Upholding PWD rights, welfare

For every 50 persons we encounter in a day, 15 would most likely be persons with disabilities (PWDs) or senior citizens.

Such would presumably be the case basing on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) estimate that 15 percent of the world population are PWDs while another 15 percent are senior citizens.

If these statistics do not seem to hold true in our daily experience, it should alarm us. Either the statistics are erroneous or the said 30 percent of the population are unseen and unable to immerse in society.

Accessible and universal design aim to enable these people who are disabled by the surrounding environment as a result of their impairments or irregular conditions. It is not a new concept, especially to architects whose designs necessarily comply with the National Building Code of the Philippines (NBC).

The Accessibility Law (BP 344) is a referral code of the NBC and has been in effect as early as 1983, as approved by then President Ferdinand Marcos. It aims to standardize the built-environment and means of transportation such that their features allow the full participation of PWDs in the everyday life of our society.

The law is currently undergoing revision improvement, but the bigger challenge that it faces today is strict implementation.

Aside from BP344, other laws exist to uphold the rights and welfare of PWDs such as the Magna Carta for Persons with Disabilities that was later amended to include privileges.

However, without improving the physical environment where every person unavoidably functions, the rights are far from being real. Not a lot of us may be appalled by the sight of stairs or a step — not until, perhaps, a swift accident suddenly renders us missing a limb and confines us to a wheelchair.

The wheelchair solves the problem of traveling without limbs or feet, but the stairs introduce a new barrier. Such barriers are the forms of discrimination that architects promoting accessibility seek to break.

Architects in building an inclusive environment

The United Architects of the Philippines (UAP) has long been active in the promotion of accessible architecture through its committee and advocacy for accessibility.

For it to flourish, architects need to address both future and existing buildings.

Future buildings need to be designed in the first place, complying with the Accessibility Law and applying universal design concepts.

The provision of ramps for wheelchair users, tactile blocks for the blind, and signal lights for the deaf are only the basics. A lot more details need attention such as the slope of the ramp, height and width of its railings, floor and stair finish, stair nosing, door width, door knob type, counter height, signage size and color, and even the angle of a mirror in the toilet.

With an architect trained to design buildings by visualizing its space usage and user circulation, a lot of barriers can already be prevented while the building is still a sketch on a piece of paper.

During the design process is the best time to apply the principles of accessibility and universal design. It’s even better when a PWD is involved to coordinate with the architect.

Existing buildings, on the other hand, can still be improved but may entail costs in installation and alteration. This is the disadvantage of not following the Accessibility Law or disregarding the importance of an authentic design phase early on.

For the proper assessment of existing buildings, accessibility auditing (access audit) and recommendation of improvements can be done by trained architects and professionals, with access inspectors who are PWDs.

To uphold the cause, many chapters of the UAP are launching projects and campaigns everywhere. The UAP Quezon City Central Chapter’s advocacy group, Architects for Accessibility (AFA) is one of these kinds, focused on spreading awareness and spurring action to mold the Philippines into a barrier-free setting.

Recognized in 2017 by the Zero Project whose mission is to “work for a world with zero barriers,” AFA’s operation was shortlisted as one of top 30 innovative practices in accessibility around the world.

The group’s brainchild, Access Audit “Form 2,” was recognized for its quantitative measure of accessibility and its objective of making the process easy and doable by PWDs themselves, with some training.

Since the young group was born in 2016, it continues to provide access audit trainings to professionals in the building industry and also to PWDs without technical knowledge.

It is also actively encouraging PWDs and assisting architects to apply in and join the Asean University Network–Disability & Public Policy’s (AUN-DPPNet) annual training in Accessibility and Universal Design hosted by the University of Malaya in Malaysia.

Since the training’s first year in 2017, four Filipinos, including three AFA members, have already benefited in the short course and shared their knowledge locally.

The change fought for by architects advocating for accessibility, however, must not be construed as exclusively for the favor of PWDs. To eliminate discrimination, it is necessary to emphasize that designing for everyone, regardless of abilities or disabilities, is exactly as it says — for everyone.

It is not done out of charity but out of belief in the rights of the overlooked few who have exactly the same rights as everyone else. (ARCH. ELISE SOPHIA S. FRANCISCO)

Architects see need for local measures to back Accessibility Law

SAN JOSE DE BUENAVISTA, Antique – There is a need for local government units to come up with ordinances to support the Accessibility Law, the group of Filipino architects said on Friday.

This cropped up as the United Architects of the Philippines (UAP) conducted a one-day accessibility audit training among architects, engineers and municipal planning officers in this provincial capital in a bid to strengthen the implementation of Batas Pambansa 344 or the Accessibility Law.

Architect Rix Abordo said that advocating for accessibility is not just for persons with disability (PWDs) but for everyone as physical injury could happen to anyone, unexpectedly, thus the need for local measures.

“Provision of ramps and accessible toilets are just but basic needs,” he said.

Abordo cited the strict policy in Quezon City where a building owner could not renew a building permit if it is not compliant with the Accessibility Law.

Architect Peji Cipriano, also a resource person from the UAP Quezon City central chapter, said, they want to make the architects, engineers and planners “become aware of the law and participate in the advocacy for accessibility".

The Philippines is a signatory to the United Nations commitment to establish an accessible environment for persons with disability (PWDs), he noted. He also stated that the conduct of training forms part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR).

Abordo and Cipriano are co-founders of the group Architects for Accessibility (AFA).

Architect Elise Sophia Francisco, on the other hand, said that the accessibility audit is intended to improve existing buildings including the parking lots to make them barrier-free.

“Signages are very important so that the PWDs would know where they are,” she said. (PNA)