I am among over two million of rapidly ageing ‘sons of Mother Lanka’. It seems our Architects, Constructors, Politicians and Businessmen are yet to realise that ‘Nothing is certain, static or permanent’. This includes the ability we once enjoyed to walk even over piles of bricks and on wet slippery floors. Our access to the [...]


Sunday Times 2

Buildings that marginalise millions of us


I am among over two million of rapidly ageing ‘sons of Mother Lanka’. It seems our Architects, Constructors, Politicians and Businessmen are yet to realise that ‘Nothing is certain, static or permanent’. This includes the ability we once enjoyed to walk even over piles of bricks and on wet slippery floors.

Our access to the same crucial opportunities our peers in the same society enjoy in attending to our day-to-day life is denied or restricted by the fact that our limited mobility and restricted ability goes unrecognised by them as these grave social issues are of very low priority to them!

Disabled access on public transport in New York City. Pic courtesy www.newyorkcity.ca

Of course politicians often do make rosy promises but most of them remain inept unable to prevent key public buildings continuing to create more safety hazards and barriers in marginalising millions of us.

On 1st October and 3rd December last year too, we heard of justice and dignity to us. We also hear often politicians and bureaucrats talk ebulliently of ‘Access to safe and secure built environments for all’ and ‘Integration of those with restricted ability into society for full participation in all spheres of daily life as useful and equal partners’.

What matters most is: After ten years, have they become a meaningful reality to any significant degree?

My good friend Ravi who is partially blind, almost fell off the Fort Railway Station platform and narrowly escaped fatal injures, as its unprotected edges remain detrimental to blind people. But we cry loud to say many railway stations are now friendly and safe to approach and use by us!

How many local council offices, government departments, business establishments, hotel rooms and banks – especially their ATM machines – are truly user-friendly to millions of their elderly customers?

Last week a long standing family friend of us died and her body was kept at the parlour of a leading funeral director situated on the second floor opposite the Borella general cemetery main gate. My wife and I went to pay our respects to her for the last time!
What a nightmare we had accessing the parlour – my wife with worsening arthritis and I with vertigo, felt it was the pathway opened to the other world. Meandering staircases they have built are so narrow and thus it is a near impossibility and safety hazard even to lift-up a wheelchair user.

SAFETY under all conditions for all customers at all business establishments is NOT NEGOTIABLE. But…. even these reputed undertakers as professionals earning billions of rupees each month exhibit no moral duty and social responsibility in turning a blind eye and giving a deaf ear to care for those who patronise them to install a lift – which is an essential basic investment today.
What good are set of regulations approved unanimously by the parliament and orders given by the apex court of this country that gather cobwebs but lack the power to be respected by the society?

Dr. Ajith Perera: Fighting for accessibility for all

So are the tens of thousands of victims of the 30 year long war, including our heroic soldiers who have sacrificed either one or both limbs or / and arms / eyes in winning peace for you and me, the precious younger population hit by the killer-monsters on our roads and, further tens of thousands with debilitating medical conditions.

Violators go free; victims are stranded and must either plead and earn the Good-Will of violators or suffer further! Indeed we are silent sufferers of humanity.

The only consolation we have is the on-going exposure your esteemed newspaper Sunday Times periodically gives to this grave social monster that slowly and steadily shatters our productive lives. Thank you very much ST for aiming to bring that much desired positive right changes to our precious lives.

It must be the moral duty and social responsibility of all media alike, especially all channels of television which, still, remain inept to such a grave social problem.

Regular writers and campaigners like Dr. Ajith C. S. Perera — a wheelchair user with commitment and competence — deserve our warmest appreciation for the manner of sacrificing voluntarily his wealth of knowledge, precious time and effort, through your understanding newspaper, endeavouring to make our deaf, dumb and lame politicians and decision makers realise their overlooked moral responsibility for the plight of 2 – 3 millions of us.

Complying with standards to ensure accessibility with safety is a much specialized job. It is NOT one where standards and specifications can be read and easily applied.

The country badly needs a system independently to audit compliance with design standards by those with proven competence at built environments, NOT in bits and pieces, but ….., in full.

We do not ask for charity or money, but for that productive opportunity to enjoy the respect, justice, right and dignity we too deserve like all others.

Accessibility for the dis-Abled

By Anne Abayasekara

We went on a happy excursion to Galle recently and on the return journey to Colombo we drove into the spacious Service Centre situated midway on the Southern Expressway. The ramp at one end of the wide building caught our eyes and I was happily wheeled on it into the Centre.

When we later went to the toilets section, I was delighted to find that the first door to the right of us as we entered, was for those with restricted mobility!

It was a large, clean room with a wide doorway for wheelchairs and all the amenities to make it easy for less-abled people were in place. Whereas the able- bodied were required to pay a fee of Rs.20/- for the use of the other toilets, entry into the toilet for us was free of charge!
I feel I must write a note of appreciation to Dr. Ajith C.S. Perera, the lone crusader whose untiring efforts to convince the authorities of the need to make all parts of new public buildings including sports stadiums, cinemas and places of entertainment, banks and hotels, accessible to the disabled, have borne fruit.

Dr. Perera, a paraplegic himself, appearing in person on his wheelchair even raised the matter before the Supreme Court a couple of years ago and succeeded in getting a positive ruling on this.

It’s good to know that, sometimes, laws which are passed in the larger interest of the society, are also implemented.

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