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Designing for disability

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Image for representation purpose only.  

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It is important to include inputs from the physically challenged when constructing buildings

Some mornings, I see a physically challenged child in crutches alighting from a van and walking to school. He is thin and small for his age, but with an ever-smiling face. He is surrounded by a group of friends, who helps him with his schoolbag and crutches. Walking gingerly with a weak leg dragged on by his frail body, he requests the security person of the school to lift him over the steep steps towards the school building. But the security person generally refuses this request. Then he, supported by his friend, climbs the steep steps slowly, one at a time.

I am working in a building in Bangalore built following the new building norms, with no unnecessary steps other than those in the fire escape. It is very easy to navigate for my physically challenged colleagues. The same cannot be said for old buildings which are not designed to suit them. Many schools have steep flights of steps even to reach the gate. The classrooms are on multiple floors without lifts. School buses have narrow steep steps, which is a pain to navigate for the physically challenged.

I wondered what all challenges this physically challenged child will face in future. When he finishes school and goes to college, more problem awaits. If he does well in studies and plan to go to an old well-established college, obviously woes await him in lack of infrastructure for the physically challenged. Elevators are non-existent. Wheelchair access may be available on ground floors. Rest room for physically challenged are not available. Travelling to college is a nightmare in public buses.

It’s easier to opt for remote learning or home schooling. There are many problems which you can solve with technology but human interaction is not one of them. Humans are programmed to be social creatures. Collaborative learning requires you to be physically present at the place, not virtually present. The physically challenged do have a right to education, learn along with peers and have a wholesome fulfilled life. For many of the physically challenged, the school and college is the only place where they have an active social life.

Remember, we all become physically challenged at some point in our lives. After a surgery, recouping after an accident, in old age, due to health conditions, even a difficult pregnancy can render us temporarily physically challenged. Life spans are increasing and everyone wishes to live longer. With longer lives, the senior years when we are without the fullest of our abilities are increasing.

In India, as per estimates, 2-3% of the population are permanently physically challenged. Then there are many more people in crores who are temporarily physically challenged. How can we keep them away from living a life of dignity, getting a proper education, because of these small barriers in the form of steps, uneven floors and lack of ramps?

A dollop of sensitivity will help, with which we can help them navigate their difficult lives. We can redesign our public buildings to be more inclusive. Try to include inputs from the physically challenged when designing or redesigning buildings. Small barriers which the able-bodied breeze through every day may appear to the physically challenged as insurmountable as Mount Everest. Uneven steps, heavy doors, door knobs too high, high footpaths and so on are some of the barriers which they face in public places every day. The physically challenged do not require sympathy. What they need is empathy and a supportive environment in which everyone can flourish, irrespective of disability.

It’s impossible to cater to the needs for every disability, but you can try. Equality is where everyone gets the same opportunity to play in a level playing field.

amgeorge247@gmail.com

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Printable version | Dec 12, 2019 1:25:36 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/designing-for-disability/article29932131.ece

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