Making ‘the right to accessibility’ a meaningful reality
Today is World
Disability Day, under the theme: Together for a Better World for All
focusing on Social Inclusion and Accessibility for All
As fully fledged citizens, facilities essential in day-to-day life
built by man at new public buildings and places, must be accessible and
usable with safety and with dignity for all. Regardless of degree of
ability, it is an inherent right of everyone and this is mandatory by
Making it happen is an imperative prerequisite for Sri Lanka as an
undisputed catalyst for building understanding and fostering our social,
cultural and human rights values as well as promoting an untapped
lucrative money earner for our country.
It is a long felt vital necessity of national importance; not a
luxury nor unwanted expenditure but an indispensable low cost economic
investment for sustainable development as the involvement of people with
restricted ability creates opportunities for everyone - with or without
With the emergence of the social model of disability based on human
rights issues requiring adequate opportunity equally for all, world
views on what it means to be ‘dis-Abled’, that were earlier based on a
now outdated medical model of disability, have changed rapidly - and for
the better - to enhance the quality of life of all people.
Modern views recognise that all of us, irrespective of our positions
and possessions, is only temporary able-bodied with limitations in
ability, physical, sensory and intellectual, to varying degrees.
Ability could change with a blink of an eye. Every one of us, for
different reasons, is certain to spend some of our time living with
restricted abilities, in getting around (moving, seeing, coordination,
The term ‘Accessibility’ encompasses approachability, accessibility
and usability with safety and with dignity for all people - regardless
of degree of mobility, sight, hearing or age - to public facilities
built by man.
It encompasses publicly and privately owned buildings and places but
it's not merely making here and there a ramp or a room and an accessible
Rather: “All key parts of buildings for public use in day-to-day
life”, toilets and wash facilities in particular, should be constructed
in accordance with ‘design requirements and standards’ that are already
specified in the gazetted regulations.
We often see increasing number of people becoming unexpectedly and
unwontedly prisoners in their own ‘sweet homes'.
For some it is the on-set of old age. For others - still young and
active - it is the debilitating situations that come and (may or may
not) go with accidents and medical conditions. Some may even be worsened
by medications or loss of opportunities and/or stress.
Everyone needs buildings and facilities that are age-friendly and a
joy rather than a trial to use. None of us likes to have the bitter
experiences of being incapacitated or marginalised yet by ‘others’ still
continue to design environments that ‘we’ have to live in.
Open your eyes
Sri Lanka has the fastest ageing population in our region and soon
almost 17 percent will be over 65.
An estimated 20 percent of Sri Lanka's voting population - i.e. 4
million - has diverse ability often with restricted eye sight and
Here we talk of a wide range of people inclusive of the elderly and,
those traveling with children in prams, convalescing, living with
numerous debilitating medical conditions (that often go unnoticed),
using wheelchairs, sticks and frames and often even the pregnant.
In day-to-day life, still, tens of thousands of people with
restricted abilities often face considerable physical hazards in the
man-made environment and are forced to fight an uphill battle reaching
and using essential facilities, tragically, even at new public
These include toilet and wash room facilities even at five star
hotels, entrances, doorways, steps and stairs at restaurants, cinemas,
Police stations, (university) lecture halls, pharmacies in the community
and private sector hospitals, local councils, ministries, departments,
markets and shops and other business establishments as well as tourist
sites, walkways, parks, etc.
“The way a country treats its ‘dis-Abled’, or rather, its population
with ‘restricted ability and the true extent to which they are respected
as fully-fledged citizens is a realistic, internationally recognized,
measure of a country's good governance and a far more telling indicator
of society's development than GDP”.
Yet, sadly, the then inept leadership managed very little over the
past 15 long years. The ‘dis-Abled’ were often made overwhelmingly
voiceless in matters that affect them and society and, thereby
aggravating social and economic issues to plague the country unwantedly
in untold proportions.
Charity and social services beyond a minimum, creates unwanted
dependants. We are readier to offer sympathy and a helping hand, than
empathy for Enabling and Empowering.
Safe access to toilets and wash facilities is still scarce, even in
our five-star hotels. Hence, inaccessibility has become a very
significant lost opportunity in Sri Lanka's emerging industry of
tourism, travel and hospitality.
These facts were recognised and accepted by the Supreme Court in the
larger national interest when issuing orders on April 28, 2011 under SC
(FR) 221 / 2009 making compliance with specified design standards
mandatory in constructing ALL parts of NEW public buildings and
Amazingly, no politician has pledged to uplift the quality of life of
such a huge voting base in actively promoting the implementation of this
Court order of national importance!
Accessibility and safe use are paramount for EVERYONE. Easier and
safer modes of access make participation more comfortable, more
independent and hence more productive equally to everyone.
It accommodates a wide range of people with choice for which the
building and facilities were designed and meant to be used, enhances
opportunities, encourages innate human potential and alleviates poverty.
Everyone gets a better tomorrow and a ‘suba anagathayak'.
Inaccessibility - further disobeying of this Court Order - removes
these dividends, devastates resources, dispirits a vast human potential
and depletes national development.
Establishing facilities accessible for all is a highly responsible
task involving money, time and effort. Often the professionals in the
construction industry lack the essential practical knowledge and
adequate understanding of its intricacies.
As each site is unique in its problems and solutions. Never copy
professional advice for one location, even for a ramp, at another - each
site must be assessed and evaluated separately. As such, owners and
authorities undertaking constructions need very much expert guidance as
to how best to do this and thereby prevent waste of precious resources.
(The writer, Hony. Secretary-General of ‘IDIRIYA’ (email@example.com),
is a known competent advisor on accessibility. He appeared in person on
a wheelchair last April at the Supreme Court, successfully to pursue
single-handedly a public interest litigation fundamental rights
application to require unhindered access to all new public buildings and