Inclusion of the deaf: Imperative for an ‘enabling society’

Saturday, 3 December 2011 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By a Special Correspondent

Deaf people are often an overlooked but still productive and equally important increasing sector of our population. They are far more likely to suffer from debilitating medical conditions and prone to meet accidents. Why? It is not because their bodies and mind are any different.

It can only be because deaf people do not get the same access to information, education and services. Even accessing the built environments in day-to-day life, that STILL continues to violate design standards the laws specify, the deaf in particular run far greater risks of meeting safety hazards.

These facts were revealed in his address, focusing the ‘World Disability Day’ falling today, 3 December, by Dr. Ajith C. S. Perera, the Chief Guest at the Annual General Meeting of the National Council for the Deaf held last Wednesday at the Sapphire Ball Room of the Ceylon Continental Hotel.

Perera stated: “As fully-fledged citizens, regardless of degree of ability, it is an inherent right of everyone – including the deaf – that public facilities built by man must be accessible and usable with safety and with dignity.

“It is a long felt vital necessity of national importance; not a luxury nor unwanted expenditure but an indispensable low cost economic investment for sustainable development as the involvement of people with restricted ability creates opportunities for everyone – with or without any disability.

“To facilitate this task of national importance, orders have been issued by the Supreme Court last April under the reference SCFR 221/2009. It makes it mandatory to comply with design standards specified by the laws that were gazetted 17th October 2006 and unanimously approved in the parliament on 20 March 2007.”

In fact it was Dr. Perera who appeared in person on his wheelchair at the Supreme Court successfully to pursue single-handedly the public interest litigation fundamental rights application concerned here to require unhindered access to all new public buildings and facilities.

Office bearers for 2012

Earlier, Dr. Perera was garlanded and warmly received by Professor Priyani Soysa and then introduced to the distinguished gathering by Dr. W. Ratnayake.

At the Annual General Meeting of the Council that followed Dr. W. Ratnayake was re-elected unanimously as the President for the year 2012, Dr. Ananda Soysa, Professor Priyani Soysa and Dr. T. R. C. Ruberu again as the Vice Presidents and Rukmani Jayasekera was retained as the Secretary.

Dr. Perera further remarked that the obligations and duties of parents and teachers of deaf children as well as all new office bearers elected that evening of this professional body is to enhance the quality of life with dignity of the deaf persons to live in a more ‘enabling society’.

Open your eyes

He elucidated the importance of designing and constructing all parts of new public buildings in complying with design standards specified by this Supreme Court order.

Sri Lanka has the fastest ageing population in our region and soon almost 17% will be over 65. Already an estimated 25% of Sri Lanka’s population – i.e. five million – has diverse ability often with restricted eyesight, hearing, dexterity and mobility.

Hence it is paramount that the environments we hereafter design and build are TRULY age friendly and ability friendly. This will arrest the waste of our resources, provide safety and enhance quality of life in promoting the social wellbeing, physical wellbeing and mental wellbeing of everyone, including the deaf persons.

A wise investment

Perera stated: “Establishing facilities accessible for all is a highly responsible task involving money, time and effort. From what we now see it is evident that the professionals in the construction industry lack the essential practical knowledge and adequate understanding of its intricacies.”

“As each site is unique in its problems and solutions, never copy professional advice for one location, even for a ramp, at another – each site must be assessed and evaluated separately. As such, owners and authorities undertaking constructions need very much expert guidance as to how best to do this and thereby prevent waste of precious resources.”

Perera concluded a very informative PowerPoint presentation stressing that it is the moral duty, social responsibility and legal obligation of everyone, especially the leaders, to actively promote the meaningful implementation of this ‘hard earned’ court order as Sri Lanka could no more prolong its violations and thereby aggravate social and economic issues plaguing the country in untold proportions.