accessible for the disabled
By Aparna Datta
A quick survey amongst architects, builders and corporate
firms reveals that currently, accessibility of buildings for
disabled persons is a non-issue. Apart from hospitals and
specialized institutions, few people involved in the planning
and construction of buildings actively consider or give weightage
to the architectural aspects of mobility for disabled persons.
Three distinct trends point to the urgent need to re-think
on the status quo:
- An increase in the number of disabled people in the workforce.
On an average, four people die in road accidents in Bangalore
everyday. Many injuries, however, go unreported. Young people,
who could otherwise lead productive lives even with some
disability, are denied the opportunity simply because their
workplaces do not incorporate design features which could
- Increased longevity. With better health and nutrition,
people are living longer. Disability increases in older
age groups; yet pensions and savings could mean that disposable
income would still be available. Such people would remain
consumers of goods and leisure facilities, for a longer
period, if only buildings were made accessible to them.
- Reduction in care-givers. Traditionally, the family and
society have been providing physical and emotional support
to handicapped and disabled persons. Yet with younger people
migrating abroad, many elderly parents now fend for themselves
back in India.
Institutionalized support by way of old age homes is yet
to gain acceptance. Old people generally hobble along as best
as they can, but could lead more self-reliant lives if social
systems were more supportive.
Disability in the prime of one’s life or in old age
is one thing; being born with a disability is another. Take
the case of spastic children, having to adjust to spending
an entire life-time in a wheelchair, yet with normal mental
faculties. Vipin Janardhan, a tenth standard student of Spastics
Society of Karnataka school, loves going to movies. But in
Bangalore, only Galaxy has a ramp that allows him free access.
Recently, Kemp Fort opened with great fanfare. Yet, for all
the exotic décor, there is simply no provision for
access in a wheelchair. Fortunately, Shopper’s Stop
has the necessary arrangements. Raheja Group demonstrates
sensitivity to this issue – Raheja Towers on MG Road
is perhaps one of the few office buildings in the city with
a ramp, and an elevator wide enough to comfortably take a
The issue of accessibility inevitably invites comparisons,
and shows up laggards. A paraplegic visitor from Mumbai wanted
decent hotel accommodation in Bangalore, but was obliged to
stay at the Oberoi, way beyond her budget, because it was
the only hotel in Bangalore with doors in the guest rooms
wide enough to take her wheelchair.
The problem, according to N S Hema, honorary president of
the Association of People with Disability (APD) is that we,
as a society, accept and tolerate too much. The team of therapists
at the Spastics Society pointed out that while their wards
were completely mobile within the compound at their Indiranagar
center, they couldn’t use their wheelchairs outside
because the pavements in Bangalore are so awful.
Do we need public interest litigation to protect the rights
and safety of pedestrians and sidewalk users?
It is obvious that legislation is needed to get things moving.
The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection
of Rights and Full Participation) Act 1995 provides for the
appointment of a commissioner in a state government to take
steps to safeguard the rights and facilities made available
to persons with disabilities.
Clearly the Act needs more teeth and more definition with
regard to access of buildings. V Narasimhan, architect at
Venkataramanan Assocites, believes that only punitive legislation,
with financial penalty and associated social ostracism will
The fact is that even in the US, it was the Americans with
Disabilities Act 1990 that ushered in change. President George
Bush (Senior) was finally persuaded to sign the Act following
a crawl-in where disabled people left their wheelchairs and
climbed the steps outside the White House.
The Act has been in force since 1992, but the impact has
been considerable. Most public buildings, libraries, offices,
airports etc., have mandatory ramps and special toilet facilities;
even transportation such as buses, trains and subway systems
have provisions for disabled people. An important aspect is
the time frame – specification have been laid down for
modifications to be carried out within a certain time limit;
all new constructions have to adhere to norms which have been
According to Chapal Khasnabis, executive director of Mobility
India, a building should be designed keeping the needs of
the disabled in mind – then the able could comfortably
use it as well. Split-levels are a no-no.
Expense is the usual excuse for not providing facilities.
But Basavaraj, at APD offers three simple guidelines: do away
with steps at entrances wherever possible, or provide ramps;
make doors wide enough to take a wheelchair; ensure that the
height of the toilet bowl in Western style toilets is appropriate.
These features are the basic minimum. Considering the expensive
decorative value-additions in many public buildings like hotels
and shopping malls, with extensive landscaping, atria, etc.,
incorporating facilities for the disabled seems only the humane
thing to do.
Much as environment consciousness is now an indicator of
social responsibility, caring for the disabled could well
be another dimension to demonstrate good corporate citizenship.
Leading companies and leisure industries would do well to
The process, says Chapal Khasnabis, needs to start at architecture
and design schools where accessibility of buildings should
be included in the syllabus. Further, authorities involved
in sanctioning building plans need to understand the issues.
The saving grace currently in India is that we do have human
support systems, feels Raghu Shenoy, 30, who runs his own
software firm, Bit by Bit Computer Services Pvt. Ltd., Bangalore
from his wheelchair. But changing demographics pose a challenge.
Fifty million disabled people might not seem a large number.
But the figure does not account for the millions of elderly
Architects, builders, decision-makers need to become more
aware, more sensitive and put the accessibility of buildings
onto the agenda.
© Aparna Datta, 1998
Published in Assets – Property pages of The
Times of India, Bangalore, February 12, 1998
N.B. Some changes have taken place since this article was
written in 1998. Galaxy cinema theatre has been demolished.
But several multiplexes and malls have come up in Bangalore,
which incorporate ramps and the like. Tickets for movies might
be expensive, but at least the facility is available for the