The Fifthteenth Annual Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectual Design Excellence 2013
Berkeley Prize 2013

Allan Birabi


Allan Birabi, Ph.D.
Makerere University Department of Architecture and Physical Planning
Kampala, Uganda

Supplementary Reflections on Semester 1 2013-2014 under BERKELEY PRIZE Teaching Fellowship at Makarere University

This feedback report is an account of, and reflection upon completion of ‘The Architect and the Accessible City’, a Yr I teaching agenda for Semester I, 2013-2014 academic year at the Architecture School, Makerere University, Kampala Uganda under the first ever BERKELEY PRIZE Teaching Fellowship. The year-long Fellowship is poised to practically introduce the phenomenon of Universal Design as advocated for in principles of integral and inclusive approach to architectural education and design of the built environment. As the Fellowship Award holder, it is humbling to present this feedback denoting detailed reflections on:

i) How the students’ attitudes towards their work case-specifically, the idea of Universal Design, and those with disabilities changed as a result of exposure to this phenomenon in Semester I;

ii) How my work as the responsible tutor might have changed as a result of the course;

iii) The impact of the invited users and/or experts in the effort to change prevailing student and, conceivably, teaching attitudes; and

iv) Impact of teaching/learning activities on my departmental/collegiate academic Staff and/or administrators' thinking about teaching design as a result of the Fellowship. 

In my first lecture to the students, I provided Uganda’s contextual categorization of people with disabilities (PWDs) and/or people affected by accessibility barriers as presented by Uganda National Action on Physical Disability (UNAPD, 20101). It includes but is not limited to: People who use wheelchairs; People with limited walking/movement abilities; People with visual impairment or low vision; People with hearing impairment; People with intellectual disabilities; People with psycho-social disabilities; Elderly persons; Pregnant women; People with temporary disabilities; and People carrying heavy or cumbersome luggage. From this viewpoint, a brief survey was conducted with the students to gauge their attitudes particularly towards PWDs. During the lecture, a lively debate of mixed socio-cultural, historical, ethnographical and anthropological undercurrents unfolded the realization of several indigenous African ethnic, tribal, social and spiritual myths associated with PWDs that still persist in Uganda in particular and sub-Saharan Africa at large. Among many parents, for instance, it is regarded a waste of money and an unnecessary hassle to send the physically handicapped such as the deaf, the blind or the cripple to school. This is due to the fact that their conditions are superstitiously demonized and are regarded a disgrace linked to some bad lack, evil spell, some curse or judgment and punishment from the gods or ancestors for some misdeed by their parents/relatives. Consequently, these children are heavily marginalized and some low-income families that would be willing to send Children with Disabilities (CWDs) to school would rather educate able-looking children. Apparently, it is on record that since time immemorial children born with disabilities in Africa have been routinely killed immediately after birth by parents and mid-wives although it is on a lesser scale today because of increasing awareness that disability is no fault of these children. The debate further unfolded that these mindsets coupled with ignorance and discrimination have led to both Africa’s public and private sectors, local and central governments to consistently neglect and shun PWDs in education, employment, safety, security, and their accessibility comfort particularly in urban built environments; and that the enterprise of architectural education is an equal culprit in this predicament. Indirectly, it is implied that it is up to PWDs to catch up with the ‘ideal’ built environment designed in accordance with non-disability standards of form, functionality, durability and aesthetics. In this connection, the trend in Makerere University has been that of some ‘invisible policy’ to discourage students with disabilities from pursuing the B.Arch program. In 2000, the first ever student in a wheelchair who was resolute to pursue this program fell out simply because accessibility to lecture rooms was completely problematic between different levels of the Old Building of the then Faculty of Technology of Makerere University. Ever since, no other ‘Student With Disability’ has attempted the program.

However, now from the viewpoint of not only the students, but as well as fellow departmental/collegiate academic Staff, administrators and myself fully realizing the probability of any of us getting into a state of a person with disability, there has emerged augmented zeal and resoluteness to learn to design built environments rich in accessibility for all categories of end-users without discrimination. Dramatically, after the just concluded Semester I, this is now poised to become part of the key components of the philosophy of design of Makerere Architecture School towards public/private buildings, public transport systems, public spaces, etc. During crits in the course of the semester, popular slogans ranged from: Towards Disabled-Friendly Design; Barrier-Free Design; All-Inclusive Win-Win Design; Universal Design; to Makerere Disability students’ slogan of ‘Nothing Without Us’. Powered by the above-stated paradigm shift in philosophical perspectives, the students have gained practical attitudinal change through visual artistic expression on paper and tangible modeling to quickly notice deficiencies of Universal Design and heightened ability to detect and question past failures on this matter in Kampala’s built environment. As well, students now exhibit attitudinal competences in innovating ‘best value frameworks’ and practices for dealing with respective shortcomings in all manner of indeterminate situations so as to attain universal design. Looking back, a further critical reflection resulting from exposure to this phenomenon is the triggering off of an attitudinal detoxication of minds not only of the students but as well as fellow departmental/collegiate academic Staff, administrators and also myself to free ourselves from above-enumerated mythical prejudices and unscientific beliefs against PWDs. In this connection, there is augmented willingness among the academic Staff and administrators to collectively improve pedagogy, course design and curriculum development empathetic of PWDs’ accessibility to the built environment and diminution of barriers. In fact, reflecting on Makerere University’s ‘invisible policy’ to discourage students with disabilities from pursuing the B.Arch program, the attitude now is that the Architecture program needs to open up to equally admit Students With Disabilities (SWDs) at least if they are sighted. As well, it is the feeling that the University should correspondingly cater for ergonometric comfort of their studio workplaces so as to maximize their scholarly productivity and professional excellence.

Look back again, the syllabus structure for Fellowship also incorporated invitation of users and/or experts concerned with the impetus of better accessibility for PWDs in modern urban built environments. As such, a consultant from the Faculty of Special Needs and Rehabilitation (FSNR) of Kyambogo University (KYU), was targeted owing to the fact that the Faculty is an invaluable treasure trove of the Departments of Community and Disability Studies (CDS) and Special Needs Studies (SNS). Correspondingly, FSNR has first hand research and publications on PWDs, and KYU awards the Diploma in Special Needs Education (2 yrs); the Diploma in Sign Language Interpretation (2 yrs); the Diploma in Mobility and Rehabilitation, the only kind in Africa; the Bachelor of Education in Special Needs Education (2yrs); and the Postgraduate Diploma in Special Needs Education (1 yr). Another consultant was targeted from Uganda National Action on Physical Disability (UNAPD), a native Ugandan organisation dedicated to the removal of barriers in society, which prevent People with Physical Disability (PWPD) from enjoying their full rights. As the authority body over accessibility standards for PWDs/PWPDs in Uganda, it was therefore deemed appropriate to consult an expert from the Organisation so as to accord more enriching insights of accessibility for PWDs/PWPDs to the BERKELEY PRIZE Teaching Fellowship program. The consultants were therefore purposed to provide first-hand accounts of the sort gaps architects are expected to fill as architectural design experts to make the ‘Kampala City’ barrier-free and universally accessible for all. Regrettably, however, following some indeterminate re-opening of Makerere University due to financial matters after some closure, the consultants could not quickly fit in the revised almanac of the University. Hence, as close substitute, reference was made to the work of Arch. Phyllis Kwesiga, a Ugandan consultant architect who has worked closely with UNAPD in the past to develop accessibility standards for PWDs/PWPDs in Uganda.

In as far as my work as the responsible tutor is concerned, I note with a deep sense of gratitude to the BERKELEY PRIZE  Teaching Fellowship for revolutionalizing, remodeling, and transforming my theoretical/hypothetical, conceptual, contextual, pedagogical, and designerly thinking against historically misguided imposition of non-disability standards alone for configuring not only the urban but as well as rural built environments. A corresponding impact is evident on my colleagues in the Architecture Department in particular and the College in general coupled with administrative and other support Staff who are all increasingly beginning to appreciate the valuable mission the BERKELEY PRIZE Teaching Fellowship and its thrust on tutoring Universal Design in architectural education. A major attitudinal spin-off is now the on-going debate to consider the post- BERKELEY PRIZE Teaching Fellowship era denoting continuity and/or sustainability of the Universal Design Ethos not only for the B.Arch program but across other design-based programs taught at Makerere University. 

1. UNAPD (2010). Accessibility Standards A Practical Guide to Create a Barrier-Free Physical Environment in Uganda. Kampala: KOBE Entrante.


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Like everyone else, this worker in Mexico needs transportation to his job. Public transport needs to be accessible for persons with mobility, sensory, and cognitive disabilities.
Persons with disabilities around the world are promoting transport systems that provide mobility for everyone. Mexican disability advocates are shown meeting with local transit officials to promote accessible transport. AEI has published guides to assist planners and advocates of inclusive transportation.
An accessible travel chain begins with safe streets and sidewalks. This street in Foshan, China, has separate rights-of-way for pedestrians, human-powered vehicles, and motor-powered vehicles.
Disability advisors at Rio de Janeiro’s Independent Living Center monitored access features for this street crossing, part of the Rio City Project.
Tactile guideways and tactile warning strips assist blind and sight-impaired pedestrians as well as others in Foshan, China.
Tactile warnings alert this blind person crossing a mid-street island in San Francisco, USA.
Busy intersections benefit from pedestrian controlled buttons and assist blind persons to cross through sound and vibration signals
Tactile warnings protect blind persons – and all other passengers – from getting too close to the platform edge in transit stations.
This footway adjacent to a road in Tanzania is protected by curb pieces which separate motor traffic from pedestrians and bicycles. Such basic safety measures are needed to prevent pedestrian injuries along roadways in many countries.
Even better, pedestrian and non-motorized traffic can be kept safely removed from motorized traffic by accessible sidewalks separated from the roadway, in this case by a well-designed drainage system along a main road in Tanzania. Speed bumps are used to slow traffic at crosswalks.
This pedestrian crosswalk provides level access to a bus island at an inter-modal transfer center in Mexico City.
Photo by T. Rickert, courtesy of DFID (UK) and TRL (UK).
Ticket vending machines should be low enough for use by wheelchair users and all short persons, as illustrated by the good design of this machine at a BART station in the San Francisco Bay area, USA.
Stairs are often retrofitted with stair lifts in transit terminals, as here in a Tokyo subway station. However, in new construction, elevators should be considered where possible.
A wheelchair user takes the elevator from the platform level of the Shenzhen, China, railroad station.
Wide doors are needed to accommodate wheelchair riders entering fare-paid areas of transit terminals, as in this subway station in Rio de Janeiro.
Everyone can safely board this BART train, due to a minimal horizontal and vertical gap.
However, care must be taken that horizontal gaps are not too wide. The orange “gap filler” pops up when the doors open in San Francisco’s Muni Metro, assuring a safe gap.
Small portable ramps can provide inexpensive access in many rail stations, as shown here in Tokyo.
All passengers, and especially deaf and hard-of-hearing passengers, benefit from well-located visual information, as with this route display on board a train to the Hong Kong airport.
Advocates Anjlee Agarwal (left) and Sanjeev Sachdeva board the accessible Delhi Metro on its inaugural run.
Photo courtesy of Sanjay Sakaria and Samarthya, from Amar Ujjala Indian Daily
Express buses in Curitiba, Brazil, exemplify universal design. All passengers, including those with disabilities, quickly board with level entry. Similar Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems operate in Quito, Ecuador; Bogota, Colombia, and a growing number of cities around the world.
Photo by Charles Wright, Inter-American Development Bank.
Construction of this Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) trunk line corridor in Pereira, Colombia, symbolizes the rapid spread of BRT systems around the world. BRT systems lend themselves to universal design, but details must be monitored carefully to maximize accessibility.
Although most BRT busways are on broad thoroughfares, this exclusive single-direction bus lane nearing completion in Pereira illustrates that BRT systems can sometimes be built on narrow streets.
This and above photo by T. Rickert courtesy of World Bank
The photo shows an articulated bus docking at a Bus Rapid Transit station in León, Mexico.
Pre-paid passengers inside a station board a high-capacity BRT bus in León.
This and above photo courtesy of Sistema Integrado de Transporte Masivo de León
A prototype low-floor bus is tested in New Delhi adjacent to a platform the same height as the bus floor.
A closeup of the same bus stop illustrates the advantages of fast boarding for all passengers from platforms that eliminate the need for climbing steps to board.
This and above photo courtesy of Gerhard Menckhoff of the World Bank.
This prototype lift-equipped bus serves Mamelodi Township in South Africa. Note the excellent use of contrasting colors.
Photo by T. Rickert, courtesy of DFID (UK) and TRL (UK).
Mexico City officials inaugurated service in 2001 with 50 new buses equipped with lifts and other access features.
Photo courtesy of Marìa Eugenia Antunez.
In addition to a wheelchair lift, this bus in Mexico City has a retractable step beneath the front entrance.
This low-floor bus in Warsaw, Poland, uses an inexpensive hinged ramp which provides easy boarding for passengers with disabilities.
A low-floor bus in Hong Kong also exhibits excellent color contrast, using a bright yellow on key edges and surfaces.
Transit systems around the world have reserved seating for seniors and passengers with disabilities, and often for pregnant women as well, as found on this TransMilenio bus in Bogotá, Colombia.
Even when bus stops are not accessible to wheelchair users, access for seniors and others with disabilities can be enhanced by a level all-weather pad even in the absence of paved sidewalks. The photo is from a TransMilenio feeder route in Bogotá.
This and above photo by T. Rickert courtesy of World Bank.
Thousands of Mexico City’s small inaccessible microbuses are being recycled and replaced with larger vehicles, often with better access features.
One such feature is this priority seating located behind the driver where there is extra leg room and it is easier for blind passengers to hear the driver call out key stops.
Photo by T. Rickert, courtesy of DFID (UK) and TRL (UK).
In other new buses in Mexico City, a wide rear door has low steps and is easily accessed by semi-ambulatory passengers from a raised sidewalk, but requires that drivers carefully pull in to the curb.
Photo by T. Rickert, courtesy of DFID (UK) and TRL (UK).
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Photo courtesy of Persatuan Mobiliti
Artist’s conception of a three-wheeled door-to-door vehicle connecting with an accessible ramped platform with bridge at a bus stop at a key site.
This prototype three-wheeled vehicle was built with AEI’s assistance by Kepha Motorbikes in Nairobi, Kenya.
Detail showing entry via a ramp at the rear of the test vehicle.
This and above photo courtesy of Wycliffe Kepha.
This accessible bicycle rickshaw in India has a rear door which serves as a ramp.
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A public meeting in Cali, Colombia, discusses accessibility to Bus Rapid Transit systems. Readers can go to the Bus Rapid Transit Accessibility Guidelines in our Resources section, under the links to the World Bank.
Photo by T. Rickert, courtesy of the World Bank.
In this version, the bridge piece is mounted under the platform and put into place by the bus driver.
This and above photo courtesy of DFID (UK) and CSIR Transportek (South Africa).
This test in South Africa of a prototype platform for use at key sites shows an alternative approach to access for wheelchair users.
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