Today is International Day of the Disabled People:
Accessibility For Humanity
The Way Forward
Life is all about accessibility to essential and desired facilities,
services, information and goods. To support and sustain life, movement
and accessibility to the public buildings that house them become vital.
International Day of the Disabled People
A ramp that can
be used by wheelchair users
Accessibility hence, is fundamental to eveyone’s living. Its denial
leads to the simultaneous denial of several other rights - ‘justice,
dignity and equality of opportunity’ - the universal theme for this
year’s ‘International Day of the Disabled People.’
Quality of life
The quality of living depends greatly upon how accommodating and user
friendly the public buildings and places you visit are in day-to-day
life. It is the way others built the environment that has the potential
to make or break your precious life or the life of your loved ones.
As such ‘Effective Implementation of Accessibility’ is an investment
that would reward a growing and wide range of people and Sri Lanka
Grave social problem
Mobility is a passing asset that can be snatched away from anyone of
us, at any time of life. You are no exception, irrespective of your
position, power or possessions.
For different reasons, over 18% of our population, i.e. as many as
3.5 Million - the largest minority group - experience a significant
level of impairment of a temporary or permanent and of a visible or
hidden nature, often limiting their mobility.
As life progresses, impairments become inevitable. We could all
suddenly find ourselves incapacitated and in need of buildings that are
a joy rather than a trial to use. This is going to be increasingly
likely as soon 20 per cent of Sri Lanka’s population will be seniors.
‘Man-created’ physical and architectural barriers along with
prejudiced and negative attitudes, inhibit people’s full and active
participation in society, waste productive potential and often force
people to live on the margins of society - grave social tragedy indeed!
The way forward
As these are external factors, they are correctable. Society
therefore has the ability and moral duty to reverse this ‘created’
tragic trend and make environments that will ‘Enable Everyone’. That’s
not an act of charity, but an act of justice. ‘Constructing Accessible
Facilities is costly’, is a total misconception.
It is not an added financial burden. Especially with new buildings,
it adds less than 3 per cent to construction costs.
Investing in projects making facilities user-friendly will empower
people to become more independent integrated productive citizens, with a
better quality of life than before - and more inclined to use your
‘Equal Opportunity’ should be the basis for more meaningful corporate
social responsibility work.
‘Designing for Inclusion’ is a highly responsible professional job.
Unless backed by a good understanding of its intricacies and practical
experience, attempted implementation of internationally accepted
regulations run high risks of failure, wasting money, time and effort.
As such, authorities undertaking constructions certainly need expert
guidance from those with proven competence, as to how best to do this
Idiriya, a registered group of Professionals who continue to be
exceptionally responsive towards this crucial subject, have embarked
here on a not-for-profit mission of National importance.
High priority moral duty
Large and increasing numbers of patriotic disabled service personnel
have sacrificed limbs and eyes in battling round the clock to protect
all of us and save Mother Lanka.
Yet, their access to the opportunities their peers have, is limited
by the fact that they either move on wheelchairs or with crutches! Even
these precious personnel are marginalised and made unwanted dependants
by our ‘disabling’ constructions! What have you done about it?
The Constitution of Sri Lanka recognises seven criteria, such as
race, religion, caste under Clauses 12.(1) & 12.3 entitled ‘Right to
Equality’ on which grounds, it specifies, no citizen shall be
discriminated or restricted against.
‘Dis-abilities that debilitate persons from attending to day-to-day
activities’, discriminate or restrict or marginalise far greater number
of people than any of these seven criteria.
I propose: this crucial fact should be included as the eighth
criterion to our Constitution. It would be a morale boosting timely
action by the State, at least for the sake of our ‘patriotic war
heroes’, if ‘right’ measures are enforced without any further delay, to
arrest ‘Man constructing further physical barriers to man’.
One of the first things Barack Obama has already done is ‘setting in
motion’ a four-part plan to provide ‘Disabled Americans’ with the
greatest possible access to the same opportunities as others.
That’s the vision of a true leader. May this be a good eye opener to
Let’s resolve: ‘Make certain that nobody is disadvantaged with the
money you invest on construction’. It’s now or never !!
The Writer - a Wheelchair user - is a voluntary disability activist,
a pioneering campaigner and a consultant on ‘Enabling Environments’.