Center for Independent Living
Underpasses are an integral part of the urban environment nowadays and important elements of the mobility infrastructure. They need to be safe, accessible and secure for everyone, including disabled people, senior citizens, children and little babies in prams. In the 21st century most of the Sofia underpasses do not meet any of the above requirements. This needs to be changed and we know how to bring for such change.
Sofia, Capital City of Bulgaria
Lack of accessible built environment, including underpasses, stops disabled people to be included in the community – they cannot move freely, go to school, find and keep a job, take care of their daily needs – which is their fundamental right as human beings. Broken sidewalks and steps at the crossings, impaired underpasses, stairs in public buildings and lack of elevators create difficulties to wheelchair users, elderly and even parents with babies in strollers. In many cases, underpasses – except for being inaccessible for disabled people – are dangerous for non-disabled citizens: broken steps and lack of lights may result in accidents or even criminal situations. Not to mention hardships in reaching transport means, like buses, trams or the metro.
The key target group that can be affected positively by the initiative is the one of disabled people – wheelchair users, individuals with mobility problems or impaired vision, both residing in Sofia and guests of the capital city from other parts of Bulgaria or foreign countries.
If elderly and parents with baby strollers are added to this group, the number may grow up to over one million people who would be able to move freely in the heart of Sofia. In addition, approximately one thousand active citizens – disabled and elderly – will have access to key political points and government agencies to speak for themselves – as opposed to be represented only – and “advocate for their own rights”, as a group of 10 young disabled people declared.
The initiative will start with a happening at a key location in Sofia – The Largo and Independence Square – where an underpass connects the buildings of the President’s Office, Council of Ministers and the Parliament. It also hosts an exposition of artefacts from the ancient Thracian and Roman city of Serdica. Entrance and exit points are equipped with metal rails fixed to a steep flight of stairs, which are dangerous for everyone who would dare to use them. On the other hand, crossing the square above the ground makes people exposed to danger of being hit by a motor vehicle.
Series of workshops – face-to-face and on-line – will follow to present the argument in favour of safe, accessible and secure underpasses. They will cover issues related to human rights, legal requirements, and technical solutions, which can make the environment better for everyone. The goal is to make all parties involved in the urban development process understand how important safety, accessibility and security factors are for everyone and especially for disabled people to be able to enjoy their basic human rights and contribute to society.
Finally, the coalition will develop a checklist for safety, accessibility and security of underpasses, as well as an idea for adaptation of The Largo underpass. Both will be presented to the city authorities for implementation.
1. Larger parts of society will know more about accessibility as a prerequisite for inclusion of disabled people and protection of their human rights;
2. Special web-section will collect a lot of information on the human rights, legal and technical aspects related to safe, accessible and secure underpasses;
3. Checklist for safe, accessible and secure underpasses will be available for use after the project is completed;
4. An idea for adaptation of a key location underpass will be developed by a coalition of stakeholders and presented to the local authorities for implementation;
5. A pressure group will be set up to demand safe, accessible and secure underpasses, which will be of benefit for the entire society.
Lack of accessibility is a result of lack of knowledge and awareness of disability as a matter of barriers, which hinder participation of people with impairments to public resources and processes, including political engagement and participation. This project will fill in the gap and show society the lost potential in result of isolating disabled people from the mainstream environment. It will demonstrate that issues of public interest need joined forces of different groups for the common good – safe, accessible and secure underpasses are of interest to everyone, for the disabled people and their freedom they are of paramount importance. Finally, SASU will show the government that use of public resources requires consideration of interests and needs of all communities and groups.
The core team involves disabled people experienced in overcoming architectural barriers on daily basis with knowledge in conceptual, legal and technical aspects of accessibility as a prerequisite for human rights. Kapka Panayotova is a well-known disability rights activist and one of the CIL founders and directors for years. Mitko Tsvetkov is an active wheelchair user committed to the cause of independent living, which is not possible without accessible environment, including underpasses. Petko Stalinchev and Stefan Nguen are both young and creative wheelchair users, survivors of institutional care, university graduates nowadays and committed campaigners for human rights of disabled people. Accessible built environment is the cause embraced by everyone in the team.
Funding requested from Civic Europe
1. Personnel costs (project manager, disability activists, trainers) - 17000 EUR
2. Workshops (rent a hall, materials and etc.) - 5000 EUR
3. Visual materials (video and audio, posts and etc.) - 10000 EUR
4. Office expenses (renting costs, overheads, stationery) - 4000 EUR