‘Accessibility is an inherent right of national importance’


"The Human Rights Committee of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) has a duty to pay special attention to the protection of the right to accessibility of vulnerable groups of persons comprising elders, persons with restricted abilities, pregnant mothers, women and children."

"According to available statistics, over 25 per cent of Sri Lanka’s population experience diverse abilities. ‘Accessibility, usability and using limited resources’ is an inherent right of everyone regardless of ability. This is a matter the HRCSL is much concerned about".

These were the opening remarks made by the Chairman of the Human Rights Committee of Sri Lanka – former Supreme Court Judge Priyantha Perera - at a media conference organised by the Educational and Special Programmes Division of the HRCSL recently at their Kynsey Road auditorium.

Earlier, Secretary HRCSL Mrs. R. Thambithurai welcomed the invitees and said that equal and full participation of persons in social life and development is important for the country’s progress. Accessibility to built environments is a pre-requisite here.

In her introduction to the programme Miss Shirani Rajapakse, Directress Education and Special Programmes HRCSL, explained the significant contributions made in endeavoring to safeguard and protect the rights of these vulnerable groups of people.

Justice Perera said that on 27 April 2011 the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka made a considered order relating to accessibility in the case of Dr. Ajith C. S. Perera Vs. Attorney General and others. (SC FR No. 221/2009).

Equal and full, active and meaningful participation of persons is an essential need of equal opportunity for their economic, social and cultural development.

In this order, he stressed, the court recognises the right of persons who have different levels of ability to move freely and also acknowledges the fact that senior citizens and pregnant mothers are fast growing in numbers and are restricted in their movement. Any restriction to the mobility of people affected by different levels of ability constitutes a violation of a fundamental right of such a person protected by our Constitution.

In concluding, Justice Mr. Perera expressed HRCSL’s gratefulness to Dr. Ajith C. S. Perera, the reputed accessibility advisor, for taking the initiative single-handedly in obtaining this order from the Supreme Court and said that it is indeed the prime duty of the HRC to take steps to give due publicity to this SC order.

He also extended sincere thanks to Dr. Ajith Perera, for his valuable contributions as an activist in this field and for the invitation extended by him to Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka to take all necessary action to safeguard rights of these vulnerable groups.

Additional Secretary HRCSL Mr. Nimal G. Punchihewa then emphasized that although the Act to protect the rights of people with ‘restricted abilities’ were gazetted in 1996, it has taken ten more years to formulate regulations for accessibility and STILL, even after five further years, owners and co-owners of NEW public buildings fail to comply with legal obligations and thereby infringe the inherent right to accessibility by these vulnerable groups.

Dr. Ajith C. S. Perera then ‘opened the eyes’ of the audience with a very informative presentation. He explained that automatically from birth everyone, regardless of the degree of ability, is entitled to enjoy certain rights to an equal degree and these inter-linked to one another. Several other rights, including that to education and gainful employment, depend hugely on the right to accessibility.

Dr. Perera further elucidated that we could all suddenly find ourselves at any time in life, regardless of our positions and possessions, our own abilities to attend to daily necessities are restricted to varying degrees. It may be them today, but, you, tomorrow.

"Hence to continue to live a life with safety, dignity and quality, it is indispensable that the environments we build today comply with standards and Court orders making them a joy rather than a trial to use".

"As the investment here is of very nominal cost this should be the moral duty, social responsibility and legal obligation of everyone".

"Today we are focusing on re-awakening Sri Lanka towards a formidable and sustainable national economy and social well being." Dr. Perera stressed that two pre-requisites to achieve this goal to any meaningful degree are "(i). Arresting the waste of human potential and instead mobilizing this asset and (ii). Minimising unwanted dependency through empowering people".

To achieve meaningful results here, our limited resources must no more be wasted through ‘man constructing DISABLING buildings and facilities at public places’ in continued violation of this Supreme Court order.

"Designing to comply with Standards and this Supreme Court order is a highly responsible task. It requires a good understanding of the intricacies which would come only with wider and long experience".

"From the recent work done at numerous places, it is evident that most of the professionals responsible for construction, even the reputed, are very much lacking this prerequisite".

"Owners and co-owners along with those undertaking constructions, certainly need expert guidance from competent personnel with proven experience to guide and monitor the work or even to asses and validate the job done for ‘right compliance’. It is an essential investment in larger National interest, concluded Dr. Perera."



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