The long weekend in March was a perfect opportunity to get away from noisy, overcrowded and polluted Colombo. My grandfather, 93, along with my mother and I hopped on to a luxury rail service to Kandy (Peradeniya).
Glossy photos of the train run by a private firm and the luxurious ride along the picturesque hill country have adorned many magazines and newspapers. The hype created made me seriously think about opting for rail transport instead of travelling by vehicle. While public-private partnerships such as this are beneficial for the revival of the Sri Lankan railway system, the basic needs of the travellers should be a priority.
Accessibility is an important indispensable basic human right. This is important for a country such as ours, since a large numbers of our soldiers and war victims are disabled. Sri Lanka also has one of the largest aging populations in South Asia.
Sri Lanka’s public services including the transport services lack the ability to provide equal access to those with a disability and the elderly. The ‘luxury’ coach we boarded was unable to provide wheelchair assistance to my grandfather. The steps to hop on the train should be within easy reach for those with limited mobility. Let’s not forget the Supreme Court order in this regard.
The ‘Protection of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act (No. 28 of 1996) states: “No person should be discriminated on the ground of disability and their mobility restricted in a manner which precludes or impedes them from gaining reasonable physical access to public buildings and facilities provided within such buildings, especially the toilet facilities.”
It is paramount that the key architectural elements of public buildings should be designed to address the diverse mobility needs of the people. This includes floor surfaces, pathways and corridors, doors, entrances, steps, stairs, hand rails, grab bars, ramps, toilets and car parks.
By providing such basic facilities, the productivity of the country can be improved. Those with curtailed mobility will be able to live to their true potential.
Sri Lanka is aggressively marketing itself as one of the hottest tourist destinations. With the increase in tourist arrivals, one would need to give serious thought to the level of service offered in comparison to some of the emerging tourist markets. Vietnam, an emerging market for tourism, is far ahead of us in its attention to people’s basic needs such as offering assistance to those with limited mobility.
We cannot boast about being the “Wonder of Asia” if we overlook the most vulnerable of populations.