During my time in Kyrgyzstan, I witnessed an interesting phenomenon that I did not feel was commonplace in the United States. There are many ramps throughout the larger cities of Bishkek, Jalal-Abad and Osh leading into restaurants, stores and even just along uneven parts of the sidewalk. At face value, these ramps feel like an excellent step in the direction of equitable access to people who use mobility devices like wheelchairs; however, many of these ramps are steep and a handful of them are along paths with uneven ground and other obstacles that would prove difficult to navigate such as a curb that rises up past the sidewalk. This gave me some pause to wonder if these ramps are actually intended for people who use mobility devices.
In the context of the hotels that we stayed at, the ramps’ primary function was to allow our suitcases an easier climb up the steps, so it may be the case the ramps are less for mobility devices and more for luggage or carts. Even so, I find it hard to believe that there would be so many ramps outside of restaurants like the one in the picture if they weren’t intended for people to be using. I will say, the only person in a wheelchair that I saw had someone assisting them by pushing them along the sidewalk. I can imagine that without an aid, the sidewalk would be very challenging to navigate.
I do want to give some lenience to Kyrgyzstan, as its overall infrastructure is lacking in the public transportation sector, where the highways are frequently made of dirt with only two lanes. With that added bit of information, I think it’s impressive that Kyrgyzstan has many ramps at all. On top of that, the ramps were frequently made to be attractive and a part of the stairs they were next to. A complaint that I’ve heard about making accessible ramps is that they are not considered by architects in the original design on a building, so they frequently end up as an afterthought, placed on the side or behind a building with unappealing designs. Despite this tendency in Western culture, Kyrgyzstan always seems to put these ramps in front of building where you could see them, and they were manufactured with an attractive design combining the stairs and the ramp in mind.