‘Disability is not in people but in the system, which does not allow opportunity and spaces’

Architect Gita Balakrishnan says that following a one-size-fits-all approach in design can be deeply problematic

Updated - January 29, 2024 04:10 pm IST

Published - January 29, 2024 12:56 am IST - Bengaluru

A representational photo of a poorly-designed ramp for people with disabilities.

A representational photo of a poorly-designed ramp for people with disabilities. | Photo Credit: R. Ashok

It was raining when architect Gita Balakrishnan began traversing the 300-odd km between Chennai and Bengaluru on January 7, seeking to raise awareness about universal architectural design and accessibility. On the second day of her walk, she noticed six visually-challenged girls walking in a line, trying to negotiate the potholes and puddles on a Chennai road.

“I was thinking to myself that if I found it difficult, what a challenge it must be for these girls,” said the 55-year-old at a closing ceremony to mark the end of this walk, held at the Museum of Art and Photography (MAP), Bengaluru, on Sunday. “It was almost like a sign reminding me that this is what I was walking for.” 

This walk is the fourth one that Ms. Balakrishnan has undergone to spread a message under the ‘Walk for Arcause’ initiative of the Ethos Foundation, of which she is the founder-trustee.

She has also previously undertaken a 98.8-kilometre trek from Konark to Bhubaneswar, a 1,700-kilometre journey from Kolkata to New Delhi, and a 306-kilometre walk from Kolkata to Dhaka, something she spoke about in brief at the session. 

“I had some fantastic experiences,” she recalled at the MAP event, which followed her last lap of the journey — the 5-km stretch between the Spastics Society of Karnataka, Indiranagar, and Cubbon Park, where a commemorative walk was held.

The walk was followed by a session with Rama Krishnamachari, the accessibility auditor and consultant at MAP, who took participants on a tour of the premises, pointing out the details that made the space an inclusive one. 

At the closing ceremony, which followed these other sessions, Ms. Balakrishnan also shared anecdotes, learnings, and experiences gleaned from this most recent walking experience.

“Disability is not in people but in the system, which does not allow opportunity and spaces,“ said Ms. Balakrishnan, who has collaborated with Mphasis (F1 Foundation) and the AVAS Trust for ‘Walk for Arcause 4.0’.

“Are we designing spaces fairly for everyone ...(it) is something we need to ask ourselves,” she said, indicating that following a one-size-fits-all approach in design can be deeply problematic. “Inclusivity is no longer an add-on,” she remarked.

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