Wednesday, February 25, 2009

City in Philippines pushes for better disability access

From the Business Mirror in the Philppines. In the picture, Acting Makati City Administrator and Social Welfare Department head Marjorie de Veyra welcomes persons with disabilities (PWDs) at the launching of the Search for “PWD-Friendly Tourist Establishments in Makati” at the city hall quadrangle.

At least 8.3 million Filipinos, or more than 10 percent of the population, are recorded with disabilities, and 70 percent of them live in rural areas where services are often not accessible, according to the World Health Organization Report.

But in the areas where services are accessible and there’s a serious enforcement of regulations to provide the disabled with access and other means to allow them the same mobility as everyone else, a lot of changes have taken place the past several decades.

“Before, people with disability [had to] adjust to the environment but as time goes by, the environment now is the one that must adjust for the society, especially to the people with disability,” recalls Jaime Silva, an architect who lost his sight to glaucoma when he was in his late 30s.

He recalls having a hard time to adjust to his “new world of darkness.” And, when he was still using a wheelchair, he always had difficulty using public toilets in restaurants or even in hotels; reach for the elevator button; or just entering a restaurant without a ramp for the disabled.

His experience with this lack of access infrastructure for the people with disability (PWD) curtailed his practice as an architect. Still, this did not deter him from striving hard to assert his rights to live better and independently despite his disability, eventually founding a computer school for the blind.

Silva then learned how to earn a living, from being a retailer and even doing some farming job, and eventually going back to his original practice. These days, he is a consultant and property manager in a construction- management company.

Learning from experiences in various travels to different countries far advanced in providing easy access, among other services, to PWDs, he decided to reach out to his fellow PWDs to allow more people to enjoy the rights to use all facilities in the country.

In partnership with the Makati Tourism Foundation and the United Architects of the Philippines, they launched on Monday the first-ever “search for the disabled-friendly tourist establishments” in the city.

This event aimed to create an awareness of the special needs of persons with disability and to recognize establishments that comply with relevant national local laws and regulations, particularly Batas Pambansa 344, otherwise known as the accessibility law.

Silva said the country still lacks awareness of the special needs of PWDs; and where facilities have been built, some are not well-suited to PWDs.

“We still have a long way to go. There are places for disabled people, but the law wasn’t interpreted properly. You see ramps that are too steep where a wheelchair or a disabled person could slide, there are parking slots that are too far, or toilets that are too narrow to allow one to easily maneuver a wheelchair,” he elaborated.

Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay said the search is also meant to enhance Makati’s reputation as a “PWD-friendly” city while, at the same time, promoting its bid to be the preferred health-and-wellness destination in the country and in Asia.

“We are pursuing this project because we believe that each one of us deserves to have the equal access and the equal chance to enjoy the privilege of exploring, experiencing, and benefiting from our environment. We believe we share equal opportunities to pursue whatever our hearts desire. Due to physical disabilities, some of our people cannot indulge as freely as others can and because of this, we would like to help them,” Marjorie de Veyra, Makati Social Welfare Development (MSWD) chief and concurrent acting city administrator, said in her speech in a press conference announcing the project launch.

With the theme “Promoting a Nonhandicapping Environment for Persons with Disability,” the search will be open to hotels, malls, restaurants and hospitals with their own buildings. MSWD assistant department head Ryan Barcelo said the criteria in judging participating establishments include their facilities and amenities, particularly the five basic requirements; accessible ramp, accessible washroom and toilet, reserved parking slot near the entrance, signage, and nonskid flooring, all designed for easy access and convenience of the PWD clients.

Silva said the Makati government has allotted a budget of P200,000 for the event, and as the establishments in Makati will adopt a PWD-friendly stance, he hoped other local government would pick up the strategies and provide an environment totally friendly to PWDs in their cities.