Nicosia municipality on Tuesday denied major projects such as Eleftheria Square were inaccessible to the disabled, saying granite boulders aimed to prevent illegal parking and facilitate pedestrians.
“All the municipality’s projects are designed with full respect for the rights of all members of the public, with a key concern the unimpeded movement of everyone, pedestrians and the disabled,” it said.
Its announcement followed a scathing statement from the Pancyprian Organisation for the Blind (POT) accusing the municipality of “whistling indifferently” while depriving a segment of its residents of the fundamental human right to mobility, participation in demonstrations, and full inclusion in aspects of community and city life.
POT accused the municipality of kowtowing to the interests of the Eleftheria Square contractors who wanted immediate payment and, as a result, failing to keep a promise of the mayor himself to address project shortcomings found during a visit to the site together with POT representatives.
Among the design elements deemed as problematic, are deficiencies in application of national and international standards for dimensions and distances of equipment in public spaces; lighting specifications; colour and signaling; guides for the blind and visually impaired; pavement clutter; and, in central Nicosia and Eleftherias Square, obstacles and barriers to movement.
All of this makes the project utterly incompatible with the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, according to POT and parts of the design are outright dangerous, such as granite cubes with sharp corners placed along the pavements.
“These sharp granite obstacles, arbitrarily placed by the municipality to prevent parking, endanger the lives not only of the blind, or people with disabilities, but other unsuspecting pedestrians who have already been injured there, as recorded in comments on social media,” says the statement.
The outcome of the beleaguered Nicosia facelift is characterised by POT as “the direct opposite of the original plan and a blatant violation of the much-publicised sustainable mobility policies routinely implemented for decades in the capitals of other European countries.”
POT goes on to accuse the municipality of “fooling” the European Commission that the project meets the accessibility requirements provided for in the regulations on project funding from the EU, and in complete disregard for human dignity for the blind, sending the message that blind and visually impaired people are second-class citizens.
The statement concludes that even after intense reactions, those responsible refuse to officially cooperate with POT to apply the relevant EU regulations, remaining stuck in an outmoded paternalistic mindset of pity, charity and exclusion.
But Nicosia municipality countered that the granite boulders in the commercial triangle at the centre of town were placed in specific locations according to a plan and not on or close to guide corridors for the blind. The aim was to prevent parking on the pavements which itself obstructs pedestrians and the disabled.
“Unfortunately, rather than directing criticism at those individuals who move the granite blocks even placing on the guide corridors for the blind so that they can park illegally, it is directed at the municipality that acknowledged the problem several weeks ago and repeatedly urged the public to comply,” it said.
The municipality has decided to immobilise the granite boulders at the locations specified by the initial designs and to colour them so that they can be more distinct, even to those who are not visually impaired, it said.
“The process requires a brief time to be completed and for this we ask for the public’s patience,” the municipality said, adding that the granite boulders have been moved to their initial locations and the public is urged not to shift them.