The Inclusion Imperative: Cities Must Have an Inclusive Pandemic Response

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Each year over 60 million people move into (and establish their lives) in urban environments. The COVID-19 pandemic may slow this down but it won’t stop the unrelenting rate of urbanization.

The most at-risk should have a strong voice in how we choose to reshape our cities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic is taking a terrible toll on the world’s economy, with full or partial lockdown measures now affecting the livelihood of almost 2.7 billion people — more than 4 out of 5 workers in the global workforce of 3.3 billion, according to the International Labour Organisation.

However, some people are far more impacted than others. Persons with disabilities and older persons are particularly affected by COVID-19, as stated by Maria Soledad Cisternas Reyes, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Disability and Accessibility. “Persons with disabilities are among the hardest hit by COVID-19. They face a lack of accessible public-health information, significant barriers to implementing basic hygiene measures, and inaccessible health facilities.”

Maimunah Sherif, Executive Director of UN Habitat explains that, “This is not because of any inherent ‘vulnerabilities’ but rather due to the existence of barriers and a lack of awareness, discriminatory practices, or minimal disability mainstreaming measures.”

Image from COVID-19 Response and the Future of Cities, World Bank

Equity and Access in times of Pandemic

In these very challenging times, it is essential that steps are taken to engage and respond to those who most need assistance. One such measure was the Cites for All — Equity and Access in Times of Pandemic webinar series, which began in early March 2020. It was created by World Enabled and GIZ as a way for city leaders to develop rapid responses to the COVID-19 outbreak and address the challenges it posed to the world’s most at-risk people, including persons with a disability and older persons.

Over 1000 city leaders, experts, and disability advocacy organizations joined with the UN Special Envoy on Disability and Accessibility, UCLG, UN Habitat, and the World Bank as part of the Cities for All Global Platform. The goal was to help develop immediate responses to address the specific needs of persons with disabilities and older persons to maintain their health, safety, dignity, and independence throughout the COVID-19 outbreak or in similar public health emergencies.

Emilia Saez, United Cities and Local Governments, opened by saying that, “All spheres of governments will need to make additional efforts in the aftermath to ensure access to public services as the safety and livelihoods of these groups determine the quality of societies”.

Following nine webinars held over two months, on the eve of Global Accessibility Awareness Day (#GAAD2020), the Cites for All — Equity and Access in Times of Pandemic webinar series came to a close. “After nine weeks of meetings with these global leaders, it was evident that there was a clear need for more disaggregated and comparable data and actions that cities and countries can take to immediately respond to those most at-risk,” said Dr. Victor Santiago Pineda, a global urban expert leading the Cities for All platform.

Understanding the impacts

To compound the difficulties posed by this global pandemic, there is a clear lack of comparable data regarding the effects of the pandemic on persons with disabilities and older persons. Most of the available data, reports, and resources are at the country level, not disaggregated by disability, and are not in accessible formats. These “data deserts” can render many citizens essentially invisible in current COVID-19 measurements.

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It is vital that persons with disabilities, older persons and their respective organizations have an active voice in shaping the post COVID-19 world. To address these issues, two sets of necessary measures were identified as a result of the Cites for All — Equity and Access in Times of Pandemic meetings.

The first measure includes the ability to assess the facts on the ground via a global survey on inclusive pandemic response. This will be achieved by the rollout of the C4All COVID-19 Inclusive and Accessible Cities Pilot Survey, which you can learn about and participate in here.

The survey was developed by World Enabled in collaboration with the World Bank and other partners, to generate the world’s first comparative data on how local municipal COVID-19 responses are impacting persons with disabilities and older persons. The anonymous survey is designed to be accessible to a wide variety of people including local government representatives, urban planners, persons with disabilities, civil society representatives, Disabled People Organization (DPO) representatives, among other stakeholders.

Taking direct action

The second measure included the development of an open draft of Declared Actions that can be shaped and adopted by governments, cities, and decision-makers to enhance inclusive urban resilience and improve the lives of persons with disabilities, older persons, and all those impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Declared Actions are a set of diverse but direct actions that can be taken to address equity and accessibility challenges currently being faced. The Declared Actions are inspired by the Principles of the C4All Global Compact on Inclusive & Accessible Cities and include lessons learned and gathered through the C4All WhatsApp Regional Learning Groups. It has also been inspired and influenced by the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Inclusion Targets of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the WHO Age-Friendly Cities Framework, and Habitat 3s New Urban Agenda.

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The actions span non-discrimination, accessibility, inclusive policies and programs, capacity building, participation, and data for development. To comment or review the Declared Actions please visit or email Serida Catalano.

A final outcome of the webinar series was the decision to develop a global knowledge base on equity and access. This will involve the development of an app that will provide access to numerous documents on a global map for government leaders, decision-makers, and other stakeholders. It will be an interactive platform that includes the most up-to-date information and best practices on targeted strategies, policies, and programs designed to help transform our future cities to be safer and more accessible, inclusive, and resilient in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

We will continue to work with our platform partners and leverage these resources to shape tools and influence policy. Ultimately by only by working together with a multi-stakeholder platform of city leaders, academics, and industry partners, can we hope to create accessible, inclusive and resilient cities that elevate our common humanity.

We are an international consulting group for the rights of #PWD. We initiate inclusive urban design through our #Cities4All campaign. Founded by @victorpineda