Making Dubai’s built environment more accessible

Making Dubai’s built environment more accessible
Steven Carpenter (left) and Elie Ghoussoub (right) from WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff.
Published: 4 March 2017 - 8:29 a.m.
By: James Morgan

Policy-makers from across the Middle East are working to improve levels of accessibility within the region’s built environment, and the UAE is at the forefront of these efforts. The Dubai Universal Design Code, which is expected to be implemented in H1 2017, represents a prime example of how the issue of accessibility has grown in importance during recent years.

WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff has contributed to the Government of Dubai’s efforts to improve accessibility, not only in the development of the upcoming code, but also in conjunction with public sector agencies. Steven Carpenter, the consultancy’s associate director of health, safety, and risk management in the Middle East, says this legislation represents a major step forward.

“The Dubai Universal Design Code is the result of a gap analysis undertaken by The Executive Council of Dubai last year,” he begins. “This analysis was designed to shed light on levels of accessibility across the city. It didn’t focus solely on buildings; it also scrutinised public spaces and transport infrastructure.”

Elie Ghoussoub, WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff’s principal consultant for health, safety, and risk management in the Middle East, says that in addition to supporting earlier accessibility-related legislation, the upcoming code will provide Dubai’s construction community with the tools necessary for implementation.

“The creation of the Dubai Universal Design Code is the latest step in the journey to transform Dubai into an accessible emirate,” he explains. “This journey started back when the UAE signed the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The convention was ratified in 2008, following Abu Dhabi’s issuance of Federal Law No 29/2006.

“Dubai later issued its own legislation, Law No 2 of 2014 Concerning the Protection of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which affirmed that people with disabilities had the right to inclusive environments, education, and social care. However, it said nothing specific about how these goals should be achieved within the built environment. That’s where the gap analysis came in; it supported the My Community… A City for Everyone initiative, which set out five pillars: quality health and rehabilitation services, inclusive education, equal employment opportunities, universal accessibility, and a sustainable social protection system.

“The gap analysis and the resultant Dubai Universal Design Code will provide a framework within which we can realise these goals,” predicts Ghoussoub.

Carpenter and Ghoussoub are clearly eager to see the code implemented. Both are able to identify examples of effective accessibility within Dubai’s built environment, but they also emphasise that there is room for improvement. The Dubai Universal Design Code, they argue, will play a crucial role in this regard.

“The flat nature of Dubai’s landform certainly provides an advantage when it comes to accessibility,” says Carpenter. “Moreover, its buildings are relatively new, so they include features like automatic doors, and significant amounts of circulation space.

“These characteristics are great; they give Dubai a solid platform from which to work. Nevertheless, features of the built environment designed to aid accessibility are often poorly managed. For example, a drainage system may necessitate a change in level, but the ramps and steps that are incorporated are often not to the standard that would be required by a wheelchair user.

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