Q & A ON UNIVERSAL DESIGN

In my previous blog, we discussed about creating an accessible building for persons with disabilities and elderly citizens. This time, we got a chance to ask some questions to an expert in accessibility, Ms. Adela Kono.

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Ms. Kono (left) with NCDA Executive Director, Carmen Zubiaga (right) during the Regional Forum on Accessibile Tourism for PWDs. (Photo source: Ms. Adela Kono)

Ms. Adela Kono is a Universal Design expert from Cebu. She is both working in real estate, particularly in property development, and as an accessibility specialist and advocate. She is the President of Jesus S. Avila Foundation, Vice President of Accessible Environment for PWDs Today (ACCEPT!), Vice Chair of Accessibility Monitoring Committee of ACCEPT and RCDA-7, Corporate Secretary of JESA Management Corporation, and President of Wa-Bi Linkage Corporation.

Below is the Q&A segment with Ms. Kano:

What is an accessible building for you?

ADELA: An accessible building will have features that enable PWDs and those with mobility challenges to make use of the primary functions for which a structure is built. For example, if the building is a school, any PWD should be able to –not just to go to school–but be able to stay in school for a long stretch of several hours, which means the PWD must have the comfort of having access to PWD toilets and other parts of the school, like the gym, the auditorium, the chapel, etc.  If the building is a hotel, PWD-friendly features must be found in the bathroom and toilets in the guest rooms, over and above PWD-friendly features in the banquet halls and conference halls. The same goes for a regular office building if we are to promote employment among PWDs.  In short, the building must allow a person with a severe disability to stay and pursue a meaningful endeavor, be it education, employment, recreation, tourism, etc.

A building is accessible when it allows for maximum independence on the part of the PWD to have no or little need for assistance from a personal assistant or a co-worker.

An accessible building, from an infrastructure point of view, should allow as much as possible non-PWDs to co-exist with PWDs without non-PWDs noticing much difference about our presence.

If I am on a wheelchair, I ask (to name a few):  Is there a special wide parking slot where I can get off and transfer to my wheelchair and not get wet when it rains?  Is there a wide elevator (with reachable and Braille/embossed buttons) to all public floors in the building?  Is there a unisex, wide comfort room with the toilet bowl near the wall with a vertical bar for climbing support and another horizontal support bar opposite it?  Is the lavatory height between 75-80 cm?  Can I reach the switches?  Can I plug in my devices at my table top?  Can I walk safely with crutches without slipping? Is the building designed in such a way that it does not cause disorientation for the blind?  If a hotel, can I shower or bathe independently, safely and comfortably or with minimum assistance?  If in a restaurant, can my wheelchair fit nicely under the table so I can eat comfortably?  Can I see the food on the buffet?  In a mall, can I go around and explore all other areas in the garden, the fountains…are the ramps gentle with grab railings?  Are there signage letting me know where the accessible amenities and pathways are?

Do you think the government has done much to implement

The specifications and a sample of Universal Design toilet. (Photo source: Ms. Adela Kono)

BP344 and universal design?  Why or why not?

ADELA: No, generally speaking, it has not done meaningfully enough to implement BP344 on a per-building basis.  By meaningfully, I mean it has chosen to only implement the easiest part, which is the ramp, and which is sometimes done haphazardly for compliance purposes only.  The rest of the law is obviously ignored.

Many in DPWH attribute this to the lack of copies of BP344.  I would say plain laxity on the part of 99.5% of implementers in both government and private sectors to truly make the law work for us PWDs.  But then we as a sector share that blame because we have been so tolerant of it.  And if we do complain, we bark at the wrong tree…like to the security guard, or to the waitress, who themselves are unempowered.  Many of us PWDs need to learn how to document our complaints and address them officially to the right people, namely, the building owner/administrator and the building official who can both effect the changes needed in the concerned built environment.

Government could not possibly implement Universal Design as much of it could not be found in BP344.  There are at least 11 things in BP344 that must be upgraded in terms of design configuration and specifications, and at least another 13 items that have to be included that are not there yet…which is why I  have been calling for its amendments. A case in point, the grab bar configuration of toilets needs to be “universalized” as it offers very little support for PWDs.  BP344 specs on toilets are not gender-sensitive and do not offer climbing support for weak legs. The proper universal support bars (especially the vertical bar in the right place) in wide, unisex toilets are key to making every building PWD-friendly as it is very essential when nature calls every few hours and will allow for any meaningful activity to be pursued in that building.

One serious drawback of the Accessibility Law is that it fails to provide broad tax incentives for building owners when they have to make renovations.

What should the developer sectors do to implement BP344 and Universal Design?

ADELA: First of all, I do not think this group would lobby for change in our Access Law.  Our sector should lobby first for amendments to include Universal Design. If they do implement anything, I hope they implement Universal Design straight away because basing their designs on BP344 itself will set us all back 30 years!

Regardless of what the law says (as amendments may take a long process), the construction and real estate sectors can be motivated to build according and in response to: 1) the needs of barrier-free tourism, which is a strategy of creating more barrier-free environments by tapping into previously untapped markets, such as the PWDs and the elderly who have more time and money to spend, 2) the fact that all developed countries have taken the mobility needs of the most disabled, the frail elderly,  and the mothers with baby strollers into consideration in their city and building planning, and 3) to build with a sense of social responsibility as part of their mission.

A partnership between real estate sectors and the PWD community?

ADELA: Yes, it would be good.  But first, PWDs must first be educated about Universal Design and not confuse it with BP344 specs.  We cannot put just any PWD in any technical working group without first letting him understand the principle of the best practices of Universal Design where PWDs are concerned.

There must also be a commonality in the design specs we are promoting and we must also equip those chosen with the same design specs to avoid conflicting design specs in the hands of implementers.

Ms. Kono in one of her lectures on Universal Design. (Photo source: Ms. Adel Kono)

Your message to real estate and developers sectors:

ADELA: Please realize that as all people go through different life stages, there will always be people with mobility impairments (including the visually impaired) who will need accessible and barrier-free design and amenities, especially in comfort rooms (where most unseen accidents in PWDs and the elderly take place) to be incorporated at the planning stage of your buildings and surrounding environments.  It could be you-hopefully, temporarily-or your loved ones.

With or without the law, build with a conscience and a mission.  Build for social sustainability and inclusion.  Build for a happy old age.  It’s not as expensive as you might think or are led to believe.

I hope these would shed light to the construction and real estate sectors and motivate them to build more barrier-free environments.

THIS BLOG OR ARTICLE IS OWNED BY MR. RAMON C.F. CUERVO AND MAY CONTAIN LEGAL PROPERTY WHICH IS RIGHTS-PROTECTED. IT IS INTENDED FOR PUBLIC READING ONLY. COPYING, DISTRIBUTING, OR RE-PUBLISHING THE ARTICLE OR BLOG WITHOUT THE APPROVED CONSENT OF THE WRITER IS PROHIBITED. ANY ENTITIES WHO WANT TO SHARE THIS BLOG OR ARTICLE, PLEASE CONTACT THE WRITER AND ACKNOWLEDGE THE SOURCE: www.cuervopropertyadvisory.wordpress.com  AND WRITER: MR. RAMON C.F. CUERVO, WITH MR. RAPHAEL D. TORRALBA

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