Inclusive Design and Accessibility of the Built Environment in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Mikaela Patrick, Iain McKinnon, Vicki Austin, Global Disability Innovation Hub, AIFO, Tegsh Niigem, Universal Progress ILC
Oct. 22, 2020

Background information

The Global Disability Innovation Hub (GDI Hub) is launching the first case study on Inclusive Infrastructure in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. GDI Hub worked with AIFO, Tegsh Niigem and Universal Progress ILC conducting research on the state of accessibility and inclusion in the built environment. This case study is part of a series of six global case studies. 

Download the full report

The series is being developed to understand global priorities for inclusive design within the Inclusive Infrastructure work of the UK Aid funded AT2030 programme; to build evidence on the awareness, understanding, acceptance, application and experience of Inclusive Design and accessible environments globally, particularly in lower and middle-income countries.

Becoming a more inclusive city

Ulaanbaatar city presents unique challenges and opportunities for accessible and inclusive design. The city is full of divisions between its more developed core city and the surrounding Ger areas. The Ger areas are unplanned settlements that have grown to become 70 percent of the city’s population in the last 30 years. These parts of the city lack access to basic infrastructure, widening inequality, impacting health and wellbeing and presenting immense urban development challenges. Mongolia is making important progress towards inclusion, such as the adoption of the ‘Law Protecting the Rights of Persons with Disabilities’ in 2016 and current plans to revise accessibility standards and the drafting of an accessibility law. However, current standards are not mandatory and stakeholders describe issues in implementing laws and policies.

Ulaanbaatar’s Ger areas and unique geographical, climatic and cultural context require an approach to inclusive and accessible design and planning in the built environment that embeds local context and knowledge. Currently, the design of accessibility is centred on basic physical modifications such as ramps and accessible toilets. Inclusive design has the potential to do much more. Inclusive design can be applied across the city’s urban development and planning initiatives to integrate local perspectives and amplify the voices of people with disabilities, who have some of the best understanding of how the built environment is inequitable.

An inclusive built environment creates access and opportunity, allows for participation and builds equity in society. It is the result of collaborating efforts across society to ensure that no one is left behind. There is an appetite for making Ulaanbaatar more inclusive across policy, built environment industry and community stakeholders and a reasonable understanding of the wider benefits of inclusive design. Setting a comprehensive vision and action plan for a more inclusive Ulaanbaatar should be complemented by training and education in disability inclusion and inclusive design across stakeholders and the general public. These steps would allow the city’s design and development to accommodate and celebrate diversity, improving the lives of everybody: including people with disabilities.

“An inclusive and accessible Ulaanbaatar is somewhere that can be experienced by everybody in a fair and equal way. By creating safe and accessible environments for all members of the community the city can allow everyone to access and participate in the opportunities they would like.”

Inclusive design should be understood as a mindset and methodology above technical standards, to allow responsive and adaptive design in a rapidly changing city. This adaptive mindset in design also has the potential to engage the city’s rich history and culture and considers the different ways people want to live in a city.

Key barriers

People with disabilities experience physical, social and economic barriers to accessing the built environment. Here are some of the findings from the report:

• 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 decision-makers. 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.

Recommendations

Key recommendations from this case study:

• Find out what matters to people

• City stakeholders should establish a shared vision and ambition for an inclusive and accessible Ulaanbaatar

• Awareness raising and education are vital. It can teach stakeholders how inclusive design benefits everyone and help to create a culture of inclusion.

• Accessibility in the built environment is not just about technical standards. Inclusive design can be beautiful and aspirational. Inclusive design is good design.

• Ulaanbaatar’s unique climate, culture and geography require an inclusive design strategy that responds to those contexts

• Embed inclusive design from the start of a project and budget for it, earlier integration is more effective

• Start somewhere! People need to discover for themselves how inclusive design can make the city a better place to live.

Street view: wheelchair user and other people walking

Participants felt stigma in the built environment.