Interview with our accessibility expert in Haiti

We speak with Alexis Joseph, CBM's Accessibility Program Manager in Haiti, to find out more about progress made in the area of accessibility and inclusion in the aftermath of the 12 January 2010 earthquake.

Alexis Joseph opted to return to his native homeland after studying abroad to implement new knowledge as he always wanted to be engaged in social development activities and to improve the living conditions of the poor. By starting to work for CBM in the area of accessibility, he quickly embraced the situation of people with disabilities and the promotion of accessibility as a personal cause.

Can you describe your work as an accessibility expert in Haiti? What are your main responsibilities?

Acting as a focal resource person on accessibility in Haiti since 2013, I ensure the continuation of CBM’s work in accessibility that was started after the 2010 earthquake. Today, I’m in charge of developing and implementing CBM Haiti’s program activities including:

  • Awareness raising activities towards advocating for the mainstreaming of accessibility principles in the re-construction process and sensitising the general public, national and international public and private organisations as well as governmental and local authorities.
  • Capacity building of institutions and Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs) as well as professionals (i.e. policy makers, architects, engineers, craftsmen, teachers and students)  on universal design and accessibility. When it's necessary, we go on the field to supervise construction projects in which CBM is involved to ensure their compliance with accessibility principles as well as to accompany the Team of Competence for the realisation of accessibility audits.
  • Technical expertise delivery: I serve as technical advisor for the government through BSEIPH (Office of the Secretariat of State for Integration of Persons with Disabilities) by supporting and advising on accessibility. For instance, I provide support for the work on the development of national accessibility norms; I take part in forums on reconstruction on behalf of BSEIPH when needed. I also serve as the resource person for BSEIPH when it comes to talking about accessibility and even represent BSEIPH as member of the Haitian Bureau of Standardization.

In addition CBM supports the development of an Accessibility platform between International NGOs working on disability and accessibility, governmental body and civil society. With this platform CBM has worked to produce contextualized practical guidelines on housing and pathways for Haiti.

How much progress has Haiti made in terms of accessibility in the past 5 years, after the earthquake?

Small but significant steps have been achieved since 2010 (awareness raising, trainings and implementation of accessibility in public buildings). However, efforts started prior to the earthquake with the advocacy from DPOs and Haitian Institutions. Actually, the earthquake did not disrupt the progress on disability inclusion in Haiti (for example a national law on integration of Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) has been ratified by Parliament in March 2010, that’s two months after the earthquake). The earthquake created awareness on PwDs and the importance of creating an environment accessible for all. Civil society as well as the Haitian government continued to engage with accessibility after the earthquake. For instance, CBM has worked in collaboration with BSEIPH (Secretary of State for the integration of People with Disability) on a lot of activities like training, advocacy and building of a Unity on Universal Accessibility. It became more apparent after the earthquake that without the participation of PwDs in reconstruction projects, implementation of universal design and accessibility principles is often only partial or non-existent.  Therefore, CBM and its partners actively promote and engage into ‘Building with rather than building for persons with disabilities’. 

What have been your challenges faced in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, and how did you overcome them?

Our main challenges were for example:

  • Which accessibility area should be prioritised: transport, built environment, information?
  • Lack of local expertise available in the field of accessibility 
  • Lack of involvement of PwDs in planning and design, often the fault of those overseeing the projects as they do not always make efforts to engage and consult with PWDs in the planning processes. 
  • Lack of disability awareness component in the training curricula of planners, architects and construction engineers
  • Limited financial resources and limited knowledge of national law and international convention on rights of PwDs.
  • Geographic and climatic constraints and uncontrolled urbanisation of Port-au-Prince.

We have managed to overcome the challenges through the following:

  • Focus on the built environment as an entry point to address later on other accessibility areas
  • Conducting awareness raising activities on universal accessibility together with DPOs and BSEIPH 
  • Building capacity of DPOs, construction professionals and universities.
  • Building exemplary models of access (e.g. demonstration sites). 
  • Networking with others agencies (i.e. International Labour Organisation)

In fact, the success of implementation of accessibility standards and norms largely depends on the availability of technical support, which is the sum of capacity building, development of tools and methodology, gathering evidence and knowledge sharing.

Some figures reflecting our work

  1. Construction of models: 125 accessible shelters and wash facilities, accessible entrances at main public buildings and offices
  2. Training construction professionals: more than 400 engineers and architects; about 150 DPOs members, foremen and bricklayers. In addition, we are working on the inclusion of an accessibility course in a Technical School to provide accessibility trainings to its students. Last but not least, we are also building a competent team composed of 10 trained DPO members who will be in charge of conducting accessibility audits.
  3. Production of Information, Education and Communication (IEC) materials on accessibility norms; a video campaign on accessibility together with the UN mission in Haiti and BSEIPH; conducted 50 accessibility audits on building opened to the public during the last 2 years with a Team of Competence (ToC).
  4. CBM is also supporting the creation of an Accessibility Unit in BSEIPH. This unit will be the focal point on accessibility for the government and other stakeholders in the construction field, and will manage a documentation centre on accessibility and disability funded by CBM.

Haiti - five years on

CBM commemorates the fifth anniversary of the Haiti earthquake which struck on 12 January 2010

Read more