Most of us never thought that in a blink of an eye, our ABILITY to attend to the usual daily necessities could be taken away from us.
At this time, an estimated one in every five people of Sri Lanka – i.e. 4 Million People - have impediments to their physical mobility, stability, dexterity or eyesight.
This includes those over 65 years (almost a sixth of our population), living with numerous debilitating medical conditions, those convalescing, those who use wheelchairs and sticks, and the pregnant.
It means one in every five people in Sri Lanka has to deal with limitations in ability in day-to-day living. Every one of us is certain to spend some periods of our life living with curtailed ability to move steadily, stand firmly, grip and hold safely or see well. It may be them today, but, it is more than likely to be us or our loved ones tomorrow.
But why then?
When ability gets restricted, why should simple everyday activities become so complicated, unsafe and disastrous?
It is the way we design and build the environments we need to use in daily life that makes us ABLE or at a dis-ADVANTAGE and thereby live life to its fullest with dignity and with safety.
But then…., why should man continue to spend money, effort and time in constructing INHUMANELY such physical barriers?
You will soon realise that the world around once you knew to be cheerful and kind, is no more so, as you are often marginalised beyond expectations and unwantedly depending on others.
The Supreme Court on April 18, to arrest this disastrous trend that potentially cripple human life, has ordered SIX Ministries, their Secretaries and THREE Government authorities to take immediate several effective measures to be enforced in the design and construction of ALL PARTS of NEW Buildings and Services the public needs to use and thereby are made SAFE and EASY to access and use especially by persons with restricted mobility.
This landmark judgement given under reference SCFR 273/2018 was recognised by the SC as a very significant achievement as this writer / the petitioner – since 2009, appearing at all times in person on a wheelchair - successfully pursued single handed such public interest litigation fundamental rights application concerning a national tragedy and of international importance to Sri Lanka.
A national crime!
Accessibility is an inherent right of everyone. It can empower ALL people. It cannot be negotiated or diluted by anyone under any circumstances. It forms the foundation of freedom, justice and dignity.
But still, in a 28 page long judgement SC clearly states: “Despite the passage of 13 years, there is large scale and substantial non-compliance of meaningful implementation of these Gazetted Accessibility Laws by the Heads of State and Owners of the Private Sector institutions”.
“These include numerous NEW Buildings people need daily including at several reputed Hotels, Shopping complexes Hospitals – TOILETS, Washrooms, Restaurants and Counters in particular – and thereby pose numerous unwanted hardship and safety hazards to most clients / patients”.
Danger of Injury and potential threats to SAFETY to life, waste productive human potential, precipitation of despair, depression, grief and phobia. Enhanced possibility of psychosomatic illnesses, etc – all combining to potentially CRIPPLE precious human life - economically, socially and mentally.
From darkness to light
To make all parts of buildings and facilities safe and accessible is a low-cost feasible indispensable investment as part of good business sense. Today no company can afford to marginalise ANY BODY who wants to do business with them, especially an ever increasing larger pool of potential customers that includes those with restricted mobility.
Not only do they form a significant proportion of the population but they are often accompanied by able-bodied friends or family as well.
Its good customer care to get the top management commitment to make your business premises open equally to every potential customer.
Yet, most businesses, still, fail to recognise opening doors EQUALLY to all is untapped lucrative businesses and thereby continue to lose vast amounts of revenue and customers due to disabling environments causing exclusion of this diverse and fast-growing customer base.
Tourism industry here IN PARTICULAR is one example.
Unoccupied rooms destroy revenue opportunity and kill big part of in-house income earned through profit centres as restaurants and room services.
Hence, there is an increasingly STRONG financial incentive to make hotels and other facilities SAFE & ACCESSIBLE equally to everyone and thereby optimise room occupancy over all 12 months of the year.
BUT its recognition needs the vision and leadership.
Popular Cost - Myth
Implementation of Accessibility measures and SC orders for NEW BUILDINGS ARE NOT COSTLY as 85% work is just masonry. It requires NO allocation of additional funds.
‘Constructing facilities that are accessible to all is costly and non-essential expense’ , is a total misconception.
Accessibility is NOT an Add-on. If the ‘right measures are incorporated rightly at the design stage’ as an integral part of the development of the construction, the cost incurred will add less than 2% to the total cost of construction.
The colossal wastes to the country and human life caused by the failures to implement SC orders, is HUGE compared to the money needed.
However, designing for inclusion requires a wide and thorough practical understanding of the intricacies involved.
There cannot be ANY MARGIN for ERROR as it is a highly responsible task concerning human life.
As such, it is highly advisable that the key decision makers must seek expert guidance - from the start itself - especially from those with proven competence and wide experience.
Concerns and Serious Lapses
To arrest this National tragedy we must minimise the gap between the laws and ground realty. The letter of the law needs to be turned - AND TURN FASTER - into reality.
Many organisations, commissions and individuals cry loud once-in-a-blue moon. But the politicians, decision makers and EVEN THE UNHRC, STILL, TURN BLIND EYES & DEAF EARS and thereby make this largest minority remain the SILENT SUFFERERS OF HUMANITY.
They injuriously FAIL to recognise their Abilities within dis-Abilities and comply with UN CRPD Article 8.
SC even states: “The specific provisions of the Disability Rights Protection Act No: 28 of 1996 to punish the violators, although in force for 23 years, have NEVER BEEN used and thereby violators, STILL, continue to go free.” No wonder the Violators take Laws to their hand and continue to violate the Law AND Victimise parties - that includes the Country - get severely punished incurring very big losses that can never be compensated by money.
SC has further declared that Compliance is Mandatory, as it’s a high priority MUST to arrest CONTINUAL VIOLATIONS of the Fundamental Rights of Sri Lanka’s Largest Minority and the betray of the ratification of the UN CRPD, only to cause unwanted grave social and economic problems.
This is NOT another mere SC Judgement BUT concerns a public interest litigation of national importance concerning the CONTINUAL violation of the Fundamental Rights of the Country’s largest minority of people.
Hence, it is a national tragedy that this writer / petitioner - a T12 Paraplegic with even no regular means for existence - find no mechanism in place in our systems for Government and / or other support, even for the Respondents, Governors, Parliamentarians and other key decision makers to let know well enough the directions even of our APEX COURT of such National importance.
Attorney General – the 9th Respondent -is the principal legal officer of this country and also the protector of the public Rights of the public.
Hence, we the largest minority of people of this country, appeal to him to take the long awaited speedy initiatives here for effective AWARENESS and IMPLEMENTATION of the SC directions of 2011, 2013 and 2019 and set an excellent example to all others.
[The writer (firstname.lastname@example.org) - a Paraplegic since 1992 - is an Advisor and Voluntary Accessibility Rights Activist with over 21 years of practical experience.