'Accessibility enables everyone' :
It's an essential need at all public buildings
The differently-abled: an asset to society
Approval: Regulations enabling access by the 'Disabled Persons' to
public buildings, places and services were gazetted on October 17, 2006
(Reference: 1467/15) under section 25 of the ACT No. 28 of 1996.
On March 20, 2007, these will get presented at our parliament to
receive approval, after discussions and debates perhaps. But what is
crucial now, is their right implementation in environments where we
live, which depends heavily on the active on-going support that all
Ministers and all Ministries should unhesitatingly give to the Ministry
of Social Services.
We believe it will happen well and truly in 2007, declared as 'Year
of Accessibility for All.' Until and unless that happens fully, the wide
range of benefits these regulations have the potential to bring to all
people and the country, will remain an unattainable dream.
The Ministry of Social Services and Social Welfare, gazetted on
October 17, last year, emended regulations for access to all public
buildings, places and common services.
It is crucial at first to identify and remove some false beliefs and
injurious perceptions that's very commonly held in society, even amongst
our leaders and decision makers, which significantly retards the
meaningful implementation of accessibility in society.
(i). As regulations here are cited as 'the Disabled Persons
Accessibility Regulations' and the estimated figure of the 'Disabled' is
'said' to be around 10% everyone tends to believe it is only this small
percentage of people who will benefit through the implementation of
They perceive that the 'remaining' 90% of people, will not have any
added benefit or value. Also they tend to believe accessibility is not
for the blind and deaf.
(ii). As our electronic and some of the print media still continue to
project the inability and haplessness of this sector in order to
generate pity and sympathy, society at large is encouraged to trust that
this 10% of our population are unproductive.
The Sinhala terminology 'Aabadhitha' used to identify the disabled
people, also imparts the feeling that often these are sick or feeble
people. These perceptions make some in society believe that to survive,
'disabled' people need sympathy and charity based support.
With this painted negative picture, 'disabled' people are often
denied gainful employment opportunities, driving them towards poverty
and dependency. Very many of them, then turn to begging or selling
lottery tickets on streets in hot sun peddling tricycles, in order that
they might survive that way.
Three immediate repercussions
(a). Endeavours made towards the implementation of these regulations
are seen by organisations as 'Charity and Sympathy based' work that
should come under their CSR budgets allocated for 'meritorious deeds.'
Hence the business sector does not see any priority to bring in changes
proposed by these regulations and thereby shows no sense of any urgency.
They also feel the time spend in attending any invited awareness
programmes is of no real value to them and hence hardly participate.
This drastically reduces chances of imparting proper knowledge.
(b). Television channels and radio stations deny us opportunities to
take part as equal partners in any of the important regular discussion
or current affairs programmes that the majority of the people, including
the leaders and decision makers, often watch. This also prevents causing
a healthy change in attitudes of people.
(c). Often, interviews and feature articles in the print media to
impart proper knowledge, are seen as of no real purpose and hence are
either denied of or given no prominent position that would win the eye
of the readers and grab their attention straight away, which is a
crucial need here.
Four hidden facts
(1). For different reasons, children, adults and seniors, males and
females both, estimated at not less than 30% of our population, meaning
more than one in every four people, are already experiencing
difficulties in walking freely or climbing even a few steps. They may be
residents, visitors, spectators, customers, employees or participants in
conferences, performances and sports events.
(2). At present, most of them are forced silently to fight an uphill
battle to gain access to services and facilities at almost all our
public buildings and places, such as local government buildings, banks,
supermarkets and shopping complexes, cinemas and theatres, restaurants,
auditoriums and exhibition centres, even our internationally reputed
cricket, athletic and other sports venues.
It is tragic that even most of the Colombo, Kandy and Galle based
five-star Hotels have no disabled washing and toilet facilities for this
very big sector, causing great embarrassments and inflicting safety
threats to their clientele, especially to our increasing population of
senior citizens and wheelchair users.
(3). We are a country where more than 20% of the population will soon
be senior citizens. We also see more pregnant mothers and elders
carrying small children.
Numerous debilitating medical conditions such as arthritis, back
hip-knee-ankle problems and diminishing eye sight, most of which are
invisible, are skyrocketing. Natural and man-made disasters like
accidents on roads and at homes and victims of cruel terrorism, are all
No one, irrespective of their positions and possessions, can ever
escape from these happenings. Sadly, they are inventible. Hence, chances
are very high that each and every one of us is certain to spend some of
our time, may be for a short time or long time or perhaps lifetime,
experiencing a drop in ability to walk and climb even few steps.
Yet, very many of such people are still, able, productive, healthy
and employable people. All that they require is some external assistance
for their mobility, to continue with their daily living activities
without becoming an added unwanted burden to society.
In fact the quality of living these people then enjoy, will greatly
depend upon how accessible and accommodating and user-friendly the
living environments around them happens to be.
(4). It must be realised that it is neither practical nor healthy to
prolong charity and sympathy based social welfare work, beyond a
minimum, which many a business organisation still does, under a false
belief in corporate social responsibility. Such will only crate more
unwanted dependants, adding more economic and social burdens onto
It is very clear that our immediate objective must be to ensure that
'nobody' is disadvantaged through man-made constructions.' Such tragic
happenings cause loss of opportunities for gainful employment,
recreation, shopping, communication, education and travel. It is a
denial of their fundamental legitimate human rights and freedom.
None should be allowed to fight silently an uphill battle for access
to any bank, supermarket, theatre, cinema, sports stadium or place of
tourist attraction. Then only it could pave the way for everyone to
enjoy equality of treatment as respected citizens, and achieve this
vision in Mahinda Chinthanaya.
(1). A reduced ability to gain access to public buildings and places
is a potential problem common equally to everyone.
Already over 30% of our population who are experiencing difficulties
in walking are 'made disabled by the design of our environments' and
thereby silently battle grave difficulties in gaining access to
facilities and services at almost all public buildings and places here.
Furthermore, they also experience much embarrassment in being forced to
go on the shoulders of others, when still alive.
Right now it's this 30%, very soon much more and eventually everyone,
will directly benefit from the implementation of the Access Regulations.
This will overcome restrictions that prevent all people making full use
of premises and their surroundings.
The sooner this is done, the sooner it will prevent further
environmental-barriers being created to breed more unwanted dependents,
many of whom as its result are driven towards poverty.
(2). Every environment built that is not barrier-free to access and
use, wastes human potential and creates more unwanted dependants.
The sooner this trend is arrested, the less damage it will cause to
the society and country. But, what must be remembered is that 'Designing
or Inclusion of Everyone' is an art with a science that even moot of our
professionals in building construction are yet to understand well
enough. It is costly and time and energy wasting to make and break in
(3). For the first time, a Sri Lankan standard for design guidelines
in building construction, (SL/ISO/TR/9527:2006), was launched last week
by SLSI. These must be made a vital integral part of the development
process, at every stage of the building construction, from inception to
Mahinda Chinthanaya upholds the principal: 'Accessibility to public
buildings will enable everyone.' To make this vision a true and
meaningful reality, 2007 has already been declared as 'Year of
Accessibility.' We believe the SLSI Standard would also stimulate
everyone's interest in the right direction, as a step towards achieving
this goal of the Mahinda Chinthanaya.
(4). Architects, Engineers and Builders are the custodians of our
living environments. Along with the property developers and investors of
money, they have a moral duty to make the Mahinda Chinthanaya goal:
'Access facilities for all at public buildings and places', a reality.
As true professionals, they should, at least now, take into serious
account the inevitable drop in human ability, when planning all building