Social Responsibility For The Provision Of Accessibility To The Differently Able In Sri Lanka
All effort and exertion put forth by man from the fullness of his heart is worship, if it is prompted by the highest motives and the will to do service to humanity. This is worship to serve mankind and to minister to the needs of the people. Service is prayer. – -Abdu’l –Baha 1844-1921-Service
This column dedicated to the notion of fulfilling the aspirations of Sri Lankan society turns its spotlight today on the differently able segment of our society and the social responsibility on the need to provide accessibility to public places for such persons, who are our brothers and sisters..
Dr. Ajith C. S. Perera in an article published on page 9 of the Daily News of 8th May 2012 stresses the need to implement the Supreme Court order issued on 27th April 2011 on accessibility to the differently able persons in Sri Lanka. More than 25% of our people i.e around five million Sri Lankans have had their abilities restricted due to a multitude of reasons. Among them are persons born with disabilities, soldiers who have lost their limbs or suffered other disabilities during the ethnic conflict, persons who have disabilities caused by accidents either by motoring mishaps or other forms of domestic accidents, or due to collapse of buildings, natural disaster such as tsunami or earth-slips or lightning. Recently a female medical student who underwent an accident due to a tent pole falling on her impairing her ability to walk passed out as a doctor. She received the kindness of the people of our land.
Dr. Perea himself suffered disability due to a motor car accident and had to be confined to a wheel chair since that fateful day. He has been a crusader for the right to accessibility for the differently able and due to his unstinted efforts supported by many well wishers the Supreme Court order above referred to has been obtained. The Order SCFR 221/2009 sets out several measures to be adopted in the design and construction of all parts of new public buildings and facilities so as to establish a society that values difference and respects the equality of all human beings thereby enabling everyone.
Failure to provide such access to buildings and facilities is a violation of the said Supreme Court order as such failure disregards the established national standards in building construction (SLS/ISO/TR/9527/2006) and legislation foe designing parts of buildings as provided in Accessibility Regulation gazetted on October 2006 with unanimous parliamentary approval on 20th March 2007.
The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka has invited all persons to notify the Commission of any violations of the Supreme Court order referred to above with regard to public buildings designed and constructed after 27th April 2011.in order to take necessary action for violation of the human rights of differently able people. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities states: “To enable persons with disabilities to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life, States Parties shall take appropriate measures to ensure to persons with disabilities access, on an equal basis with others, to the physical environment, to transportation, to information and communications…” Section 2(b) of Article 9 of the Convention says, “To ensure that private entities that offer facilities and services which are open or provided to the public take into account all aspects of accessibility for persons with disabilities.”.
The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 of India in Section 46 states: “The appropriate Governments and the local authorities shall, within the limits of their economic capacity and development, provide for – (a) ramps in public buildings; (b) Braille symbols and auditory signals in elevators or lifts; (c) ramps in hospitals, primary health centres and other medical care and rehabilitation institutions.” It is time that similar legislation is enacted in Sri Lanka.
Safe access to ATM machines, lifts, Supermarket Buildings, toilet facilities in buildings both public and private, in order that a wheel chair may be taken in by the rider himself without assistance are some areas that need attention. In toilets the entry is so narrow that a wheelchair cannot be taken in and if at all a person can take the wheelchair inside, there is hardly any space to manoeuvre as the doors come in the way. Ramps wide enough to take in a wheel chair need to be constructed at the entrances to hospitals, hotels, supermarkets, restaurants, Post Offices and other public or private buildings. The cost of providing such facilities is not excessive and their provision would improve the income of the private enterprises and the services of the public institutions. Sri Lankan society bears an unquestioned responsibility to provide such access not only to Sri Lankans but to all differently able people.
Sri Lankans are renowned for their hospitality and it should be borne in mind that disability is only a few seconds away for anyone traveling in a motor vehicle or attending to their daily chores even at home.
As quoted at the outset of this piece as that great spiritual teacher Abdu’l Baha stated ‘This is worship to serve mankind and to minister to the needs of the people: ‘Let all Sri Lankans engaged in public service or controlling private enterprises note these words and strive to provide accessibility to our differently able brothers and sisters.
As usual let me conclude with an amusing anecdote. An old man boasted about his fitness to a group of youngsters. ”Every morning” he said “I do fifty push ups, fifty sit ups and walk two miles. I’m as fit as a fiddle! And you want to know why? I don’t smoke, I don’t drink and I don’t chase after women. And tomorrow I’m going to celebrate my ninety seventh birthday.””Oh really” said one of the youngsters, “How?”