Disability inclusion in innovation is important for the realization of bringing the notion of ‘Leave no one behind’ into reality as well as to foster inclusive innovation for sustainable development. In Nepal, almost 2 % of the total population (i.e., roughly 500,000 persons) are persons with a disability (CBS, 2011). Nevertheless, the World Bank puts the global average of disability at 15%. Mainstreaming disability in every aspect of development, innovation, programming, and project management is vital. However, it is not always easy to bring disability and innovation together due to poor planning, lack of accelerated learning, inefficient market research, and inadequate designs.
That is why, with an ambition to ‘fail fast, learn quick’ and putting ‘nothing about us without us’ as the core of the business, Accelerator Lab in Nepal is diligently working with UNDP Nepal’s Disability Inclusion Team to map, explore and experiment with some of the innovations on the local level. Consequently, this approach equally benefits persons with disabilities through a human-centered approach to generate evidence for proper decision-making.
The Lab’s first experiment in Nepal was to turn abandoned and misused public spaces into wheelchair-accessible green pocket parks. From the initial planning and designing phase of the park, the Accelerator Lab team in Nepal collaborated with the technical team of Lalitpur Metropolitan City Office and Vrikshya Foundation to ensure that the park is wheel-chair friendly, easily accessible, and aesthetically pleasing to all visitors. A 3-D model was first designed to check the viability of the inclined path to manage the 4 feet level distance between the footpath and the park. To ensure community involvement from the planning phase, a collective intelligence session was conducted with the local government and the diverse community groups, from households to local businesses in the periphery.
After the construction of the park, we monitored its usability for the disabled community. Currently, the lab team is researching behavioral insights and impact assessment of the pocket park. This study focuses on the kind of changes that the park has brought to the community and the recommendations to make pocket parks more user-friendly, regardless of age, gender, and disability. The interviews conducted with several persons with disabilities revealed that wheel-chair users found it more useful for waiting purposes even though they had minor difficulties moving through the inclined plank due to the labeling and narrow path.
”Pocket parks, especially in a city like Kathmandu, are very important as we do not have an open space where we can meet friends and rest for a while. Being a person with a disability, I have not visited any parks in the city as they are not wheel-chair friendly. However, the initiatives like this make me happy and feel accepted. However, I would request the makers of these kinds of parks to make them more accessible and inclusive for people like us.” Laxmi Ghimire, a wheel-chair user.
A few of the initial learnings we garnered from this experience so far are:
1. Design Aspect: We found that conscious prototyping of the design concerning the needs of persons with various disabilities is important. Moreover, including the voice of this segment of society during the design phase itself will guide the building of an overall inclusive pocket park.
2. Testing the prototype: Since disability-friendly infrastructure requires sensitivity and minute details, testing the applicability of the 3-D models with the targeted segment (in this case, the persons with disabilities) before actual implementation is essential.
3. Aptitude to change: Though the Accelerator Lab in Nepal focused on human-centric design while constructing our first experiment, ‘the pocket park,’ we found plenty of areas for improvement that require additional technical and financial efforts. We hence believe that such due improvements require an acceptance and internalization towards course correction.
4. Empathy above all: To design an accessible pocket park for persons with disabilities using wheelchairs, we must empathize and understand their needs and emotions. A tool like an Empathy map can be considered to help one gain knowledge about the persons with disability community. By understanding what they need, think, feel, say and do, one can develop rich insights that help identify genuine issues, problems, or concerns.
Accelerator Lab Nepal believes in integrating its experiments with the UNDP Country office’s core programming. Gender equality, social and disability inclusion are of especial importance for UNDP and the Disability Inclusion team. Holding strong to the same beliefs and values, Accelerator Lab in Nepal has incorporated and prioritized this framework in its work. The capability that the Lab brings to the field is immense. For example, through horizon scanning, the Lab stays alert to the emerging trends and technologies. For one of UNDP’s projects on Sustainable Urban Mobility, Lab has been closely observing and mapping local innovations in existence at the grassroots levels. One of such solutions that came in was an electric wheel-chair prototype developed by the National Innovation Center.
Inclusive innovation is an agenda not just for Nepal but also is for this region, and Nepal Lab believes in learning from the best practices available. Regionally, the Regional Innovation Center of UNDP Bangkok Regional hub, which is often considered as the regional parent for the Accelerator Labs in Asia and the Pacific, has published a good reference document in 2020 showcasing how Southeast Asian countries are harnessing the inclusive innovation strategies to truly leave no one behind, including the disability community. For instance, in Vietnam, a person named Dr. Vo Thi Hoang Yen at the Disability Research and Capacity Development (DRD) developed Dmap (short for Disability map), an app that helps persons with disabilities plan their travel and navigate accessible buildings in Viet Nam.
In this journey on inclusive Innovation, Acc Lab Nepal is committed to working closely with the Disability programme of UNDP and using the recently developed disability checklist to make the Lab’s programming more inclusive. The disability checklist will serve as a benchmark for mainstreaming the Lab’s solutions mapping, exploration, and experimentation.
UNDP Accelerator Lab in Nepal is working closely with development partners, the private sectors and grassroot innovators as a “vehicle” to test innovative solutions around unplanned urbanization and unemployment. It is on a quest to invest technical expertise on these two frontier issues in order to map, and explore a portfolio of experiments to foresee more possibilities.