Building Bamenda for Everyone II: Disability Rights Advocates Demand Universal Design for New Road Projects

At every hour of the day, the streets of Bamenda bristle with a diverse array of road users. From pedestrians and cyclists to motorcyclists and persons with disabilities, the challenge of navigating the city’s deteriorating roads is a daily struggle. Among these individuals is Pa James, an elderly man who relies on a wooden tricycle to travel over four miles to his place of work to and fro daily. Every day, Pa James risks his life, maneuvering through potholes and dodging dangerous traffic hence emphasizing the dire need for better road infrastructure in the city. 
Main road at Mile 2 Nkwen, Central Town Bamenda. 

Recently, the Minister of Public Works, Ngannou Emmanuel Djoumessi, announced a new road infrastructure project for Bamenda funded by the World Bank costing 30 billion FCFA. This came just a few months after  a memorandum of intent was signed between the Ministry of Urban Development and Housing and the French Development Agency at nearly the same amount for inner city roads.This announcement brings hope, especially for those like Pa James and the many others who face similar challenges.

However, disability rights advocates stress that these new roads must adhere to universal design principles to ensure accessibility for all. Chick Sama, Coordinator of the Coordinating Unit of Association of Persons with Disabilities (CUAPWD), regularly navigates Bamenda’s streets and shares his struggles. 
Sama in black and white shirt speaking to Bakah Derick some time ago.

“The roads are a nightmare for persons with disabilities,” Sama explains adding “Cars are parked haphazardly, making navigation difficult. There’s no proper signage for people with low vision, and the uneven, bumpy roads are a constant hazard.”

For those with visual impairments, even those trained in mobility skills, the conditions are particularly daunting. Muddy and dusty roads exacerbate their difficulties, making safe and independent movement nearly impossible. Sama's experiences is similar to many others who face similar obstacles daily.

Nogning Armelle, President of CUAPWD and a disability rights advocate, echoes these concerns. 

“Using the road in Bamenda is a living hell... My transport fare is double what others pay. The lack of accessibility features, such as ramps, curb cuts, and tactile paving, makes it challenging for me and other people with disabilities to move around safely and independently. Some have been involved in accidents due to the poor road conditions.” She asserts 

Nogning Armelle, CUAPWD 

Armelle points to Article 9 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), which emphasizes the importance of accessibility in enabling persons with disabilities to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life. According to the UNCRPD, states must take appropriate measures to ensure equal access to the physical environment, transportation, information, and communications for persons with disabilities.

“Such measures must include the identification and elimination of obstacles and barriers to accessibility. This applies to buildings, roads, transportation, and other facilities open to the public. I expect that the new road infrastructure in Bamenda will include features that ensure accessibility for all people, including those with disabilities. This would include wheelchair ramps, accessible pedestrian crossings, tactile paving, and signage that comply with universal design principles.” Nogning Armelle explains 

Awa Jacques Chirac, Programs Manager of the Socio-Economic Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (SEEPD) Program of the Cameroon Baptist Convention Health Services (CBCHS), emphasizes the broader need for universal design. 
Awa Jacques Chirac PM SEEPD program CBCHS 

“It's not just about making the roads accessible for persons with disabilities; it’s about accommodating all road users. Universal design ensures that everyone, including pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists, and drivers, can use the roads safely and efficiently.” Awa Jacques Chirac states. 

The FCFA 30 billion investment from the World Bank and a memorandum of intent signed between the Ministry of Urban Development and Housing and the French Ambassador, Bamenda is likely on the cusp of a major overhaul. With information of compensation or payment of indemnifies to those with properties along the road already around the corner, things may go faster than expected. As bulldozers and construction crews prepare to break ground, there is the growing need  to ensure that these new roads are accessible to everyone, including persons with functional limitations and disabilities.

The need for inclusive infrastructure has never been more critical. As Bamenda modernizes, it's essential that the new developments cater to all residents. This means incorporating universal design principles from the outset, ensuring that every road, sidewalk, and public space is navigable for individuals with disabilities.

By Bakah Derick 
Tel: 6 94 71 85 77 

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