The Sunday Leader

Protecting People With Special Needs

By Waruni Karunarathne

Even though certain legal provisions are in place to protect the rights of the people with special needs, public institutions in Sri Lanka seem to have disregarded those regulations and have failed to accommodate the needs of the differently abled community. As a country that has undergone war, Sri Lanka evidently has a large population of people with disabilities whereas the public institutions have blatantly dismissed giving them equal access to public places and services.

Recently a mother of a differently abled child filed a complaint with the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) alleging that the principal of a leading girls’ school in Colombo refused to provide the necessary facilities on the ground floor of the school for her daughter.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) also took interest in the case based on some information received and reported that the child who is now in grade 8, since birth, has been unable to walk and needs a wheel chair to be supported. Therefore a parent has to accompany her to the school every day and attend to her sanitary needs during the interval. Since the beginning of the academic year 2015, the class allocated for her has been on the 3rd floor of a building and the mother was compelled to carry the child up three flights of stairs into the classroom on daily basis.

As it was becoming a difficult task for the mother to carry the child, she had requested the school principal to allow the child’s father to carry the child up the stairs. However it was reported that the school administration has refused the child’s father from entering the school premises on the ground that it is a girl’s school and therefore it is inappropriate to allow the farther to be allowed inside the school to assist her. The mother claimed that on several occasions she had fallen down the stairs as it was getting difficult for her to lift the child up the stairs. Even though she had continuously requested the school administration to allocate a classroom for the child on the ground floor, reportedly the principal had dismissed the requests which resulted in parents not sending the child to school for a few months.

Based on this series of events, the mother lodged a complaint with the HRCSL against the school administration seeking justice for her child with special needs. Speaking to The Sunday Leader, Legal Secretary and Media Spokesman of the HRCSL, Nimal Punchihewa added that both the parties were called to HRCSL for a hearing on the 21st of this month and the principal of the school agreed to allocate a classroom on the ground floor for the class of the child with the special needs – and the issue was resolved after both the parties came to an agreement.

He added that in general there are certain provisions in the Sri Lankan legislation as to what facilities should be provided to a person with special needs in order to give them equal access to public places and services. The Act for the Protection of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities came into effect on 24th October 1996 by proclamation in the Gazette of the Sri Lanka.

“The 1996 Act No 28 as well as several Supreme Court judgments on certain cases have ensured the rights of the differently abled people. When constructing buildings, institutions have to follow certain criteria to accommodate the needs to the differently abled people. There are certain directions issued by the Supreme Court with reference to people with special needs as to how the building should accommodate their needs when it comes to public places including train stations, bus stations, several storey buildings, toilets etc.” he added. Mr. Punchihewa said that thereby if the rights of a person with disabilities are being violated, anybody can seek legal assistance. However, he added that the HRCSL can intervene only if a complaint is lodged with the commission in that regard.

When contacted the Deputy Minister of Social Service to inquire about the programmes in place to ensure that the rights of the people with special needs are being protected, he directed The Sunday Leader to the unit in the Social Services Ministry which works in line with the subject matter. An official of the division said that with reference to the above incident, a letter has been sent to the Secretary to the Ministry of Education insisting that the Education Ministry should act in compliance with the regulations to ensure the rights of the students with special needs. “We have also provided necessary advices to government institutions throughout. However it seems that the officials are neglecting the regulations even though we have been constantly and consistently reminding them to act in compliance with the those regulations,” he added.

He stated that in an Extraordinary Gazette notification published 2006. 10. 17 (No 1467/15) which was revised in 2009.09.18 (No.1619/24), introduced Accessibility Regulations for people with special needs – according to which public buildings, public places and places where common services are available should be made accessible to persons with disabilities.

The Social Service Ministry Official added that according to the gazette issued, all these regulations mentioned should come into operation in all existing public buildings, public places and places where common services are available – and those places should be made accessible to persons with disabilities by the 2014.10.16. “When constructing new building, approvals should be granted only for buildings that are designed in compliance with these regulations. That came to effect from 2009.09.18,” he pointed out. However he observed that even though the deadline had drawn to end in 2014, most of the old public buildings have not yet given equal access to people with restricted abilities.

Further he added that the Supreme Court judgement (FR2021/ 2009) also ensures the rights of the people with special needs by issuing a judgement ruling to support these regulations. However he added that the ministry has drafted a regulation exempting some small shops and public institutions built within a less than 6 perches or within the 3 meters from the main road as those buildings lack space to develop required facilities for the people with disabilities. However he insisted that ATM machines are not being exempted as it should be accessible by the people with special needs.

“A school is a public building and it must have these required facilities for differently abled children. We have carried out awareness programmes for all Divisional Secretariats and other relevant government officials on several occasions to create awareness on this subject and legal provisions. We even carried out workshops in all 9 provinces,” he added. However, he observed that even the new roads constructed in recent times are not in compliance with the regulations and most of these roads do not have ramps that give access to people with disabilities.

According to him, the legal provisions are in place to give equal access for people with restricted ability to public places but the relevant officials seem to have lack interest and neglected their responsibilities – therefore it is important to create a dialogue to open the eyes of the officials as well as public on this issue. He also reiterated that if any person encounters instances where rights of the people with special needs are being violated due to non-compliance of these regulations, they can file a case in the Magistrate Court and take legal actions against those institutions that discriminate the people with disabilities

1 Comment for “Protecting People With Special Needs”

  1. Many parts of the world have no problem of having access to public places for the disable people. It is sad to see Sri lanka is not fixing this important issue and let them have their freedom of having their basic needs, like education.

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