI solicited funding from the United States Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs’ Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement to support the building of a ramp and interior remodeling that would enable disabled Afghans to fully access the orthopedic medical facility.
Unfortunately, inaccessibility to key infrastructure is a significant problem that impedes and isolates the Afghan disabled population. According to Afghanistan Central Office of Statistics, ninety-eight percent of all Afghan buildings (public and private) are physically inaccessible by wheelchair. In the rare event that ramps were available, they were constructed haphazardly, causing even more danger to persons with disabilities. CPI identified this gap in humanitarian assistance and has constructed more than 300 ramps in 14 provinces making schools and universities, clinics and hospitals, public markets, ministry buildings, Governors’ offices, women’s parks, and mosques accessible to 70,000 beneficiaries in Fiscal Year 2011 alone.
With so many buildings needing accessibility modifications, there are many conflicting priorities. CPI uses the following criteria to determine their next project: Needs identified within local communities (especially those identified by organizations representing landmine/explosive remnants of war (ERW) survivors and other people with disabilities); infrastructure priorities identified by local authorities; and advice from national leadership within relevant line ministries. CPI also places an emphasis on projects located at or near sites recently demined. In doing so, CPI is able to publicly demonstrate the connection between clearance, awareness and victim assistance activities characteristic to successfully integrated mine action.
Once a project site has been identified, CPI works with the community to gain their buy-in. CPI hires ten to twenty local workers to construct the ramp and other building modification. CPI also works closely with local elders to hold informational sessions that educate the community on accommodating the special needs of landmine survivors and other persons with disabilities and to advocate for social inclusion.
CPI celebrates the completion of each project with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. CPI invites local authorities, community elders, and all regular users of the site to attend the ceremony. The ceremony features several readings from the Holy Quran justifying the accessibility project, includes a local disabled person describing their experience and struggle with accessibility and social inclusion, and highlights the role of the US Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs’ Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement as the financial supporter of the ramp.
CPI’s Country Director Chris Fidler believes that the impact of these ramps extends far beyond accessibility. Fidler uses the ramps as optics to advocate for the inclusion of persons with disabilities in everyday life and communal activities. According to Fidler, “CPI considers the impact of physical accessibility ramps and associated awareness-raising sessions important in three ways: Individuals previously excluded are now are able to participate more independently in community life; households recast the disabled family member as a visible and viable participant in community life; and communities are now exposed to routine inclusion of people with disabilities, further reducing the exclusion and social stigma commonly associated with disability in Afghan culture.”
According to Fidler, CPI’s projects have been so successful in garnering the local attention, multiple people and organizations have approached CPI to build ramps t their buildings. With the hopes of building 600 ramps at 350 sites, CPI is well on their way to achieving their goal.
- Kate McFarland is an Assistant Program Manager with the US Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs' Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement.