Monday, October 18, 2010

The forgotten CESMA

I was reading this article on the leader about a 2020 urban plan for Colombo. What ever happened to the 2030 Cesma proposal made somewhere around 2003-2004? I couldn't even find any references on Google! Why does Sri Lanka need to spend so much money on urban plans when we don't really do anything about them? The so called 2020 plan is nothing but a bunch of words.

Some slides of the forgotten and unrealistic yet very very pretty Cesma plan.

Enabling Sri Lanka : Designing for the Disabled

image stolen from here

I was reading this post on the government news portal which goes on to talk about modifications being made to railway stations in the north to accommodate disable persons. I think this is a very good move by the government.

edit- Estimated at 900,000 to 1.4 million or 5% to 8% of the total population is considered to be disabled (Source: Sri Lanka Country Study prepared by the Foundation for
International Training).
The national census carried out by the Department of Census and Statistics in Sri Lanka in year 2001 counted persons with disability under a separate schedule and reported a total of 274,711 but excluded parts of the Northern and Eastern provinces.
Data collected by the Ministry of Social Welfare in 25 districts identified 78,802 persons with disabilities.
Sri Lanka Armed Forces official statistics indicate 4500 disabled soldiers, whereas unofficial data refer to more than 10,000 soldiers.

more info and credits

We use to have physically handicapped people, then we had disabled persons, and physically challenged people. Now we talk about differently able people. What ever the name we use they are a part and parcel of society.

To my knowledge Sri Lanka does have some rules to accommodate disable friendly environments, especially for public buildings. The word public it self should emphasize the importance of that space being able to serve everyone. But how many public buildings actually accommodate these regulations? Does throwing in a disable toilet count as being disable friendly? or perhaps a wheel chair unfriendly yet disable friendly ramp? ( talking about ramps, even though not a disable ramp, the ramp to the car park at the Dehiwala, Glitz is ridiculous!) There was a interesting building in punchi borella, called lady J. If I remember correctly it was a four storied building with ramps going all the way to the top. I dont want to even talk about the disable toilets ( shouldn't it be toilets for the disabled?)in Sri Lanka. Going to a disable toilet is like a Lord of the rings episode. First you need to find the toilet, figure out the mechanism to open the door, then find out where the key bearer is, if its lunch time, then you'd have a better chance with empty bottle.

Accessibility is the key word that we need to concentrate on. Accessibility to places, and facilities, accessibility to comfort and peace of mind. Accessibility is not just a physical issue, more importantly its a social issue. Its a matter of how society looks at disable people. A good design should be a good design for everyone.

Not every situation requires major construction to correct. I just want to talk about a few changes that we can do to make buildings in Sri Lanka more accessible without even trying hard.

The side walks in Sri Lanka are death traps to even able bodied people. It wouldn't take much effort to make the surface more flat. Ive seen newly layed pavements in Sri Lanka which are so uneven it makes you wonder how they managed to make it that way. Sri Lanka is still to introduce side walk ramps which allow wheel chair users to mount off the side walks or tactile paving for blind people.

Tactile paving (image stolen from here)

what about glass door ways? thick glass doors might look nice but are too heavy for a person on a wheel chair. the alternative is the automatic sliding door which you can see in supermarkets such as arpico. These require constant maintenance and after awhile they become inefficient. And as seen in this video automatic glass doors can be evil!

I dont think that there should be seperate disable access and able access for a building. The main entrance is for all people and there might be a loss of dignity if the disable person cant use the same. Emergency doors in Sri Lanka do not cater to the disabled at all. Atleast they should provide kick plates which signifies that the disabled person can exit the building un assisted. Having rope handles on doors might also be a cost effective way of providing access to disable persons.

Once inside the building, what about the floor finish? again at the No-limit glitz, I nearly broke my neck on the slippery tiles (in their defense I was wearing shoes without any traction) We need to really make the right choice with the floor finish. It should be efficient and should require low maintenance. Using carpets or rugs, areas can be defined, but some carpets are not really wheel chair friendly. What about the lift (elevator) control buttons? their usually above the level reachable by a person in a wheel chair. I just remembered a logic puzzle which is kind of related...

"A man lives on the tenth floor of a building. Every morning he takes the elevator down to the lobby and leaves the building. In the evening, he gets into the elevator, and, if there is someone else in the elevator – or if it was raining that day – he goes back to his floor directly. Otherwise, he goes to the seventh floor and walks up three flights of stairs to his apartment."

The man happens to be a midget. When it rains he has the umbrella to push the 10th floor button.

Placing a stick near the elevator so that a person in a wheel chair is able to reach out to the buttons, might sound a bit stupid but if it solves the problem, then I say go for it. At least for elevators which have been already constructed.

Anyway, When navigating within a building, the pathways should facilitate the blind, the deaf as well as the wheel chair user. Simple sound emitting elements such as wind chimes might symbolise a door way, even braille notice boards on the walls might make it easier for the blind.

What about payphone booths, even though no one seems to be using them anymore, even these booths are located so that people in wheel chairs can not access them. It doesnt cost much to install railing for people who cant walk properly. I know a lot of people above 55 suffering from artheritis, and its a nightmare for them to walk. Handrails make things a tad easier for them. I dont remember which No-limit store it was, but in one of them they have put boxing gloves at the ends of the railing so that people dont get injured by the sharp edges! tsk..tsk..tsk! (I am not an employee of No-limit, and I hope they don't sue my ass off)

Public seating in Sri Lanka doesn't accomodate wheel chairs at all. Even in hospitals I havent seen spaces allocated for wheel chairs. What about film halls? Either there should be movable chairs or allocated spaces. Any ideas on the new golden key eye and ENT hospital at rajagiriya?

In most of our museums there is a board saying "DO NOT TOUCH EXHIBITS". Fair enough, when you touch the exhibits they decay with time. But shouldn't a blind person experience these exhibitions/museums? Cant we have replicas of those same exhibits so that people can touch them and experience these wonders? Talking about museums, the Pollonnaruwa museum is a funny place. There is a toilet at the same level of the museum which only tourists can go to. If your a local you need to go down a flight of steps to relieve your self. If your unable to go down, then....well I guess its the trusty bottle again. Its self inflicted racial discrimination!

Rearranging furniture so it doesn't clutter the space might make it more friendlier for people with visual impairments.

Most countries have stringent policies on disble friendlier spaces. for example USA has the ADA regulations which lays out some pretty solid rules. Sri Lanka should also adopt similar strategies. and the SLIA should take the lead in promoting such regulations. The problem in Sri Lanka is, what ever the rules maybe once you bribe the local authority anything gets built (Just look at the crap that clutter the street scape in Sri Lanka!). Sri Lanka should also concentrate on the fire safety regulations, which at the moment are crap as well.

The able bodied persons should put themselves in the wheel chair and think. What if this was me? As I said in the beginning its much a physical problem as it is a social one.