Accessible built environment: Ulaanbaatar case study

What can a project in Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia teach us about an accessible built environment? Well, probably not much, except that the issues are the same the world over. Doesn’t matter if it is a developed or developing country – there’s plenty of work to do. And that means doing more than drafting a policy. 

Many of the 163 signatories to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities are developing countries. And many of these are taking matters seriously. They see the economics of it – participation improves productivity. Australia has lots of strategies and plans for disability inclusion and age friendly environments. But will Australia start falling behind developing countries with our lack of coordinated action? Not a good look if so. 

Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia is the subject of a study funded by UKaid. The case study report reads similarly to many case studies and guidelines from developed countries. But the backdrop is very different. While countries like Mongolia engage with universal design and accessibility, we are still talking about these issues. However, the Sustainable Development Goals might help us get a move along. 

The Ulaanbaatar case study makes an interesting read.  The report summary lists the key barriers which look familiar:

• The way the city is evolving leaves limited space for accessibility. Urban planning and coordinated efforts should make space to build in accessibility

• A lack of knowledge on the cost of inclusive design is a barrier for decisionmakers. Good quality design should not cost more

• Laws and policies fall through on implementation. Mechanisms are needed to ensure implementation

• A lack of responsibility and accountability for inclusion in built environment and infrastructure projects means existing standards are not enforced

• A lack of good examples of local inclusive design solutions creates a barrier to motivating the general public and designers. Ulaanbaatar needs a vision for inclusive design.

The title of the report is, Inclusive Design and Accessibility of the Built Environment in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

There is a report summary and a full report, which has insights and lessons learned. The project included access to assistive technology (aids and devices) as well as the built environment. Together universal design and assistive technology create the continuum of inclusion. 

Mongolia ratified the UN Convention in 2016 and passed a law to protect the rights of people with disability. This began the drive towards accessible environments. The city does not have a history of urban planning so it is possible to begin with a relatively clean slate.