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Disability and rural areas: there is still no adequate accessibility to the needs of people with disabilities
19 Jan 2023

• The design of rural environments and spaces can hinder social interaction, in addition to limiting the generation of forms of inclusion for people with some type of disability, with its consequent physical, economic or social impact.
• It is necessary to promote a universal design that promotes an inclusive environment where all people are allowed to move freely and autonomously, indirectly contributing to improving the quality of life of others.
One of the focuses of concern of the European Union is the development of the rural world in an increasingly urbanized environment. In this context, more and more people and organizations cooperate by creating new businesses in rural environments to fight against depopulation. The UN reports defend that, by 2050, about 68% of the world population will live in cities. Europe will not be an exception, so the main challenge will be to achieve a balance between the sustainable development of cities and the rural world.
The socioeconomic indicators in these areas are, as a general rule, below the average, especially in terms of infrastructure and transport, social and cultural services, new communication technologies, etc. The reality is that our society is organized with urban-centric criteria that harm those who are not within the average. Since people with disabilities constitute a group with specific needs within the rural population, it is clear that this effort to consolidate socioeconomic rural areas must be taken into account.
People with disabilities have the right to a full life without exclusions in all areas, including rural areas. Precisely, this environment has always been characterized by low levels of accessibility and services for people with disabilities, which is a barrier to access to education, employment and other services. In rural areas, it is not always possible to access special schools or adapted educational programs, which limits academic and professional opportunities. In addition, specialized medical care and support services are often limited or non-existent in rural areas, making it difficult for people with disabilities to get the treatment and help they need.
One of the most prominent problems is accessibility due to a shortage of public transport, as well as adequate infrastructure for mobility. This means that the rural environment is an environment in which a person with a disability can find serious limitations in accessing basic services. Accessibility in rural areas has been a challenge for society as a whole, and governments have a special responsibility to address this issue. This can be achieved by investing in adequate infrastructure to ensure that public spaces are accessible, as well as improving transport systems for people with disabilities.
However, how can local administrations respond to these needs?
In the first place, it is necessary to prepare a diagnosis of the existing barriers and set goals for each of the stages aimed at eliminating them, with a view to achieving accessibility through gradual improvements. Experts suggest that the first steps promote a "culture of accessibility", starting with the alignment of the objectives of an ecological and just transition without leaving anyone behind. On the other hand, local entities must coordinate actions and efforts between civil sector organizations, decentralized bodies and companies from different services, in order to guarantee full accessibility.
However, none of this will be enough if those who live in rural areas are not the ones who design it. People with disabilities must be the protagonists both in the formulation of legislation and interventions in the environment, as well as in other decision-making processes, since their experience is key to making rural areas and cities universally habitable places.