Make the disability vote count | Daily News
Over three million voters with restricted ability!

Make the disability vote count

Picture by Sulochana Gamage
Picture by Sulochana Gamage

On February 10, 15.8 million Sri Lankans will be eligible to elect 8,293 members to 24 municipal councils, 41 urban councils and 276 divisional councils.

Colossal economic and social wastes plague the country in untold proportions.

It is thus imperative for all local government bodies to identify root causes and enforce a plan of remedial action.

Two prerequisites here are: (i). Arresting the waste of human talent and instead of mobilizing this asset and (ii). Minimising unwanted dependency through inclusion, empowering and equal opportunity.

Almost all of us will spend some of our time living with a deficiency in ability: moving, seeing, physical coordination, etc.

Sri Lanka has a fastest ageing population -16% of it will soon be over 65 years. A wide and diverse range of our population - at least 20% -continue to cry louder over twenty years concerning their marginalisation, social exclusion and SAFETY and thereby loss of dignity and productive opportunities in day-to-day life. On March 30, 2007, Sri Lanka signed the UN Convention for the protection of the rights of dis-Abled persons.

Accessibility is a key HUMAN RIGHTS issue and one of the eight pillars on which this convention stands.

Waste of human talent

Mayors and local council must recognise and respect: Accessibility for All is not an option but indispensable.

Practices in issuing certificates of conformity by local government bodies concerning all parts of buildings the public needs to use in daily life, often, still, violate the Supreme Court orders of April 27, 2011.

Such injurious action is not only a violation of a human rights issue and non-compliance with the UN Convention but also end-up DIS-ABLING society – a major setback to the mega-polis agenda.

Mayoral and other candidates must realise the colossal waste of human talent and potential - the country’s greatest resource - through exclusion.

They also must implement fast track, plans for complying with the legislation that all members of Parliament have unanimously approved on 20th March 2007.

The result of injurious actions –naming a few.

None of the rooms and ballrooms in many 5 star hotels and not a single ward in just opened hospitals, even in Colombo, amazingly have NOT EVEN ONE ACCESSIBLE TOILET!

Even in Mega-polis territories, hardly any ATM machines, Supermarkets, Educational institutions, Sports complexes and mushrooming glamorous posh Restaurants can be accessed and used even by those ambulant and affected by debilitating medical conditions.

Victims here are the eligible voters and their ability restricted children-not fewer than three (3) Million in number -the inevitable accidents, numerous debilitating medical conditions, wear & tear of the body, etc., and the ended 30 years of war, have robbed of their abilities to see, walk, climb or even stand steadily, to a greater or lesser extent, permanently or temporarily.

Rights of voters to enjoy for education, employment, shopping, recreation, tourism and travel, therefore are often denied by local government bodies - overlooking their legal obligations and social responsibility. Often these critical shortcomings also pose safety hazards. More than one in six voters is thus often unable by themselves to ensure for themselves the necessities of day-to-day life.

But, still, rightly built facilities could reverse this trend to a significant degree!

The malady of forgetting the largest minority.

A Mayor elected on 10th February shall be the leader of that local body. There are also the organisers appointed by top leaders of all main political parties.

Indeed it is a national tragedy that hardly any of these 8,293 men and women seeking our votes to be our leaders of tomorrow, see this country’s largest minority group– a huge voting base when their families are also added.

The measures required to comply with legislation are low cost and easily feasible.

As violators of SC orders are often backed by political powers, local government bodies shamelessly tend to succumb and allow violators to go free; the victims must either plead and earn the good-will of violators or suffer further!

Eye-opener points for NEW local government bodies

* The Supreme Court has recognised the unlawful playing with precious human life causing safety hazards.

They have ruled that failure to refrain from issuing certificates of conformity where there is anything less than full compliance with its 2011 April orders shall be considered as a serious punishable offence attracting punitive repercussions, including for Mayors and Commissioners.

Please note any violation through failure for compliance, Supreme Court gives the liberty for anyone to file a motion under its given order SCFR 221/2009.

* Access for all really means Access to Justice which can no more be delayed under a true and truthful good governance!

n Local bodies should respect the fact that: “The way a country treats its ‘dis-Abled’ population is an internationally recognized measure of a country’s good governance and a far more telling indicator of society’s development than GDP”.

* The Mayor and his/her team, on a high priority basis, should establish a workable mechanism for the effective enforcement and implementation of legislation to prevent issuing of ‘C.O.C’s to facilities failing to comply totally.

It is equally crucial to make the public clearly aware of such measures in advance.

* New and renovated buildings (even on rent or lease) – toilets in particular - the newly elected local government bodies should immediately be looking at for compliance, includes following essential facilities the public need to use in daily life:

All Star Hotels and places of tourist attractions, Restaurants, Institutions of secondary and tertiary education and vocational training, wards and counters in hospitals, banks, sports stadia, all Government and private sector facilities at up-coming cities, towns, basic urban infrastructures and; services - including train and bus facilities - within MEGA-POLIS and Port City territories.

* Business leaders should be reminded of the fact:’ Safety and Inclusion of all customers by physical design is paramount for the growth of businesses and to maximize its potential’.

* In working closely with the Ministry of Tourism, the star-status awarding procedures to hotels must be remedied immediately making compliance with accessibility legislation – not in bits and pieces but - in total-mandatory.

We witness fast growing ‘ability restrict ed’ senior touring populations of the world demand their right to equal access.

With their high spending potential, they are an unrecognized but growing niche - certainly an overlooked growth market here. But that requires tourist establishments and essential facilities truly meeting accepted design standards.

Hence, accessibility in tourism, all hoteliers must be re-told, is an indispensable economic element.

* Most of the accident victims continue to find physical access to courts a nightmare. Therefore local government bodies should ensure all new and renovated Court Complexes comply with Supreme Court Orders for accessibility.

* To make these crucial initiatives a meaningful reality, at least Municipal Councils must enforce a system of independent physical audits and checks to establish compliance with accessibility legislation.

Expert Accessibility Advisors – the missing link

Accessibility experts perform a highly responsible specialised job, involving money, time and effort concerning precious human life.

It requires a good in-depth understanding of intricacies, years of practical experience and thorough working knowledge beyond text-book material.

It is not one where standards and specifications can just be read and applied.

Looking at reality proves that, the absence of the services of experienced accessibility experts is a very costly blunder that fuels social exclusion and loss of business opportunities and good name.

Fervent last hope

We still hope that this article will be an 11th-hour eye opener to all Mayoral Candidates and their teams. May they make clear public announcements indicating proposed plan of action on fast track so that for the increasing biggest minority group of voters, the degree of their mobility should no more be a disadvantage caused by physical and architectural barriers and thereby everyday activities should no more become a daunting task to accomplish?

Remember, although the largest minority, they have NO VOICE in Parliament or even in local government bodies to be formed. At least all Municipal Councils should have one independent council member– a dis-Abled - appointed by the Mayor based on merit, towards rectifying this major shortcoming. 


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