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Design for the differently-abled

A long ride to a barrier-free environment? — Photo: V. Ganesan

EVERY day you board a bus, cross a road divider, enter into a building through steps or climb a flight of stairs.... and do a hundred other chores. Seemingly all without an effort. But, do you realise what a major effort all this is for a physically-challenged person?

In today's inclusive society, such problems require creative responses so that a physically-challenged person does not feel left out.

"Creating a barrier-free built-environment for the differently-abled people" was the focus of a training programme for architecture teachers organised earlier this month. It sought to sensitise them on the problems of the differently-abled, and dwelt on providing solutions so that the challenged group could gain equal access to means of transport, roads and buildings.

The programme was organised by the Sathyabama Institute of Science and Technology (Deemed University).

Inaugurating it, the Director, Madras School of Economics, Paul Appasamy, mentioned three important aspects of a barrier-free built-environment: physical access, legislation enacted to implement the concept, and change in societal attitude.

For the next five days, the workshop looked at different architectural solutions for an ``inclusive society.'' The resource persons were professionals working with the physically-challenged, architects from government institutions and private practitioners, persons with disabilities and manufacturers of special equipment.

The professionals discussed the CPWD norms for barrier-free buildings, access auditing for existing buildings, national policies for the disabled, user-specific needs, a model building case study by the Mobility Foundation-Bangalore, the needs of the vision-impaired, norms adopted for public buildings in Chennai, various appliances available to help the challenged group and the architectural responses necessary.

The delegates had a direct exposure to the needs of the physically-challenged when a team from Vidyasagar conducted a `simulation exercise'. They visited the Spastics Soceity of Tamil Nadu premises, where they saw how small details in the built-environment could help the children function independently. Another presentation dwelt on an "access audit" done by a team at the Central Railway station, Chennai.

Another eye-opener for the delegates was a visit to the `touch and smell garden' at the M.S. Swaminathan Research Centre — a facility that helps visually-challenged children to comprehend and feel plants and flowers.

N.V. Raghunath, Chief Planner of the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority, explained the evolution of development control rules and bye-laws pertaining to barrier-free built-environment.

A panel discussion by experts concluded that for integrating the needs of persons with disabilities, all the concepts should be integrated in the educational curriculum.

The Deemed University Chancellor, Jeppiaar, presided.

K. Ramachandran

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