Access to public buildings has always been an issue for the differently abled people, particularly the orthopedically and the visually challenged. And it continues.

Be it shopping malls, banks or education institutions they have found it difficult to enter and exit the premises, move around within and conduct their affairs without any hitch.

“Right from the gate, most establishments are disabled unfriendly,” rues Surya Nagappan of Caliber, an organisation working for the challenged.

The first issue is stairs. Most are either steep or narrow for people with disabilities to climb. Adding to the problem is the absence of rails, he says. “At least if there is a handrail, the orthopedically will cling and manage to get into the building.”

With banks the difficulty is to get past the collapsible gate. “Most banks have the gate half opened, which they say is for security reasons. But for the differently abled, it is a herculean task to get past the gate.”

Next comes the issue of access to toilet. For the physically challenged people who go about moving on wheel chairs it is difficult to enter the toilet.

Mr. Nagappan says, “The entry is so narrow that a wheelchair cannot be taken in. And if at all a person can take the wheelchair inside, there is hardly any space to manoeuvre as the doors come in the way.”

He names the premises of a number of banks, commercial establishments in Coimbatore to underscore his point.

And this goes against the sections of The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995.

Section 46 says, “The appropriate Governments and the local authorities shall, within the limits of their economic capacity and development, provide for – (a) ramps in public buildings; (b) Braille symbols and auditory signals in elevators or lifts; (c) ramps in hospitals, primary health centres and other medical care and rehabilitation institutions.”

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, to which India is a signatory, says, “To enable persons with disabilities to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life, States Parties shall take appropriate measures to ensure to persons with disabilities access, on an equal basis with others, to the physical environment, to transportation, to information and communications…”

Section 2(b) of Article 9 of the Convention says, “To ensure that private entities that offer facilities and services which are open or provided to the public take into account all aspects of accessibility for persons with disabilities.”

These laws are binding on the Government of India, which is duty bound to ensure that disabled have easy access to public buildings.

Sources in Coimbatore Corporation say plans that come for approval do have mention about provisions for the challenged people but then they are hardly abided by.

Mr. Nagappan suggests just as the State Government made mandatory a no objection certificate for fire safety for approving a building plan, it must do the same for disabled friendliness. “Let the District Disabled Rehabilitation Officer or the Commissioner for the Disabled be empowered to issue the NOC.”

Architects say the awareness is fast catching up among property developers. “Those constructing IT parks, offices for MNCs, BPOs are very keen on adhering to the standards,” says M. Bhuvana Sundar of Sundar Sundaram Architects.

He adds, “Though not much additional investment is required to provide for the facilities, it is the question of space, which the developers must come forward to provide. And, they are starting to allocate the space.”