PWDs are people with needs, not just symbols

People on wheelchairs are among many Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) with limited mobility and forced to use narrow sidewalks.

They are endangered because of the lack of proper ramps and dropped curbs, or constrained to use non-code compliant infrastructures and facilities that are challenging to navigate.

Today, even the “simplest” task of entering a building has become an ordeal for many PWDs because buildings are located on elevated grounds, provided with stairs or steps only, or lack ramps, handrails and wider-width doors. PWDs’ struggles are compounded when parking spaces reserved for them are used by abled persons, without regard to the intent for which it had been mandated, designed and allocated. 

These problems remain big concerns among PWDs, despite Filipinos being accustomed to seeing the International Symbol of Accessibility. Many have forgotten who it represents and why it is being posted in specific areas.

In an interview with Architect Armand Michael Eustaquio, an accessibility advocate and the only Filipino member of the International Association of Accessibility Professionals, he shared the need for Filipinos to be more conscious about the constant difficulties confronted by PWDs every day. He noted that despite the fact that Batas Pambansa Blg. 344 (Accessibility Law) was passed almost four decades ago, accessibility audits have found low compliances to the accessibility standards and guidelines. Thus, he suggested the need to initiate renewed drives to highlight the problems faced by PWDs and to create more awareness among the general public.

Sample initiates

He cited as an example, the rampant misuse and abuse of parking spaces reserved for PWDs, as presented by Elizabeth Stull in “People, Not Symbols” at an Access Israel-hosted International Webinar on “Creating Trends for Accessibility and Inclusion for People with Disabilities.”

Leo Burnett Israel, an advertising agency, was tapped by Access Israel to develop and run campaigns of 52 real people with disabilities, share their stories on how they became disabled so as to put faces on these PWDs. Eventually, thousands of parking accessibility signages were replaced with photographs of PWDs on all-white wheelchairs.

Launched during the 2017 International Day of Persons with Disabilities, the NGO whose main mission is to promote accessibility and inclusion to improve the quality of life of people with disabilities and the elderly, drew attention to the issue of drivers who illegally park in PWD-reserved slots. As their campaigns got noticed, their government committed to address not only those parking violations but other accessibility issues that had not been addressed.

Eustaquio is also pushing for the wide adoption of Architect Ronald Mace’s Universal Design concept, instead of limiting it to accessibility design.  As shared by the Center for Universal Design, Mace coined the term Universal Design “to describe the concept of designing all products and the built environment to be aesthetic and usable to the greatest extent possible by everyone, regardless of their age, ability, or status in life.”

Good news

While the PWDs’ concerns and issues may have been lost in many of our Filipinos’ consciousness, Eustaquio gladly shared new and or enhanced initiatives undertaken by various governments and NGOs aimed at bringing forth more pro-active solutions to address the plight of the PWDs. Among them, he highlighted the roles played by the National Council on Disability Affairs under the Department of Social Welfare and Development, Department of Education, Department of Tourism, Department of Interior and Local Government, United Architects of the Philippines, Philippine Foundation for the Rehabilitation of the Disabled Inc., and Project Inclusion Network Inc.

The Department of Public Works and Highways also intends to come up with the much-awaited amendments to the existing Implementing Rules and Regulations of Batas Pambansa Bilang 344 or the Accessibility Law, he noted.

He was also elated that a party-list group Pamilya, Pasyente, at Persons With Disabilities (P3PWD) which sought to represent the PWDs and patient communities and help champion their needs, has received sizeable votes to be entitled a seat in the House of Representatives.

The country has come a long way since the enactment of landmark legislations like Republic Act (RA) No. 7277 (Magna Carta for Disabled Persons), Batas Pambansa Blg. 344 (Accessibility Law), RA 6759 (White Cane Act), RA 10070 (An Act Establishing Institutional Mechanism To Ensure The Implementation of Programs and Services for Persons With Disabilities In Every Province, City and Municipality), RA 10524 (An Act Expanding The Positions Reserved For Persons With Disability), RA 10754 (An Act Expanding the Benefits and Privileges of Persons with Disability), and others. Despite gallant efforts and laudable undertakings, more support and cooperation are needed to address the predicament of our PWDs.

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Henry Yap is an architect, environmental planner, former real estate practitioner and senior lecturer, and recently named one of the Undersecretaries of the Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development.