Law in place, but little redress for right of access for disabled—Dr. Perera

By Nadia Fazlulhaq

Road traffic accidents claim many lives and leave many more crippled. Unfortunately, a majority of public buildings in the country do not have proper access facilities for disabled people in spite of it being compulsory by law, disabled rights activist Dr. Ajith C.S.Perera said.

Dr. Ajith Perera

Addressing a news conference on ‘Accessibility at built environments– an inherent right and an indispensable national need’ organized by the Human Rights Commission and IDIRIYA, an organization that champions the rights of disabled citizens, Dr. Perera in particular pointed out the plight of many brave soldiers who fought in the protracted war and are now disabled. There are about 10,000 disabled soldiers in the country and they have been denied the right to lead a normal life due to inaccessibility to many buildings.

“Majority of disabled soldiers are confined to their homes, affecting their dignity as soldiers who once fought for this country. This in turn leads to mental depression,” he said. He said accessibility to public buildings does not mean only setting up ramps. It should include supporting corridors, special toilets and even door knobs.

“Many middle-aged and elderly people suffer from debilitating medical conditions like arthritis, impaired vision, knee injuries and frozen shoulder. Though they cannot be put into the category of disabled, they too should have easy access to public buildings,” he said.

Dr. Perera, said aged tourists also fall into this category and the lack of facilities could affect the industry.
“Majority of tourists from Western countries are retired persons. However, there are many tourist resorts and star class hotels that do not have proper facilities for the aged and disabled. In fact, the
four washrooms even at the BIA do not have facilities for the weak and disabled,” he said.

Dr. Perera said around 25 percent of the population (five million persons) suffer from physical and mental disabilities and these affect them economically, socially, physically and mentally.
He pointed out that although disabled people, weak, aged and pregnant women frequently visit
bank Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) and supermarkets they lack facilities for such categories of people.

Referring to the law of the land, Dr. Perera said the rights of the disabled have been guaranteed under the Protection of the Rights of Persons under the Disabilities Act No. 28 of 1996 and the Disabled Persons (Accessibility Regulations) Regulations No. 1 of 2006.

In 2009, Dr. Perera said he petitioned the Supreme Court regarding the inferior design of some public buildings arguing that the rights ensured by law had been ignored even in new public places.

These people too should have the right of access especially to public buildings. Pic by Hasitha Kulasekera

Last year the Supreme Court again ordered that all parts of new public buildings and places, especially toilet and wash facilities as defined in the accessibility regulations should be designed and constructed in a disabled -friendly manner. Existing buildings were given a three year grace period to comply with those design regulations. It is mandatory to comply with this ruling when designing public buildings, getting plans approved, or when issuing a ‘certificate of conformity’.

In addition relevant authorities, architects, builders, commissioners of local government, officers of the Urban Development Authority and Board of Investment, heads of ministries, provincial ministries and institutions are responsible to ensure that this order is enforced.

However Human Rights Commission President, former Supreme Court Judge Priyantha Perera addressing the conference said the Commission has received a number of complaints regarding the inaccessibility to public places.

“Not only are people unaware of the existence of the design regulations but they are also ignorant of it,” he said.

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