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Accessibility: Whose responsibility and why?

For several years we have been talking much about the way we continue to design and construct environments that are 'DISABLING'. Yet, what significant changes have we brought about?

Mobility is a passing asset that can be snatched away from anyone, without any warning, at anytime of life! It's inevitable either for a short time, long time or lifetime. It is therefore NORMAL in any Society for there to be different levels of ability to move.

Accessibility is paramount

Without convenient safe and dignified access dignity for as wide a range of users as possible, built environments and their facilities become functionally deficient and thereby 'Dis-abling'.

Already over three Million people in our country have restricted mobility i.e. at 16% the biggest minority group!

Our heroic 'Rana Viru' armed service personnel rendered disabled, having sacrificed their limbs for the security of you, me and our country, are a significant number. For each and every one of them, an acute and sensitive social responsibility is owed by every one of us, towards their integration into society as equal and productive partners. Even here, our 'DISABLING' buildings are a stumbling block.

Establishing accessibility is NOT a Right or a Responsibility that can be compromised or diluted or transferred by anyone, under any circumstances. Its prolong denial has already made several others RIGHTS only theory.

Contrary to the popular false belief, there are many ways and counter measures to improve accessibility and usability without spending big amounts of money.

Forward thinking

We are in an era where Sri Lanka very much needs professionalism in 'thinking' and in 'action'. With the global economic crisis affecting us, we are now compelled to focus and act with a sense of urgency towards a formidable and sustainable national economy.

Two high priority pre-requisites here are: (i). To mobilize rather than waste human potential. (ii). To minimise unwanted dependence through increased productive opportunities in day-to- day normal life.

As such, it is an unforgivable social tragedy to continue constructing physical barriers in our built environments that restrict or preclude another man's activity. It causes substantial losses physically, socially, economically and especially psychologically to the individuals and often their immediate families. The cumulative result extends to national level, even bringing disrepute to the country from a human rights perspective.

The Ministry of Social Services and Social Welfare, backed by the National Council for 'Disabled Persons', must again be commended for the establishment of Access Regulations (No: 1 Of 2006) and thereafter receiving unanimous parliamentary approval by all political parties towards their mandatory implementation by Law.

Open your minds

Professionals responsible for constructions are expected to comply with both the letter and the spirit of the LAWS already in force. On paper all New Buildings are user-friendly to all. But, with the relevant local authorities inept and turning a blind eye, implementation of this crucial law has become a mockery.

Enforcement, implementation and on-going close monitoring, even in the Western Province with the highest residential population, seems NOBODY'S RESPONSIBILITY. Owners and other Ministries, Department and Institutions merrily continue violations of this law whilst shedding crocodile tears about our heroic disabled soldiers!

There is general 'National and International' agreement that the QUALITY of any service, provided or any product supplied is the 'equal responsibility of everyone concerned'. So is the thinking with PRODUCTIVITY. Yet, when it comes to the Quality of Facilities and Buildings we do not put this in to practise!

It's NOW or Never!

Arguments for non-enforcement never help to solve this aggravating problem plaguing) the country in untold proportions.

If Sri Lanka are ever to ensure 'accessibility with dignity by all", implementation and enforcement in full of the provisions of Sri Lanka Standard SLS ISO TR 9527: 2006 in building construction along with the Accessibility Regulations, and their close monitoring, should be the responsibility of owners of buildings which the public use during the ordinary course of their day to day lives. It should be seen as an act of Justice in the National interest.

[The Writer is a voluntary disability rights activist and an advisor on 'Accessibility at built environments`.]

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