Inaugurated on Saturday, Changlimithang Stadium in Thimphu became perhaps the country’s only sporting facility disabled-friendly with appropriate ramps, footpaths, and toilets.
Although we have a national policy for persons with disability and guideline for differently abled-friendly construction, accessibility, especially physical accessibility remains a major problem for a large number of country’s differently-abled population.
The interventions listed for this special section of the population in the policy such as education, health and economic security, among others, are yet to pick up significantly. What this indicates is that there is a lot more that needs to be done to create our communities inclusive by adding obstruction-free, accessible, and usable spaces in the built environment.
A major setback in the construction of barrier-free infrastructure is because guideline is “not meant to be prescriptive”. Left to planners, architects, engineers, developers, and individuals design and construction of built environment facilities and structures incorporating the needs of the differently-abled person in the society will not receive the priority it urgently deserves.
Cost is one factor and it will be seen largely as a hassle by many who are not directly affected by the lack of facilities for the differently-abled.
As enumerated in the guideline, creating awareness will be critically important to inculcate equity-based society construction practices in the communities. However, it only will be heavy going unless design guideline is made prescriptive.
We may have the best policies and guidelines, borrowed from the most successful examples from around the world, but if we fail to implement them there won’t be a significant improvement.
The reality today is that most of the education centres in the country like schools and colleges lack built environment that is differently-abled friendly. If we are talking about achieving inclusiveness, at least all the major service centres such as banks, hospitals and schools should be made differently-abled friendly.
Transport sector, in this sense, has made a major leap in the right direction. City bus, at least in Thimphu, has been made differently-abled friendly with wheelchair loading ramps and special seating for senior citizens.
A major shift is required in the construction sector to make built environment differently-abled friendly. Physical accessibility can create opportunities myriad for a large number of people who remain shut-in, sometimes in the most difficult circumstances. Accidents and disasters like fire pose a serious threat to the lives of many individuals.
The only option available is making differently-abled friendly design and construction guideline prescriptive.