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Disability no dead-end



LIVE WIRE: Dr. Ajith C. S. Perera

IDIRIYA: If you think disability has doomed you to a life of inactivity and dejection, take a good look at Dr. Ajith C. S. Perera, the live-wire of 'Idiriya' - an organisation dedicated to fostering education and awareness on vital issues relating to restricted mobility.

Though confined to a wheel chair, following an accident about 10 years ago which paralysed him waist down, he took centre stage at the Lower Crystal Room of the Hotel Taj Samudra on March 15 and almost single-handedly conducted one of 'Idiriya's' awareness-raising programs, to a packed audience.

" 'Idiriya' doesn't believe in NATO: no action talk only. On the contrary, it believes in action, and in the abilities of man", Perera's voice rang out, loud and clear as he announced the evenings programme to the rapt audience consisting of a wide range of experts and authorities who were expected to play an active role in helping to create environments which provide easy mobility or movement for all, the disabled in particular.

"Once you are disabled you are like a wounded horse", Perera explained later, assisted by a power point presentation. Disability, he said, brings exclusion and isolation.

One is abandoned as useless by society. The factors that bring about disability, he said, are like robbers, who deprive a person of his or her valuables. Who are these "robbers"? They are: (i) accidents-particularly man-made ones (ii) Medical ailments (iii) ageing (iv) pregnancy.

The social exclusion that disability brings is the principal problem in this context. Two other points which need bearing in mind is that we should aim at achieving a solution to this problem and that measures should be evolved as an answer to it.

The greatest asset a person has, according to Perera, is the ability to go about one's daily living independently. The "robbers" deprive one of this great ability.

Accordingly, the prime challenge facing those dealing with our built environment - such as architects and designers of buildings - is to create 'enabling environments', which facilitate the mobility of all - the disabled included. For example, buildings with comfortable ramps would enable the wheel chair-bound to go about their daily chores.

Since 'enabling environments' facilitate the movement of all, they should be considered a useful investment by building owners and employers. For, the productivity of the disabled would be enhanced and they could integrate into mainstream life.

They could even help in producing goods and services through their special abilities and skills if employed and provided these facilities for easy mobility.

An evening of interesting presentations on the theme, 'Enabling environments for all' followed Perera's address.

They were made by a galaxy of experts in the field. They ranged from academics, policy planners, bureaucrats and productivity experts to tourism experts and hoteliers.

The forum took the following decisions:

* Arousing public interest in enabling environments and according them recognition in order to make them a reality.

The Institute of Construction Training and Development, the Institute of Architects and the Institute of Engineers to work jointly in formulating an award for construction excellence in memory of the late, Vidyajothi A.N.S. Kulasinghe.

* Ceylon Chamber of Commerce to explore the possibility of including a sector award at the Corporate Social Responsibility Competition to encourage the construction of enabling environments.

* Sri Lanka Tourist Board, together with the Ministry of Tourism, to explore the possibility of granting 5 star + grade to hotels that have at least two rooms and other basic facilities for wheelchair users.

* Sri Lanka Standards Institution to introduce accessibility standards for buildings.

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Produced by Lake House Copyright 2006 The Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd.

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