Ableism, Barriers for Disabled People Living in Cities of the Global South, and Inclusiveness


Cities are rapidly changing. Forces of urbanization continue redefining several governments’ priorities to offer adequate, affordable, and inclusive housing. Smart cities are mushrooming around the world to address the challenge of sustainability. Most of these cities integrate systems that promote inclusivity. However, many challenges limit multidimensional structures that address all people’s economic and human development, including those with disabilities. Sustainable development is a critical issue that addresses livelihood’s economic, social, and environmental facets. In the global south, sustainability is limited, given the focus on housing. As a result, most housing in urban cities has poor standards that compromise the efforts for sustainable development. Poor housing does not consider the strategies for livelihoods and the lifestyles of disabled people, hence promoting ableism. Therefore, disabled people face barriers in cities in the global south. Most of these challenges are anchored on inclusivity. The majority of cities in the global south need safe and decent housing infrastructure for all people without discrimination on their disability conditions.

Ableism -Discrimination in Favor of Able-Bodied People

The concept of ableism characterizes social prejudice and discrimination against people with disabilities. The principles of ableism typify the assumption that people with disabilities do not need to integrate with the rest. Ableism classifies the entire group of disabled people as having fewer capabilities. All these come with stereotypes, generalizations, and misconceptions that challenge efforts for inclusion (Britannica 2013). The foundation of ableism sociology uses the foundations of disability to infringe on the rights of people with disabilities by reducing their functional limitations in contemporary cities. The assertion of the naturalness and normality of able-bodied people reinforces the notion that disability borders on abnormal tendencies, is a product of shame, and society segregates disabled people.

The concept of ableism aligns with tactical urbanism. Today, smart cities and hostile architecture characterize the desire for cities in the global south to create a strategic infrastructural design that allows all people in the society to use them without discrimination (Britannica 2013). The basic infrastructure development informs a response to the quality of life for all people living there. The consideration of sustainable development shapes the greater recognition of inclusiveness in urbanization and housing. Ableism takes a different form to define people based on their disability. According to Imrie (1996), most of these forms depict cities’ inability to comply with disability rights laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act. In recent times, urban geographers documented experiences of people with disabilities capturing the evidence of ableism.

Urbanization and housing utilize architectural principles that promote the welfare of able-bodied people against the disabled. However, ableism results in prejudice against people with disabilities. The modern concept of ableism emerged when activities placed disability in the political framework (Britannica 2013). Global south countries experience discrimination against disabled persons by segregating students with disabilities in separate special schools. As a result, institutional seclusion controls students, adults, and children with disabilities. Research indicates that while strategic efforts have been aimed at containing ableism through planning cities, the outcome of tactical urbanism and smart cities fail to consider inclusivity excessively (Britannica 2013). Perspectives that interpret ableism constantly highlight the norms and institutional attitudes in planning and arranging specific environments. As a result, the social and physical environment does not extensively consider disabled people. Since people with disabilities are a minority in society, urban planning treats them differently from normal people through altered expectations and labeling in the eugenics context. Therefore, all these lead people with disabilities to view ableism as a primary barrier to their inclusiveness and community participation in sustainable development.

Ableism is part of spatial injustice. Social structures and policymakers extensively extend structures that deny disabled people the right to enjoy the space. Britannica (2013) states that ableism operates on the hegemonic economic and social system that extends forms of exclusion and inequality by limiting and accessing socially valued infrastructure and resources in built environments such as town centers and parks. Infrastructure and social services such as health, transport, and education perpetuate these spatial injustices, thus reducing sustainable development for all in society. In contemporary society, able-bodied people enjoy privileges that make them forget about those with disabilities. For example, in Australia, the Queensland government overlooked the requirements of accessibility on the new public trains that it commissioned. The actions by the government all permitted ableism by seeking an exemption under the Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Stanford 2019). Therefore, the Queensland government continued deeper ableism in transport design and planning.

Ableism indicates that space is not neutral because only able-bodied people have the right to spatial resources. Some policy actions in urbanization, housing, and sustainable city planning deny people with disabilities the opportunity to participate in spatial units in their everyday life. Structural arrangements and dominant ideologies eliminate considering spatial justice (Klein and Tremblay 2010). Therefore, most urban cities in the global south borrow on progressive towns’ doctrines to embrace policies promoting ableism. Inclusivity is a primary component of sustainable development in smart cities. The principle helps to address the interconnectedness of diversity. For this reason, ableism creates room for social oppression by determining where disabled people can live.

 Moreover, ableism persists in the global south due to the inherent false beliefs of an able body. Several policies draw from the social figures through which people represent themselves as normal human beings (Klein and Tremblay 2010). Given that disabled people are a diverse group with different axes of life, ableism brings forth intersecting oppression based on the pervasive prejudice that favors non-disabled persons while discriminating against those with disabilities. For this reason, ableism is an implicit and explicit form of expressive beliefs, practices, structures, systems, and interactions embedded in society. It positions disabled people as invisible and marginalized. Urban inclusion, sustainable development, smart cities, and architectural design must lay the foundation for premise modern cities in the global south. Successful cities depart from the ideologies of ableism by creating a more suitable future by ensuring that there is inclusivity around the quality of life all people can access.

Barriers for Disabled People Living in Cities of the Global South

Disabled people living in the global south face barriers of seclusion. With the prevalence rate of disability in developing countries hitting 15 percent of the global population, there is a likelihood that these people experience adverse socioeconomic barriers.  Lower employment, poor health outcomes, and less access to education limit the ability of disabled persons to participate in the sustainability initiatives of the world (Mouton et al., 2019). Barriers to the inclusion of disabled persons in social and economic contexts include inaccessible built environments such as physical places, transportation, non-adaptive means of communication, and lack of availability of assistive technologies (Hambleton 2016). All these increase the gap in service delivery, leading to stigma and discriminatory prejudice. The consideration is to locate the city infrastructure and sustainable provisions of the physical environment and urban planning. All these occur within the broad frameworks of policy that guide the developments in contemporary cities. The nature of growth in global south cities should make redevelopment extensive feasible and balance the spatial distribution of all people regardless of their health status.

Poverty increases the barriers that people with disabilities face. Global awareness of disabled people and inclusive development is expanding to respond to these barriers. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) requires integrating disabled persons into society. Patti (2017) reinforces the principle that effective metropolitan governance requires several stakeholders’ involvement to reduce the challenges and barriers people with disabilities face. As a result, the involvement occurs at the spatial planning level in addressing the policy initiatives for smart cities and sustainable buildings. The basis of CRPD initiatives is to address the issue that people with disabilities cannot access development programming and operate in vulnerable situations due to institutionalized ableism.

Common barriers that people with disabilities experience touch on their limited participation in community development.  Anand and Navío-Marco (2018) indicate that while people face hardships in their lives, the barriers that disabled people face are more frequent and transcend physical obstacles.  The built and physical environment limits the functioning of persons with a disability based on the infrastructural; development. Most places in the global south have buildings that do not have designated lifts or ramps for disabled persons. Therefore, the physical environment becomes inaccessible. Also, disabled people lack overall technological support. The high cost of assistive technology for adaptive and rehabilitative support is part of the policy framework that extends oppression. The transport and social infrastructure programs expose the limitations of metropolitan governance institutions to challenge how people with disabilities access built-in physical landscapes (Patti 2017). Negative attitudes of people draw from long-held beliefs that discriminate against people with disabilities. The discrimination affects policymakers leading to services, systems, and city infrastructure that hinder the integration of all people based on health conditions. The multiple barriers make it difficult for people with disabilities to operate and participate in society’s stigma and discrimination emanating from the community. In essence, it comes from people’s ideas related to disability.

Policy challenges create physical barriers. The structural obstacles in the natural physical environment prevent the mobility of people with disabilities. The architectural design and planning models should ensure that all community people live in areas with high access to amenities and open spaces. The Metropolitan governance system of urban development lays sustainable departments to ensure that cities have designs to reinforce the ultra-modern nature of sustainable cities. Reconstruction of urban cities depends on metropolitan governance. The mayoral administration plays a leading role in metropolitan city planning and urban development (Heinelt and Zimmermann 2018). The dynamics of globalization and internal standards for metropolitan cities tend to institute policies that affect inclusivity. However, the capitalist tendencies for urban development focus on expansion needs and solving the problems of congestion. All these affect disabled persons at the policy level because there is little effort on the dual policy that refs the concerns of disabled persons. Most policies emerge from responding to economic challenges for non-disabled persons in most cities (Shaw and Tewdwr-Jones 2017). Therefore, most policies lack the awareness to enforce the existing laws and regulations to implement programs that would make urban planning amenities accessible to people with disabilities.

Metropolitan governance of urban development emerges as a sustainable approach that addresses the global south’s physical barriers and policy challenges. Sustainable cities aim at establishing prosperous, clean, modern cities. According to Anand (2019), different indicators of smart cities must be inclusive. All barriers of policy, physical infrastructure, and attitudes. The public policy applies urban typologies in the global reference south. Barton and Grant (2013) articulate town planning to create an environment that functions for all. The initiatives acknowledge that persons living with disabilities face barriers of discrimination, and all future sustainable development should make room for long-term approaches to address these barriers. Governance structures need to depart from the executive to create a built environment for inclusive, safe, and healthy communities. The structured nature of sustainable development in the global south should embrace metropolitan governance to fortify efficiency in enhancing urban development’s administrative, architectural, and political relevance and reducing disabled persons’ barriers.

 Challenges for Inclusiveness of a City with regard to the Disabled People

Inclusive cities miss the component of accessibility in their sustainable development programs. Modern-day cities have diverse populations who must live and access different amenities. The roadmap to social inclusion is limited because disabled people do not access social amenities. The existing infrastructure only works to sideline people with disabilities. All this makes the global south institutionalize ableism by designing and planning infrastructure that discriminates against people with disabilities. Urban planners and architects design cities and create a social challenge (Hambleton 2016). In this case, most social amenities lack the rams to aid disabled people in accessing those infrastructures. Therefore, disability became a significant concern in several built environments and amenities. For instance, cinema halls do not have multiple ramps for disabled persons. Inaccessibility to amenities deprives disabled persons of the opportunity for social inclusivity. The existing physical and social amenities and structural planning of the built environment do not allow them to move freely (Mouton et al., 2019). For this reason, people with disabilities face the challenge of accessing cinema halls under normal conditions.

The notion of smart cities exhibits the principle of technology. Urban cities in the global south continue to map out programs that allow them to respond to growing populations in cities. According to Barton and Grant (2013), the increase in people with disabilities depicts the challenge of the lack of assistive devices on a group of disabled persons. The emergence of smart cities means a significant reliance on devices that connect people and allow users to access services. Although smart cities are the most sustainable and efficient approach to urbanization in the modern world, most homes for disabled persons cannot access these gadgets on the premise of costs (Klein and Tremblay 2010). Therefore, completing tasks and accessing services without assistive devices complicate the lives of people with disabilities. In addition, people with disabilities face several challenges in using smart devices on a larger scale. The basis of this argument rests on the principle that smart cities use digital mechanisms to access services depending on multiple devices. Although this improves people’s lives in crowded and chaotic cities, people living with disabilities endure frustrations in navigating the use of smart cities. A classic example is the parking meters in smart cities, where users have applications indicating available parking spaces. A disabled person faces this challenge which is compounded by reduced mobility—equipping smart cities with sensors to target normal able-bodied people.

The cost of living in urban cities is high. Research estimates the average cost of living in the city for disabled people to grow (Anand 2019). The high cost can be a source of impoverishment for most disabled people who are already suffering economic challenges. For this reason, most people with disabilities suffer isolation because they cannot access different community events and face issues with limited options for transportation and other limited social interactions. Therefore, these obstacles affect the quality of life that people living with disabilities face.

Given that ableism has created different levels of inequality, the cost of living in smart cities reduces the inclusion and participation of disabled people in different facets of life. Also, policies that urban planners create cases of exclusion and discrimination (Shaw and Tewdwr-Jones 2017). Societies in metropolitan-dominated cities affect the lives of the disabled because the institutional structures and networks can favor non-disabled people. The disability community receives less funding to promote its interests. Therefore, metropolitan governance eliminates these interests when making policies within the spatial context of human relations. The urban planning model should implement sustainable development policies to encourage inclusion programs for people in society. Diversity in physical, social, and architectural opportunities promotes inclusivity and allows different people to have equal chances. Encouraging ableism is a threat to cities in the global south because they will become unsustainable.


Postmodernist approaches address experiences and identify people with disabilities. The impact of urban industrialism relegates disabled people to the fringes of labor markets and a competitive economy. The changing discourse in urban planning and sustainable development policy in the global south imposes ideologies that favor ableism. With the increasing urban population, social disorganization discriminates against people living with disabilities on a policy basis. Urban planners have traditionally encouraged the exclusion and discrimination of disabled people. Disabled people face challenges in meeting public needs. Smart cities build on the entrenched ableism to fail to satisfy the needs of people with disabilities. Most urban and sustainable cities in the global south provide an inclusive urban environment to disabled people. The lack of these actions in day-to-day operations underscores the challenge of ableism and calls on stakeholders to introduce accessibility and inclusion as part of sustainable development. 


Reference list

Anand, P.B. and Navío-Marco, J., 2018. Governance and economics of smart cities: opportunities and challenges. Telecommunications Policy42(10), pp.795-799.

Anand, P.B., 2019. Assessing smart city projects and their implications for public policy in the Global South. Contemporary Social Science16(2), pp. 199-212.

Barton, H. and Grant, M., 2013. Urban planning for healthy cities. Journal of urban health90(1), pp.129-141.

Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia. 2013. Ableism. Encyclopedia Britannica.

Hambleton, R., 2016. Leading the inclusive city: Place-based innovation for a bounded planet. Policy Press.

Heinelt, H. and Zimmermann, K., 2011. ‘How can we explain diversity in metropolitan governance within a country?’ Some reflections on recent developments in Germany. International Journal of urban and regional research35(6), pp.1175-1192.

Imrie, R., 1996. Ableist geographies, disablist spaces: towards a reconstruction of Golledge’s’ geography and the disabled.’ Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, pp. 397-403.

Klein, J.L. and Tremblay, D.G., 2010. Social actors and their role in metropolitan governance in Montréal: towards an inclusive coalition? GeoJournal75(6), pp. 567-579.

Mouton, M., Ducey, A., Green, J., Hardcastle, L., Hoffman, S., Leslie, M., and Rock, M., 2019. Towards ‘smart cities’ as ‘healthy cities’: health equity in a digital age. Canadian Journal of Public Health110(3), pp. 331-334.

Patti, D., 2017. Metropolitan governance in the peri-urban landscape: The tower of Babel? The case of the Vienna–Bratislava metropolitan region. Planning Practice & Research32(1), pp.29-39.

Shaw, K. and Tewdwr-Jones, M., 2017. “Disorganised devolution”: Reshaping metropolitan governance in England in a period of austerity. Raumforschung und Raumordnung-Spatial Research and Planning75(3), pp. 211-224.

Stanfford, L. 2019. Ableism and the struggle for spatial justice. Retrieved from

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