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THISAbility Ethiopia: Towards a Disability-Friendly Addis Ababa

First ever 'Accessibility Rating' Initiative in Ethiopia (and East Africa), jointly run by Professionals with & without Disabilities.

Photo of THISAbility Ethiopia®
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What problem does your idea solve?

Addis Ababa, often dubbed the ‘Capital of Africa’ as it hosts the African Union Commission (AUC) Headquarters & various international & regional multilateral agencies, is currently one of the most disability-unfriendly cities in the continent. Despite presence of building-related laws, developers are not obligated to consider Universal Design approaches upon implementation of any/all investments intended for public use, whereas the number of service users with disabilities is indeed on the rise.

Explain your idea

Ethiopia has one of the lowest urbanization rates registered in Sub-Saharan Africa with a maximum urbanization rate of 20%; yet, it's now one of the fastest growing economies in the world. This economic boom was achieved predominantly through the country's vast growing construction industry. Almost forgotten in this dynamics, however, are the crucial themes of Universal Design, accessibility and inclusion. Whereas, records show that the number of service users with disabilities in the city is constantly increasing (an estimated 15-17% of Ethiopia’s population has one or another form of disability), which makes the proposed idea of Accessibility Rating timely and of major interest to developers and service providers across the board. Any development that disregards, intentionally or otherwise, an inclusive approach is geared towards iniquity and eventually failure. Our initiative therefore targets carrying out a disability-focused Accessibility Rating intervention amid the ongoing urbanization of Addis Ababa and generating comprehensive, field-tested, context-specific tools that create the relevant awareness to a wide spectrum of stakeholders to better tackle the issue while ensuring an inclusive future for all. Due to the Africa-wide expertise we have in our team on disability issues as well as architecture, the overarching goal in this unique project is not limited to Addis, but to further replicate it in similar disability-unfriendly cities of the Sub-Saharan Africa region.

Who benefits?

Primary beneficiaries are persons with various types of disabilities (PWDs). But a project of this sort would not only address the accessibility needs of PWDs but all residents of the Addis metropolitan area at large through making the city inclusive regardless of one’s disability status. Also a milestone project for sustainable & accessible tourism, thereby benefiting government, development partners and service providers alike by factually clarifying actual market value of embracing diversity.

How is your idea unique?

This idea is particularly unique and innovative in that the Addis Ababa City Administration (as several other cities in the continent) has never had and still does not have any plan in sight to undertake such an Accessibility Rating of services, facilities and buildings in the city. Moreover, the initiative serves as a pilot project and best practice for other cities while at the same time practically reinvigorating Accessible Tourism. The very inception, ideation, formulation and submission of this proposal was led by an Ethiopian disability expert who himself has a lived experience of disability as well as an outstanding track-record on disability rights studies and advocacy - a fact which makes the proposed project rooted in genuine understanding and empathy about the subject matter. The idea was further consolidated and, if approved, will be implemented collaboratively with a team of young Architects from the Ethiopian Institute of Architecture & Building Construction (EiABC).

Tell us more about you

Officially licensed in Addis since 2014, THISAbility Consulting® is a multidisciplinary disability-focused initiative co-founded by professional consultants with & without disabilities aimed at revamping participatory research. In just a few years of its existence, the Firm has successfully conducted projects of landmark importance such as, but not limited to, a Comprehensive Accessibility Auditing/Assessment of the African Union HQ in Addis and several other qualitative/quantitative studies.

What are some of your unanswered questions about the idea?

How do we structure this project in a bid to widen it to a larger scale? How can we make the initiative sustainable, instead of a time-bound, phasing out project? How do we make sure that the outcome of this project reaches all the right stakeholders at the right time? How should the idea impact the construction industry in Addis Ababa and other cities of Ethiopia as well as East Africa (to begin with)?

Where will your idea be implemented?

  • Ethiopia

Experience in Implementation Country(ies)

  • Yes, for more than one year.

Expertise in Sector

  • I've worked in a sector related to my idea for more than a year.

Organizational Status

  • We are a registered for-profit company (including social enterprises).

Idea Maturity

  • Piloting: I have started to implement my solution as a whole with a first set of real users.

How has your idea changed based on feedback?

That there is surprisingly so much more need and interest for this initiative of #AccessibilityRating than we had ever anticipated. Hence, project needs to be launched on a consolidated and viable organizational, human (which it already has) and financial capacity to ensure its sustainability. Until #AccessibilityRating gets instilled in the mentality of builders, investors and policy makers, THISAbility Ethiopia® must continue to keep its ratings going as well as known to the wider public.

Who will implement this idea?

Initiator: Dagnachew ('Dag') Wakene, 35. Expert with a lived experience of disability and over 10 years of international, regional and national expertise in the field of inclusive development. Will invest 30% of full time required by project. Based in Addis Manager: Leulseged ('Leul') Tibebu, 27. An accomplished young Architect from EiABC and was involved in prototyping the project. Will invest 70% of time required for implementation. Based in Addis Supporting staff to be hired.

Using a human-centered design approach, you may uncover insights that lead to small or foundational changes to your organization’s existing strategy or processes in order to unlock the potential of your idea. How would your organization go about making such changes?

Our entire inception and concept of 'THISAbility' ​is rooted in the notion of Human-centered Design. Obviously therefore no decision is made vertically or on a 'top-down' basis at THISAbility Ethiopia®. A transparent, consultative, client-sensitive and dynamic engagement with our highly qualified youth-led team gets the work done. In short, unless we're all in it, none of us can do it. This of course does not mean that there won't be dissenting views amongst us; a team with no differing opinions is barely functional. We therefore actually cherish differences in thoughts, give precedence to dialogue and, if push comes to shove, consider voting as a last resort. That's how THISAbility Ethiopia®, in just three years of its existence, successfully undertook projects of remarkable significance.

What is it that most attracted you to Amplify instead of a more traditional funding model?

This, by far, is the most creative, interactive and iterative platform that we've ever come across in well over a decade of our experience in inclusive development funding approaches. For one, transformative ideas are open for everyone to take a look at. Regardless of whether an idea may or may not emerge among the winners on this platform, it may offer unexpected insights and solutions to many viewers in several parts of the world. It's OpenIDEO after all! EVERY idea here is already a winner.

What challenges do your end-users face? (1) What is the biggest challenge that your end-users face on a day-to-day, individual level? (2) What is the biggest systems-level challenge that affects your end-users?

Individual Challenge (also please refer to our User Experience Map): Going to school, work, social & recreational engagements, etc. for a resident with disability in Addis (the 'Diplomatic Capital' of Africa) is an inescapable daily struggle, beginning from inaccessible transport system, roads and infrastructure, all the way to inaccessible public/private buildings, services and facilities. An organized, PWD-led #AccessibilityRating intervention would at least be a major wake-up call to all relevant stakeholders, and at most, paves the way for an Inclusive Addis, thereby inspiring other cities of Sub-Saharan Africa to follow suit. Systemic: ✓Very little or no enforcement of existing laws/policies ✓Awareness deficiency in the bureaucracy & society; ✓PWDs not consulted in decisions.

Tell us about your vision for this project: (1) share one sentence about the impact you would like to see from this project in five years and (2) what is the biggest question you need to answer to get there?

IMPACT: By 2022, THISAbility envisions to develop & distribute comprehensive tools/apps (online & offline) incorporating accessibility guidelines, ratings, individual stories & best practices in 5 major local languages as well as English and French. #AccessibilityRating thus widely inculcated in the Ethiopian construction industry & service provision as a whole. QUESTION: How do we ensure continuity & sustainability of this monitoring scheme if/when project #AccessibilityRating phases out?

How long have you and your colleagues been working on this idea together?

  • More than 2 years

How many of your team’s paid, full-time staff are currently based in the location where the beneficiaries of your proposed idea live?

  • Under 5 paid, full-time staff

Is your organization registered in the country you intend to implement your idea in?

  • We are registered in all countries where we plan to implement.

My organization's operational budget for 2016 was:

  • Under $50,000 USD

If your team/idea/organization has a website, please share the URL below. (kindly note that this site is still under construction, but available for viewing)


Join the conversation:

Photo of Bob Achgill

Hello THISAbility Ethiopia,

Will the free His Hands Reader mother tongue literacy videos with local hand sign support help the disability rating of rural schools in Ethiopia?

Getting deaf children to schools for the Deaf in a rural society is problematic in a resource limited economy.

The community school for good reason becomes the central focus of culture in advancing countries so this is a prime place to focus on rating inclusion.
Why not extend your disability rating system to include ratings of inclusion in rural schools?

The His Hands Reader mother tongue literacy app(s) will help to increase inclusion for Deaf in Mainstream schools.

The M&E reports monitoring HHR literacy engagement will serve to help adjust your inclusion ratings of rural schools via Analytics by location and mother tongue.

Here is the HHR worldwide literacy engagement Analytics report...

The HHR app has a 1742 video hand sign dictionary subtitled in three languages: local mother tongue, local business language and English. Also, video reading primers with word by word hand sign assist. The app runs on the lowest cost smart phones in Ethiopia. Every home and school conveniently becomes an extension for MLE (Multi-lingual-education) education for disabled and their Hearing siblings which serves to foster inclusion.

Connect with me via LinkedIn at the link below. Volunteers have already added Ethiopian hand signs and Amharic. You can begin testing out the ability to extend reach to every rural school now.

Here is more ~~~

Imagine a time when every Hearing and Deaf child can learn to read from the smart phone in their village...hearing and seeing their mother tongue and hand sign on the app?

The time is now!

Do you know someone who would like to volunteer to add their mother tongue or hand signs to the free His Hands Reader literacy system?

The mother tongue literacy videos with hand sign assist opens a path for total inclusion of deaf children among hearing. As hearing children use the mother tongue literacy videos with hand sign assist they naturally learn the means to communicate with deaf playmates.

And don't over look that the mother tongue literacy videos help Hearing children in the Multi lingual Education classroom.

It takes only 30 hours to add your mother tongue. Here are the instructions to volunteer...

Here is an example of the result of volunteers in Jordan who added their local business and mother tongue languages and local hand signs...


Bob Achgill
Helping Deaf and Hearing learn to read so they can read His Word

Here is a little more detail...

Would you like to volunteer to add your hand signs or mother tongue to

These are the ONLY qualifications needed to add your Mother Tongue language or hand signs to the :
1) Native speaker of your mother tongue or hand signs.
2) Read and write your mother tongue (not needed for adding hand signs)
3) Know English well enough to translate the 1742 basic Words to your MT or hand signs
4) Access to Android phone to use the HHR app to add your language. (1.5GB RAM, 3 GB free space)
5) total 30 hours to add your text with voice or video your hand signs.

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