By Maimun Ur Rashid Mustafa
15 million people globally are living with disabilities as reported by the World Health Organization. 10% of the 161 million people in Bangladesh face some form of physical or mental disability while more than 1 million people with disabilities are estimated to live in the capital city Dhaka alone. No matter how aesthetic modern architectural structures may become, the lack of accessibility in building design requires urgent rectification.
Accessibility must comply with environments designed to be free of obstacles. Accessibility in terms of physical infrastructure is restricted when disabled people are not able to enter buildings, use public facilities, or venues are not friendly towards the use of wheelchairs or prosthetics. This infers that disabled people are denied access to their freedom of movement.
The deeper inference of inaccessible buildings is that a disabled person cannot travel to or enter a health complex and in this way they are also denied healthcare. The same argument applies to educational institutions. Additionally, barriers to access to a workplace deny access to a source of income. A study by the Local Government Engineering Department (LGED) found that disabled persons are less likely to be employed than nondisabled persons. Even if a building is designed to enable a disabled person to enter, their mobility may still be restricted. Out of reach light switches, high sinks and mirrors, unavailable lifts, non-functional ramps or narrow doorways may all still create obstructions. Moreover, specialized toilets may not be available for the disabled. In Dhaka, which is argued to have the best infrastructure, it is seen that many schools, universities, hospitals, and government offices lack the basic facilities to be compliant for accessibility. As such barriers to access to these basic needs of education, health and employment may hinder the empowerment of disabled individuals and result in losses to the economy.
The Dhaka City Building Construction Act of 2008 makes it mandatory for all buildings constructed post-2008 to be disability compliant. The Protection of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2013 was drafted with a view to remove all sorts of discrimination and ensure accessibility in buildings, roads, and other public places. The Shaheed Minar, National Memorial, and Sonargaon are mentionable public places which are accessible to people with disabilities. Among the educational institutions, only Dhaka University ensured accessibility but for less than 20% of over 100 buildings. Bata (Tongi), Bengal Foundation, North End Coffee Roasters, and The Daily Star building are the private sector sites that are fully compliant in this regard. Although the steps are commendable, research shows that in two major cities, Dhaka and Chittagong, 90%, public buildings are inadequately accessible.
Innovation for Inclusion
Md. Mohasin, the captain of the Bangladesh Wheelchair Cricket Team is working on developing a mobile application that will work for highlighting the needs of the disabled by ranking disability accessible buildings. The partnership project was done in conjunction with Identity Inclusion. The Wheelchair Cricket Welfare Association Bangladesh hopes to prepare a map-based list of the accessibility status of organizations. “As no updated central database exists we believe this would be a great benefit for those planning their travel to locations and mobility within locations,” Mohasin said.
The mandatory Universal Designs Guidelines of LGED should be effectively implemented. If done, the proper accessibility of over 16 million differently-abled beneficiaries can only have positive effects on the economy. Their numbers highlight a highly significant market demand is present for inclusive building practices. The economy is waiting for concerned institutions to respond.