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Travelling Together: Disability Inclusive Road Development in Papua New Guinea

The project

In both developing and developed countries, very few road projects involve community consultation or evaluation in terms of the real impact they make on people’s lives. Roads are still assumed to primarily serve motorized vehicles, despite the fact that in most countries, the primary means of transportation is walking. For people with disabilities, in particular, roads are necessary but dangerous. Investment in road infrastructure is necessary to improve access to education, markets, and health services. But according to the World Health Organization, road traffic accidents are also the second most common cause of death and disability in developing countries (and the third most common cause in developed countries such as Australia). How can roads be developed in a more inclusive way, in order to maximize safety and access for those most marginalized from public space and services?

“Travelling Together: Improving access for people with disability through inclusive road infrastructure development in rural and urban Papua New Guinea (PNG)” was a three year research project funded through an Australian Development Research Award, a competitive research grant administered by AusAID (the Australian Agency for International Development). The project was implemented from May 2010 to April 2013 by a wide variety of partners, including the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning; the CBM/Nossal Institute Partnership for Disability Inclusive Development (also based at the University of Melbourne, in the School of Population and Global Health); Cardno Emerging Markets (an international infrastructure development firm); and the PNG Assembly of Disabled Persons (PNGADP).

The project sought to answer four key questions:

  • What are the barriers and facilitators for people with disabilities accessing roads in rural and urban PNG?
  • What are the outcomes of rural and urban road projects on the lives of people with disabilities and their families?
  • How have people with disabilities participated in rural and urban road planning?
  • What are the recommended approaches in disability inclusive consultation and participation in road planning and development in PNG?

Travelling Together’s key principle was maximising the participation of people with disabilities at all stages of the research. The Assembly of Disabled Persons, the major national level coalition of disabled people’s local organizations in PNG, provided five teams of two ‘data collectors’ or field researchers (one female and one male) in the five research sites. The President of the Assembly acted as the PNG Research Coordinator, and there was a PNG Advisory Committee and an International Advisory Committee, which both included people with disabilities as well as government officers and researchers. The project sought to build the capacity of people with disabilities, both women and men, in order to promote ownership of the research and ensure they were able to advocate on the findings.

The methods and findings

PNG is still in the very early stages of urbanization, and only 15% of the population lives in large towns or cities. About 35% of the population live more than 10 km from a major road, and 17% have no road access at all. The majority of roads, including major roads, are impassable at least part of the year, due to flooding. The project decided to focus on three stretches or rural highways, and two urban roads, all of which were undergoing improvement. It was hoped that the research findings would influence road improvements to promote safety and access.

About 15% of the population, or one million people, have some form of permanent impairment. The 10 data collectors generally had mobility or vision impairments, but they also led discussion groups with children and adults with hearing and intellectual impairments, in order to gather a range of experiences.

Along with the discussion groups with 7–12 people with disabilities in each location, exploring how they used roads and particular barriers and enablers in accessing roads, the data collectors used three other methods. They interviewed two road decision-makers (one engineer and one local planner or politician) in each site, in order to ask about processes for planning and implementing road construction improvements, and their knowledge of use of roads by people with disabilities. They led ‘moveabouts’, in which the groups of local people with disabilities travelled along a small segment of the road and took photographs of specific issues regarding access and safety. As the final activity, they distributed disposable cameras and created posters with the participants of good and bad aspects of the roads, along with ideas of how they could be improved.

‘Travelling Together’ identified that people with disabilities in rural and urban PNG use roads extensively, primarily as pedestrians but also using local buses, to access schools, neighbours, shops, health facilities, churches and to conduct livelihood based activities. While construction and maintenance of roads generally increased the ability of people with disabilities to access these essential services, key barriers kept them from using the roads comfortably and safely.

These barriers include:

  • Lack of marked crossings, even in busy areas such as schools or markets
  • No footpaths, or narrow/dangerous footpaths, forcing people to travel on the roads themselves
  • Narrow bridges with poor pedestrian access such as no ramps, again forcing people into the path of traffic
  • Open drains alongside roads and poor drainage (a particular problem for people with vision impairments) resulting in large pools of water on footpaths and roads
  • Potholed roads, which were difficult for people with mobility impairments to traverse, and which caused vehicle traffic to swerve dangerously onto the road verges
  • No marked bus stops, and lack of amenities such as benches and shade at bus stop areas
  • Lack of public and driver awareness of the need to drive at safe speeds through villages

Road decision-makers had no information on safety or access needs of people with disabilities, and in fact, there was no accurate or up to date information on road accidents and injuries across the country. However, there were high levels of willingness to consider issues of safety and access, provided clear guidelines were provided.

Next steps

The research team found that the process of including people with disabilities as data collectors and co-researchers also assisted with the advocacy impact of the project, particularly in influencing both local and national road decision-makers. The research protocol used by the people with disabilities is easily transferable to other types of access issues (such as schools) or settings. Guidelines for both road planners and for designers/engineers have been developed and are being disseminated by AusAID and the PNG government. AusAID has recently developed universal design guidelines, and the project’s methods and findings helped influence that work. The PNG Government is in the process of ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, which explicitly includes roads in the list of infrastructure which must be made accessible for people with disabilities, and the project’s findings have been incorporated into the Transport Strategy for that nation.


This article originally appeared in Atrium 2013, December (24), published by the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning.


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Engaging people with disability in road consultations, planning and management

Project Title

Travelling Together: Disability Inclusive Road Development in Papua New Guinea

Major Sponsor


Research Partners

University of Melbourne
CBM/Nossal Institute for Global Health Partnership in Disability and Development (Uni of Melb)
Papua New Guinea Assembly of Disabled People
Cardno Global Infrastructure Services
Divine Word University, Papua New Guinea

Project Team

Prof Carolyn Whitzman (Uni of Melb)


Prof Carolyn Whitzman

Ipul Powaseu (Research Officer PNG Assembly of Disabled Persons)
Phone +675 721 53 047

Natalie Stephens
Program Officer Nossal Institute for Global Health
Phone: +61 3 90354729