As Kigali positions itself to become a conference hub and business-friendly, persons with disabilities have raised concerns over lack of special facilities to facilitate their movements.
Advocates warn this is a setback to Rwanda’s economic ambitions. Persons with disability in Kigali that spoke to Rwanda Today said it is extremely difficult to navigate buildings in Kigali that were built 10 years ago.
They say new buildings are somewhat accessible mostly for people with wheelchairs but rarely inclusive of disabilities like dwarfism and the blind.
“I recognise that there is an effort to make Kigali inclusive compared with 10 years ago. But the fact is, an environment is either inclusive or not. If a person in a wheelchair can access the building but a blind person can’t, that is not inclusive,” said Callixte Ikuzwe, a visionary impaired specialist in assistive technology.
“For Kigali, a city that values tourism, accessibility, and inclusiveness should be a priority. Unfortunately, even some of the new buildings are hard to navigate,” added Mr Ikuzwe who works for Seeing Hands Rwanda, a local NGO advocating for people with disabilities.
Mr Ikuzwe said accessibility has gone beyond environment and infrastructure to digital inclusiveness. He says while Rwanda is migrating essential services online, government sites are only 2 percent accessible by people with disabilities.
“Progress is sustainable when it is inclusive. Seeing Hands Rwanda is advocating and working for disabled people to be included in Rwanda’s growing economy,” Mr Ikuzwe said.
The issue of accessibility came the to surface during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting held in Kigali in June when President Kagame apologised to a disabled journalist when he complained that he could not leave his hotel for six days to attend the meeting because of his disability.
President Kagame explained that while Rwanda has put in place policies to make Kigali more accessible by disabled people, implementation continues to delay progress.
A mini-inspection by Rwanda Today in some of the major buildings in Kigali found that buildings that were built after 2015 have accessible paths for wheelchairs, voiced directions, easy-to-navigate elevators, signs, and colored lights for directions. A few buildings have braille on elevators.