The Fifthteenth Annual Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectual Design Excellence 2013
Berkeley Prize 2013

Alan Birabi Final Report


A.K. BIRABI, PH,D., Senior Lecturer
Makerere University Department of Architecture and Physical Planning.

Kampala, Uganda


This report is a reflection on my personal sense of the teaching experiences I gained on the 2013-2014 inaugural Berkeley Prize Teaching Fellowship for Universal Design. To me, it was a timely awakening of Makerere University’s Architecture School to contemplate re-modeling its teaching/learning methodologies and experiences so as to empower its graduates to be Universal design-led architects and social change agents. This is because it came to my realization that much as Makerere University has pioneered Uganda’s architectural education for the last 25 yrs, it has not adequately addressed accessibility, yet the profession is incrementally awakening about Universal Design.

In this connection, for the past two semesters of the 2013-1014 academic year, Makerere Architecture School has been the laboratory for rolling out the pilot teaching and learning curriculum for universal design and accessibility under this Teaching Fellowship. This was timely due to the fact that Uganda is in the most heavily-impacted and minimally-serviced regions in the world, characterized by lack of knowledge, disinterest, and disregard for Universal Design.

It further became apparent to me that Uganda’s level of public awareness about this issue is probably most challenging since it is a virtually top-down problem right from the upper political echelons to grass-root levels aggravated by centuries-old socio-cultural, egoistic and attitudinal injustices, demonology, and prejudices hostile to people with disabilities (PWDs). To date, most Ugandan cultures view disability as a curse allegedly emanating from witchcraft, maternal promiscuity or displeasure of the gods or some tribal or ancestral spirits and hence creating limited social acceptance of PWDs.

Whereas statutes, bylaws, and regulations have emerged to ensure accessibility for PWDs in new buildings, rather, it is a haphazard legislative, regulatory, administrative, and planning enforcement regime infested with a network of corrupt officials who undermine adoption of accessibility in Uganda’s building industry.

Taking stock of this one-year Berkeley Prize Teaching Fellowship, notable spin-offs include embracement of Universal design principles by my fellow Staff and students in studio design projects, and the students were very enthusiastic.

Just how I proceeded to interest my students in the subject of Universal Design would perhaps be of utmost interest to other colleagues teaching in architecture schools since it was also somewhat challenging given the varied socio-cultural, ethnic, personality, attitudinal, gender, and aptitude backgrounds of the students.

From my past teaching experiences and a wide review of insights in newer ways of managing the learning enterprise in design-based disciplines, I zeroed on the key principle of winning attention of the learners by continuously arousing and sustaining their interest. The wide review refreshed me and prompted me to assemble viable strategies: (i) the right controls on classroom psychology to support and strengthen fascination with Universal Design in each student; (ii) building harmonious working relationships with my students; (iii) confidence building; and (iv) a continuous focus on my role and that of the students. The wide review further empowered me to configure multiple motivational interactions with the students. In some instances I acted like a guide, a project manager, a facilitator, an assistant, a director, a friend, an auditor, a doctor, an editor, a patron or colleague as each oncoming teaching/learning situation warranted. On the other side, I caringly, thoughtfully, influentially, flexibly, humanely and persuasively made my students to become explorers, team workers, pupils, novices, friends, clients, patients, authors, protégés and colleagues on both ‘one-to-one’ or group teaching as need arose. Furthermore, I encouraged individual and collective skill-building for stimulating cognate innovations/styles, technical abilities, and imagination in Universal Design interventions among the students. Also, I utilized dramatic body language, humorous voice variations, inspirational eye contact, emotive facial expressions, and enthusiastic articulation of ideas. Come group work, I mixed gifted students with the less gifted in terms of designerliness, which awakened a high sense of academic rigour among both categories of students, a willingness to share ideas, and to attain the best from each other in each group. Incidentally, this strategic approach also captivated curiosity of every student.

However, one of the challenges I faced was that the classroom composition was a ‘mixed crowd’ with wide visual disparities owing to the nature of Yr I admission to the architecture program. However, I endeavored to optimally create visual and designerly parity among them by non-discriminatorily offering extra ‘one-to-one’ attention to deficient students through ‘take home’ analytical drawing exercises from nature outside the conventional timetable. Despite stressing me, it yielded good results since the wide disparity between the two categories had diminished significantly as Semester II ended.

Alongside individual bi-weekly projects, Semester II also included 3 group projects beyond classroom boundaries to build bridges with key stakeholders. The projects acted as mini demonstration projects to show glaring deficiencies of Universal Design and appropriate interventions of inclusivity. They also stood as contributions of the Architecture School to inculcate Ugandanization.

Card mold of a ramp that was meant for thewheelchair users on Kampala/Entebbe Rd. junction.

Looking back, I now realize that I may have been somewhat too ambitious for the kind of conservative setting in which I was executing the Fellowship. Thus, in terms of successes and failures, Project (A) dealt with a spot right at the heart of Kampala While some ramps exist at the spot, they were haphazardly constructed with uneven surfaces and gradients unfriendly to wheelchair users. So the idea was to do a ‘standard’ job about these mediocre provisions. However, the heightened security concerns over current terrorism trends could not henceforth permit photography in the CBD. This was one of the first unprecedented ‘failures’ the project suffered. Secondly, bureaucracy of issuance of a permit for the works was constrained by corrupt officials who expected some bribe while assuming that such a project was with huge donor money. As such, permission to carry out the project remained pending. However, the students learned to mold the ramps as seen in this photo.

Project (B) explored signage for PWDs applicable to the built environment. The lift area of my faculty without a 3-button prompter for the blind (below left) became the demonstration project. The students designed its glass plate. However, it also suffered from legal constraints with the lift’s supplier.

Left door at the School of Architecture, Makarere University where Project (B) was to install a button facility for the blind.


Inaugural Car Parking for wheelchair users in Makarere University Sch. of Architecture parking area.

Group (C) designed and installed  relevant signage and to designate the first ever parking space for PWDs on Makerere University Campus (photo on the right). Parliamentarians and City Authorities are scheduled to view it mid August as a sensitization strategy. The feedback on particularly the Group (C) was pleasing. It is my conviction that if the other projects had also succeeded, the same response of applause could have unfolded.

From onset, while the project had envisaged engagement with user/experts, this did not work out as smoothly as planned. As such, the anticipated user/experts could not easily backfill their commitment of availability when the university re-opened. However, this does not change my conviction that a teaching program such as this needs to obtain updates, opinions, and/or feedback from user/experts in regular cycles so as to guide the ideals, objectives, and anticipated outcomes of the program. The category of user/experts was to include all Disability Persons’ Organizations, local city authorities, empathizers, professional bodies of the construction industry, etc. It is my hope that future mini workshops would bring on board the participation of all these groups into my teaching endeavours.

The teaching of Universal Design positively influenced me to upgrade my earlier conventional means of teaching in the design studio. I look back over the one year and note with deep satisfaction a paradigm shift in me towards more creative, caring and thoughtful learner-centered approaches to teaching this subject matter unlike in previous years of a conventional outlook in teaching plain Design Fundamentals. I also seem to have learnt to be more flexible, less critical, more accommodative and eager to hear the views and opinions of the learners at their individual points of interventionist design. Furthermore, I gained greater insights of teaching Universal Design as one that requires adeptness in arousing the mental faculties of students to fantasize and turn those fantasies into achievable projects. I also came to appreciate the fact that teaching Universal Design requires giving requisite attention to every learner in their own right in order to fully unlock their potentialities.

Apparently, while the two semesters progressed, other academic colleagues were keen to view the students’ work. As such, the outlook about the subject is very encouraging among both Staff and students.

I was greatly encouraged by discussions from my colleagues in the architecture school and the realization that it is the sky that is the limit in teaching and learning about Universal Design. I have also come to appreciate that different levels of development among different nations coupled with varied technologies and affordability have tended to influence the types of Universal Design ideas that emerge. Given that Uganda’s built environment is far less sophisticated, this tends to reflect on the kind of Universal Design ideas that need to be addressed.

Lastly but not least, continuity is the matter to be addressed. Dissemination about the subject will have to be rigorous via workshops, seminars, conference papers, and more demonstration. This would also require mobilization of necessary resources.

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Like everyone else, this worker in Mexico needs transportation to his job. Public transport needs to be accessible for persons with mobility, sensory, and cognitive disabilities.
Persons with disabilities around the world are promoting transport systems that provide mobility for everyone. Mexican disability advocates are shown meeting with local transit officials to promote accessible transport. AEI has published guides to assist planners and advocates of inclusive transportation.
An accessible travel chain begins with safe streets and sidewalks. This street in Foshan, China, has separate rights-of-way for pedestrians, human-powered vehicles, and motor-powered vehicles.
Disability advisors at Rio de Janeiro’s Independent Living Center monitored access features for this street crossing, part of the Rio City Project.
Tactile guideways and tactile warning strips assist blind and sight-impaired pedestrians as well as others in Foshan, China.
Tactile warnings alert this blind person crossing a mid-street island in San Francisco, USA.
Busy intersections benefit from pedestrian controlled buttons and assist blind persons to cross through sound and vibration signals
Tactile warnings protect blind persons – and all other passengers – from getting too close to the platform edge in transit stations.
This footway adjacent to a road in Tanzania is protected by curb pieces which separate motor traffic from pedestrians and bicycles. Such basic safety measures are needed to prevent pedestrian injuries along roadways in many countries.
Even better, pedestrian and non-motorized traffic can be kept safely removed from motorized traffic by accessible sidewalks separated from the roadway, in this case by a well-designed drainage system along a main road in Tanzania. Speed bumps are used to slow traffic at crosswalks.
This pedestrian crosswalk provides level access to a bus island at an inter-modal transfer center in Mexico City.
Photo by T. Rickert, courtesy of DFID (UK) and TRL (UK).
Ticket vending machines should be low enough for use by wheelchair users and all short persons, as illustrated by the good design of this machine at a BART station in the San Francisco Bay area, USA.
Stairs are often retrofitted with stair lifts in transit terminals, as here in a Tokyo subway station. However, in new construction, elevators should be considered where possible.
A wheelchair user takes the elevator from the platform level of the Shenzhen, China, railroad station.
Wide doors are needed to accommodate wheelchair riders entering fare-paid areas of transit terminals, as in this subway station in Rio de Janeiro.
Everyone can safely board this BART train, due to a minimal horizontal and vertical gap.
However, care must be taken that horizontal gaps are not too wide. The orange “gap filler” pops up when the doors open in San Francisco’s Muni Metro, assuring a safe gap.
Small portable ramps can provide inexpensive access in many rail stations, as shown here in Tokyo.
All passengers, and especially deaf and hard-of-hearing passengers, benefit from well-located visual information, as with this route display on board a train to the Hong Kong airport.
Advocates Anjlee Agarwal (left) and Sanjeev Sachdeva board the accessible Delhi Metro on its inaugural run.
Photo courtesy of Sanjay Sakaria and Samarthya, from Amar Ujjala Indian Daily
Express buses in Curitiba, Brazil, exemplify universal design. All passengers, including those with disabilities, quickly board with level entry. Similar Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems operate in Quito, Ecuador; Bogota, Colombia, and a growing number of cities around the world.
Photo by Charles Wright, Inter-American Development Bank.
Construction of this Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) trunk line corridor in Pereira, Colombia, symbolizes the rapid spread of BRT systems around the world. BRT systems lend themselves to universal design, but details must be monitored carefully to maximize accessibility.
Although most BRT busways are on broad thoroughfares, this exclusive single-direction bus lane nearing completion in Pereira illustrates that BRT systems can sometimes be built on narrow streets.
This and above photo by T. Rickert courtesy of World Bank
The photo shows an articulated bus docking at a Bus Rapid Transit station in León, Mexico.
Pre-paid passengers inside a station board a high-capacity BRT bus in León.
This and above photo courtesy of Sistema Integrado de Transporte Masivo de León
A prototype low-floor bus is tested in New Delhi adjacent to a platform the same height as the bus floor.
A closeup of the same bus stop illustrates the advantages of fast boarding for all passengers from platforms that eliminate the need for climbing steps to board.
This and above photo courtesy of Gerhard Menckhoff of the World Bank.
This prototype lift-equipped bus serves Mamelodi Township in South Africa. Note the excellent use of contrasting colors.
Photo by T. Rickert, courtesy of DFID (UK) and TRL (UK).
Mexico City officials inaugurated service in 2001 with 50 new buses equipped with lifts and other access features.
Photo courtesy of Marìa Eugenia Antunez.
In addition to a wheelchair lift, this bus in Mexico City has a retractable step beneath the front entrance.
This low-floor bus in Warsaw, Poland, uses an inexpensive hinged ramp which provides easy boarding for passengers with disabilities.
A low-floor bus in Hong Kong also exhibits excellent color contrast, using a bright yellow on key edges and surfaces.
Transit systems around the world have reserved seating for seniors and passengers with disabilities, and often for pregnant women as well, as found on this TransMilenio bus in Bogotá, Colombia.
Even when bus stops are not accessible to wheelchair users, access for seniors and others with disabilities can be enhanced by a level all-weather pad even in the absence of paved sidewalks. The photo is from a TransMilenio feeder route in Bogotá.
This and above photo by T. Rickert courtesy of World Bank.
Thousands of Mexico City’s small inaccessible microbuses are being recycled and replaced with larger vehicles, often with better access features.
One such feature is this priority seating located behind the driver where there is extra leg room and it is easier for blind passengers to hear the driver call out key stops.
Photo by T. Rickert, courtesy of DFID (UK) and TRL (UK).
In other new buses in Mexico City, a wide rear door has low steps and is easily accessed by semi-ambulatory passengers from a raised sidewalk, but requires that drivers carefully pull in to the curb.
Photo by T. Rickert, courtesy of DFID (UK) and TRL (UK).
Community initiatives are playing a growing role in providing accessible door-to-door transport in many countries. This accessible van in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, belongs to the six-vehicle fleet of Persatuan Mobiliti.
Photo courtesy of Persatuan Mobiliti
Artist’s conception of a three-wheeled door-to-door vehicle connecting with an accessible ramped platform with bridge at a bus stop at a key site.
This prototype three-wheeled vehicle was built with AEI’s assistance by Kepha Motorbikes in Nairobi, Kenya.
Detail showing entry via a ramp at the rear of the test vehicle.
This and above photo courtesy of Wycliffe Kepha.
This accessible bicycle rickshaw in India has a rear door which serves as a ramp.
Photo courtesy of Bikash Bharati Welfare Society and Lalita Sen.
A public meeting in Cali, Colombia, discusses accessibility to Bus Rapid Transit systems. Readers can go to the Bus Rapid Transit Accessibility Guidelines in our Resources section, under the links to the World Bank.
Photo by T. Rickert, courtesy of the World Bank.
In this version, the bridge piece is mounted under the platform and put into place by the bus driver.
This and above photo courtesy of DFID (UK) and CSIR Transportek (South Africa).
This test in South Africa of a prototype platform for use at key sites shows an alternative approach to access for wheelchair users.
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