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Fundamental rights, Mobility Impairment & Accessibility

During 1st three months of the 2017, Chief Justice Lahore High Court has issued three important orders. These orders have provided a protection to the rights of disabled persons against the abuse by state institutions. In an order on W.P. No. 7572/2016 court struck down rule 9(ii) of the CSS Rules, directed govt to allocate two seats to the petitioners (visually impaired – bilateral blindness) in Foreign Service of Pakistan, as applied & qualified by petitioners,  even if govt has to create two new such posts. Court also directed the govt to formulate rules to offer all or any occupational service to persons with disabilities in All Pakistan Service and provide any assistive technology, where possible, to protect & safeguard the fundamental right of the disabled persons rather than ousting them from the service. On another Writ Petition No. 37499/2016 court has directed and the Census Commissioner confirmed that he will order field staff for necessary recording of the Transgender during the census and likewise W.P. No. 7122/2017 persons with disabilities will be recorded as well. With these three matters where court has to step in and determine, I wonder what we as a society are doing on same matter. Were the people managing Census 2017 not able to determine such a need or they simply don’t value it?

Chief Justice Mansoor Ali Shah observed that adequate provisions and reasonable accommodation is to be provided by the state so as the persons with disability can benefit from such provisions and be integral part of the society. Can you recall your campus life for a while and see if you find adequate provision of the ramps at entrance of a building and inside the building to assist a wheel chair user free movement? I found my own campus – Civil Engineering Department, UET Taxila – don’t have such a provision even if a wheel chair user has to enter a lecture theater at ground floor, let alone going on the 1st story faculty offices and class rooms. How about your office building in Pakistan? Have you ever noticed a ramp in govt or business building clusters where a wheel chair user can freely move without any assistance? I asked a friend about a relatively new University campus – University of Gujarat –  there are 8 academic blocks and all are few steps high than ground level and none of them have a ramp for wheel chair users. I am glad to share that a person engaged with the department responsible for new developments in UOG assured me that they are making all their new building blocks – academic, Library and hostels, very disable-friendly. I appreciate this effort by the UOG administration.

I believe our designs reflect the level of our care and concern that we have for the people with special needs. Although its duty of govt to ensure provision of such thing through its regulatory institutions, but are not our universities supposed to be more connected with communities and be more accommodative? Who knows how many wheel chair users turnout in next semester in a university? Will campuses provide ramps only when they have users at their door steps or wait for the courts to order for this? Or maybe if a petitioner reach out to LHC. Considering the above three orders, it’s very likely that CJ Justice Mansoor Ali Shah will go an extra mile if he has to protect this right.

All Govts including local govts need to place adequate efforts to ensure that built environment meets the requirements of disabled person and any public or business place is in as easy access of a disabled person as is for the others. Lahore Development Authority (LDA) building regulations in place since 2008 require the provision of a ramp for disabled persons in all buildings.  Other local authorities shall make such provisions if currently not. Considering the matter uniform in its nature and applicable to the whole country, comprehensive bye-laws on accessibility –covering buildings and roads – shall be issued by either Pakistan Council of Architects & Town planners or by Pakistan Engineering Council. Being engaged in engineering profession, I do not find any big financial or technical issue in providing Wheelchair access to existing buildings. Any good architect/engineer can design even detachable steel ramps to provide for existing buildings. However I find a big issue in our mindsets and our care for those in such needs. That, mindset, is where we have to work and raise our empathy and compassion to the needs of such people so they can join us in our daily business with ease and comfort.

 

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Yasir Cheema

Yasir Cheema is a Civil Engineer by training and currently working as Resident Engineer for Surbana Jurong Pte. Ltd. in Singapore. He writes at this portal about Governance, Public policy, Institutional development, Construction practices, and procedures.

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