Social service is obligatory
Posted on September 12th, 2011

Dr. Tilak Fernando

Recently inside a new outlet of a leading chain of supermarkets, a pregnant lady had a narrow escape from a nasty fall while attempting to walk down a steep ramp which could have easily made her lose the baby she was carrying during her heavily pregnant state. The cause for such an accident was due to the thoughtless basic design structure of having a narrow ramp as railing for support, thus increasing the safety hazard.

Dr Ajith Perera

There is a difference between the term “ƒ”¹…”Disabled’ (Restricted Ability) and “ƒ”¹…”Handicapped’ people. “ƒ”¹…”Handicapped’ is an offensive term used to describe people who are physically or mentally challenged. A person with “ƒ”¹…”Restricted Ability’ can be any normal human being becoming dependant to perform human functions effectively. Despite the subtle stigma attached to both of these categories, the government and society need to give more thought to this ill-fated situation by stepping into such peoples’ shoes -proverbially speaking.

Public facilities

A wider sector of Sri Lanka’s population, estimated at not less than 25 percent experience “ƒ”¹…”Restricted Ability’ for different reasons. They include pregnant mothers and those who suffer from debilitating medical conditions like arthritis, sciatica, diminishing sight, etc. In 10 or more years the number of senior citizens is predicted to rise up to 17 percent of the population. One must not forget the fact that despite mobility restriction of such people they are all able, productive and full-fledged citizens whom the society has a moral obligation to care for.

What is the recommendation to discharge this social obligation? It simply boils down to the designing factor in public facilities, particularly the toilets and “ƒ”¹…”wash’ areas, that waste human potential and create superfluous dependency. In this area designers, architects and all lawmakers and implementers need to look into the problem seriously that many public buildings, supermarkets, banks, restaurants, ATM machines etc., are constructed according to recommended standards and design specifications incorporating laid down safety hazards.

Dr Ajith C S Perera, an Accessibility Activist, with all his restricted ability, has been doing yeoman service over a considerable period of time in a voluntary capacity to help the needy (like himself) in a mission of national importance. His efforts finally bore fruit in July 2009 initially to get the message across. In April 2011 Dr Perera appeared in person in his wheelchair to present his case at the Supreme Court to justify the situation on poor accessibility provided at public buildings due to non-compliance of design specifications and laws in force. He became successful in persuading the courts to issue several orders, in the larger interest of society and the country, making it mandatory for all building parts of new public buildings to be made “ƒ”¹…”inclusive’, complying with standards and to bring “ƒ”¹…”punitive repercussion’ for violators. (The Supreme Court Orders of April 2011 – Ref: SC (FR) 221/2009). Once these Court orders are implemented effectively in a stringent manner, it will enormously benefit the society and our country as a whole in several ways.

Economic and social development

The proper implementation of the Rule of Law has the power to prevent potential safety hazards for “ƒ”¹…”everyone’, thus enhancing quality of life. For meaningful sustainable economic and social development, it is an essential prerequisite towards arresting colossal waste and optimising productivity. An indispensable investment brings rich dividends to the country. In this regard the immediate crucial task would be to create the widest possible awareness to these Supreme Court orders issued as a NOTICE, to hasten implementation for the benefit of people’s lives and the country.

Any society needs “ƒ”¹…”designing for safety and inclusion’. It requires a good understanding of its intricacies backed by proven practical experience. Authorities undertaking construction hence need expert guidance as to how best to achieve this right from the beginning to prevent waste of resources later. In this regard professionals in the category of Dr Ajith Perera, with commitment and proven competence, can become a real asset to the country.

Public buildings are only the tip of the iceberg in our social problem in this area. Transport is another vital aspect. How many people with restricted ability can afford to hire vehicles or own cars to move about? In developed countries provision is made in public buses with seats allocated for such people to sit and travel; also are special marked areas to fold their wheelchairs not to obstruct other passengers.

Restricted ability

Ambulances have ramps where people with restricted movement can be lifted up hydraulically. So are school buses used to pick up such affected children. Special ramps are designed in public transport vehicles to help these people get in with ease. Social services provide specially designed mini electric vehicles for some to travel about on roads as well as on pavements. At the gates of registered “ƒ”¹…”disabled’ persons’, special hand rails are fixed by Social Services Department to aid them walk into the house from outside, inside toilets too aiding rails are fixed; so are with specially designed shower cubicles to help these categories.

Under the European Community law, people with restricted ability can go on a stringent medical examination, and when qualified get parking bays allocated in front of their houses; also on main streets where parking is controlled “ƒ”¹…”disabled persons’ parking bays help them to park their vehicles.

These parking bays are clearly marked with a line drawing of person in a wheelchair to indicate it is reserved for “ƒ”¹…”disabled persons’ parking. Anyone else using such bays gets an expensive parking ticket and may ultimately get such parked vehicles towed away, which will cost the violator an arm and a leg to recover the vehicle from a car compound.

Caring for the handicapped in our society is not a charity but is a legal and a moral obligation that all responsible should put themselves in “ƒ”¹…”handicapped’ peoples’ situation and try to help each other.

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