Making the world a more inclusive place
As communities across the U.S. continue to expand rail systems and make them more accessible for people of all ability levels, cities around the world are also looking to improve and increase their passenger rail systems. Light rail transportation (LRT) systems are popular across the globe, such as in London, England and in Mendoza, Argentina, but none have been established in sub-Saharan Africa yet―though this will soon change. In the most populous land-locked country in the world[i], the Ethiopian Railway Corporation (ERC) is now building the first LRT system in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia and the headquarters of the African Union.
The Addis Ababa LRT system, a major transportation first for the majority of the continent, could become a model for future projects and so must set a high standard. With many communities offering LRT systems across the country, the U.S. has broad experience to share on the topic. Judy Heumann, U.S. Department of State special advisor on international disability rights, traveled to Ethiopia in November of 2012 and met with ERC staff. Following her visit, ERC expressed an interest in ensuring that the LRT facility meets internationally accepted disability standards, which would dramatically help Ethiopians with disabilities to increase their independence.
Continuing the conversation, ERC engineers and a representative of the Ethiopian disability community recently came to Washington, DC to meet with officials from the U.S. Department of Transportation and Easter Seals Project ACTION (ESPA) staff. On August 13, as part of the International Visitor Leadership Program, the Accessible Transportation Briefing covered a range of topics including LRT system design, transit accessibility, rail accessibility, and ESPA resources. From the Office of the Secretary at U.S. DOT, Robert Letteney, deputy assistant secretary for aviation and international affairs, provided opening remarks and Bryna Helfer, deputy assistant secretary for public engagement, provided closing remarks. Participants from the Ethiopian delegation included Tilahun Demtew AZENE, deputy bureau head of Addis Ababa Road and Transport Bureau, as well as representatives from ERC and the Ethiopian National Association of the Physically Handicapped.
ESPA was honored to be a part of this international meeting. Carol Wright, senior director of accessible transportation programs at Easter Seals, believed the meeting, “strengthened international understanding of the importance of independence for people with disabilities both for themselves and for society.” Wright further stated, “The Addis Ababa LRT project shows a strong commitment to accessibility. As the first LRT system in sub-Saharan Africa, ERC has the opportunity not only to create an LRT model for other African cities but also to pave the way for more inclusive communities on the continent.” For more information on ESPA’s international work, visit ESPA’s International Initiatives webpage.
[i] Central Intelligence Agency. [Most data estimates as of July 2013]. The World Factbook: Country Comparison - Population. [Accessed from: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2119rank.html?countryname=Ethiopia&countrycode=et®ionCode=afr&rank=13#et