Many are excluded from active participation in society because of doorways that are too narrow for wheelchairs; steps that cannot be mounted leading to buildings, buses, trains and aircraft; telephones and light switches that cannot be reached; and sanitary facilities that cannot be used. Similarly they can be excluded by communication barriers, for example oral communication which ignores the needs of the hearing impaired and written information which ignores the needs of the visually impaired. Such barriers are the result of ignorance and lack of concern; they exist despite the fact that most of them could be avoided by inexpensive yet careful planning. Although some countries have enacted legislation and launched campaigns of public education to eliminate such obstacles, the problem remains a crucial one.
Structural barriers turn the man-made environment into a frustrating obstacle course for an appreciable number of the world's citizens. The aged, mothers with prams, wheel-chair users, pregnant women, people with chronic heart or bronchial conditions, the person with a crutch, all are daily impeded, inconvenienced and endangered by architectural barriers.
The problem is exaggerated. The handicapped do after all constitute only a minority of the population, and the most severely handicapped - those forced to sit in a wheel-chair - account for only a minute part of the population. Even if we were to mobilize all allies such as infants, the aged, the poor-sighted, pregnant women etc, it would still be difficult to get up to as much as 10% of the population.
The Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential is a collaboration between UIA and Mankind 2000, started in 1972. It is the result of an ambitious effort to collect and present information on the problems with which humanity is confronted, as well as the challenges such problems pose to concept formation, values and development strategies. Problems included are those identified in international periodicals but especially in the documents of some 60,000 international non-profit organizations, profiled in the Yearbook of International Organizations.
The Encyclopedia includes problems which such groups choose to perceive and act upon, whether or not their existence is denied by others claiming greater expertise. Indeed such claims and counter-claims figure in many of the problem descriptions in order to reflect the often paralyzing dynamics of international debate. In the light of the interdependence demonstrated among world problems in every sector, emphasis is placed on the need for approaches which are sufficiently complex to encompass the factions, conflicts and rival worldviews that undermine collective initiative towards a promising future.
Non-profit, apolitical, independent, and non-governmental in nature, the UIA has been a pioneer in the research, monitoring and provision of information on international organizations, international associations and their global challenges since 1907.