The daily life of persons with disabilities (PWD) and elderly persons should be a concern of everyone and our society. Thus creating accessible buildings and homes is an obligation for developers and construction sector, which should become aware that the accessibility features they will be putting in place will benefit everyone.
For most PWDs and elderly persons, an accessible building is an establishment that allows every PWD and elderly person to use the facilities in the building safely and conveniently. When accessible features are added, not only PWDs and elderly persons, but all people can use it safely and conveniently.
In the Philippines, there are laws regarding accessibility. Batas Pambansa 344, also known as the Accessibility Law, is an act to enhance the mobility of disabled persons by requiring certain buildings, institutions, establishments and public utilities to install facilities and other devices, in order to promote the realization of the rights of disabled persons to participate fully in the social life and development of the societies in which they live in.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of PWDs (UNCRPD), of which the Philippines is a state party, states that “PWDs should be able to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life. To this end, States Parties should take appropriate measures to ensure that persons with disabilities have access, to the physical environment, to transportation, to information and communications technology and to other facilities and services open or provided to the public.”
The Republic Act 4726, also called as The Condominium Act, also states in its Section 25 that “the building and design standards for condominium projects to be promulgated by HLURB shall provide for, among others, accessibility features for disabled persons pursuant to Batas Pambansa Bilang 344 of 1994.”
The spirit of these laws can be achieved by applying the principles of Universal Design in every project. Universal Design refers to wide-ranging ideas to construct buildings that are accessible to PWDs, non-PWDs, and elderly persons alike.
Article 2 of CRPD defines Universal Design as “the design of products, environments, programmes and services to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design. Universal design shall not exclude assistive devices for particular groups of persons with disabilities where this is needed.”
Many PWDs and elderly persons see Universal Design as preventive design, ergonomic design, and most of all, it is inclusive design. Universal Design in fact is really universal because its features can be seen in every country and can be used by any racial group or age group. One glaring example is the curb cuts. Most wheelchair users find it very helpful and it also benefits people with no disabilities such
as those who are pushing big carts and trolleys, bicycle riders, mothers with baby strollers, etc.
The Center for Universal Design at North Carolina University gives further details about the principles of Universal Design:
- Equitable use
- Flexibility in use
- Simple and intuitive
- Perceptible information
- Tolerance for error
- Low physical effort
- Size and space for approach and use
Aside from curb cuts, the features of Universal Design in buildings and houses for PWDs and elderly persons include–but are not limited to–the following:
- Wide interior doors at 90 cm (not 80 cm as in BP344), hallways, and alcoves with 60″ × 60″ turning space at doors and dead-ends
- Interior doors should open by a single effort requiring less than 2.3 kg (5 lbs.) of force (almost half than indicated in BP344).
- Ramps with textures that require low force to traverse in the entrance and exit and with stable, firm, and slip-resistant surface
- Wide corridors and walkways with tactile floors
- Handrails in ramps
- Unisex or family-type comfort rooms
- Accessible comfort rooms
- No steps or thresholds
- Wide doors at 90 cm (not 80 cm as in BP344) that either slides or opens outward.
- Slip-resistant floors and surfaces
- L-shaped grab bars and a swing up/down bar on the opposite side positioned at within 6″ from the side of the toilet bowl
- Split-level or dual height lavatories with lower ones at 70-75 cm max in height for children and little people
- Hand-dryer amenities, tissue dispensers, etc. must all be at a maximum reachable height of 1 meter.
- Slanted or lowered mirrors for even children or little people to see themselves.
- Tactile control buttons
- Audio/visual/vibrating alarm systems
- Wide turning spaces in every room
- Stairs with slip-resistant surfaces and railings
- Wide and “talking” elevators
- Directional and informational signage with light-on-dark visual contrast
- Audible and visible alarm systems
- Switches at a maximum of 120 cm (not 130 cm as in BP344) accessible to the wheelchair users and with large flat panels rather than small toggle switches
- Outlets at above-desk height.
- Single-hand operation with closed fist for operable components including fire alarm pull stations and faucets
- Components that do not require tight grasping, pinching or twisting of the wrist
- Bright and appropriate lighting, particularly task lighting
- Clear lines of sight to reduce dependence on sound
- Labels on equipment control buttons that is in large print legislation, complemented by by-laws and standards. This probably holds true of the Philippines, which helps explain the lack of adherence to laws as it gives way easily to said individual wants and means.
My advocacy as a Realtor and Professional Consultant is to challenge developers to see the potential market and meet the demand for condominiums and houses that are PWD and elderly person friendly.
I, myself, as one with the PWDs, experience the day-to-day difficulties and challenges brought about by structures that are not fit for PWDs.
Let’s all support the PWD awareness and advocacy, especially in solidarity of the upcoming Asia Pacific Decade of PWD next year up to 2022.
- Accessibility Specialist and Advocate, Ms. Adela Avila-Kono.
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