“A daily life with a barrier”- Author
At 5:30 a.m. on a morning, the author got up and went outside for a hike. This was able to calm his soul by ’walking’ at a pace, ’looking’ at the beautiful sky, and ’listening’ to birds’ chirpings, but everything became worth remembering within 300 meters. In the first 200-meters, he experienced a visually impaired person resting at a “worthless” bus stop, and in the remaining distance, an old man passing a “worthless” zebra crossing. But why does it feel “worthless”? The answer is simple: Barriers. Barriers, whether through a 3m high bus stop or through the barricade on the zebra-crossing, felt inaccessible to the society. “A daily life with a barrier” is difficult for someone somewhere who ’cannot walk’ at a pace, who ’cannot look’ at the beautiful sky, and who ’cannot listen’ to the birds’ chirpings.
A barrier for whom? A barrier-free for whom
“1 out of 7 people are specially-abled in the World”, states NPR. It proves the barrier is not for single, double, or triple digits, but about 1 billion population worldwide, and the easy route for us (remaining population) from home to office is quite arduous for others. But who are these people? Who can’t walk, Who can’t see, Who can’t hear, or Who can’t even do anything? The reply lies below.
Suffer from a severe vision reduction that cannot be corrected by conventional means, like refractive correction or medication. The visually-impaired people (VIP) suffer majorly at some or all tasks while being in the physical, symbolic, or social world.
In the physical world, the VIP cannot move freely and comfortably, leading to social isolation, unemployment, and psychological mal-adjustment.
In a symbolic world, the portrayal of language and the exchange of ideas and information via symbols, written word, and pictures are of no use for the VIP.
In the social world, the communication and interaction between VIP and the social environment get compromised by the range of substantial obstacles to conventional forms of reading and writing. Loss of interaction even continues due to blindness stereotypes and taboos, negative expectations and perceptions, and lower standards.
2. Hearing-impaired people
Suffer by not detecting partial or higher frequencies of sound, which typically can be heard by most people. It even continues to have low communication at social engagements, feeling of loneliness, anger, low self-worth, hopelessness, frustration, and even depression.
3. Locomotor-impaired people
Suffer from the limitation of physical function of limbs, fine bones, or gross motor ability. Specific categories are wheelchair and white-cane users. Dependency on family for economical and emotional support, inconveniences with cumbersome activities like traveling on public transport, climbing stairs, or even using household activities make them insecure everywhere.
4. Speech-impaired people
Suffering from communication due to inability in producing the necessary speech sounds.
5. Intellectually disabled and ill people
Suffer from psychological patterns such as autism, multiple disabilities, dyslexia, etc. The patterns that might seem normal to the remaining are very difficult to understand because they act as a barrier to their involvement in daily activities.
6. Specific people
Suffer according to age or situation, such as children, pregnant women, and senior citizens. The unavailability of basic services everywhere like ramps, handrails, sitting at intervals, lifts, escalators, and specific reserved areas for people makes life worse.
Facts speak the truth!
The three places studied and analyzed by the author are India Gate and Connaught Place in India and Washington D.C. in the USA. The inaccessibility of transitional and recreational areas in the major parts of the country states the truth.
India Gate (Delhi, India)
The place is not only in Central Delhi but has a daily footfall of 70,000-80,000 people. If we talk about the transitional areas, the areas are 64.2% inaccessible for the specially-abled, and in the recreational areas, the percentage increased to 92.5%. If these will be the stats for the epicenter of a developed state, then what about others?
Connaught Place (Delhi, India)
The commercial zone of central Delhi has a daily footfall of 4,00,000-5,00,000 people. 44.1% of inaccessibility was in transitional areas, and 60.4% was in recreational areas. If these will be the stats of the commercial hub of a developed state, then what about others?
Washington D.C. (USA)
The area known for the seat of the US federal government has a daily footfall of 7,00,000-8,00,000 people. The inaccessibility in transitional and recreational areas is 22.1% and 34.5% respectively. If these will be the stats at D.C., then what about others?
We fail in anthropometrics, universal design elements, level change, signages, toilet facilities, alighting and boarding areas, and transport and road planning that helps the community. It’s even proven that a barrier-free environment is not only about accessibility but a necessity likewise.
“Some things have changed, some things need to be changed”,– A visually impaired person to the author, according to realities faced by them today.
A barrier to a barrier-free environment!
Eight areas for a barrier-free environment within the urban fabric are as follows.
- The seven principles of Universal Design
- Equitable use: The design is advantageous to all groups of users.
- Flexibility in use: The accommodation of a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.
- Simple-intuitive use: An understandable design, regardless of the users’ experience, language skills, knowledge, or concentration level is preferable.
- Perceptible information: An effective-communicative design without any ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities.
- Tolerance error: A design minimized hazardous accidental actions.
- Low Physical effort: The design is efficient and comfortable with minimum fatigue.
- Size and space for approachable use: A provision of appropriate space and size regardless of the user body’s size, posture, or mobility.
- Guidelines and space standards
Anthropometrics, Level changes, Signages, Access to toilet facilities, Alighting and boarding areas, Transport and road planning, and Public transport; are guidelines and space standards provided by the government.
Assistive technology is the latest and best option, which not only overcomes the hesitation of people for community engagement but also takes them out from the zone of isolation and limited opportunities.
Devices for visual impairment: Low, Mid, and High assistive technologies.
Low-Assistive technology– Magnifying glass, Color filters, Thick lined paper, Optical magnifiers.
Mid-Assistive technology– Large keyboards, MP3 player, Lightbox, Keyboard with high contrast.
High-Assistive technology– GPS, Scan and read programs.
Devices for hearing impairment: Personal hearing aids or amplifiers, Telecommunication devices(TDDs), Relay systems for telephone calls, Infrared systems, Smartboard, Alerting or signaling device, and environmental alert system.
Innovative technologies like special wheelchairs, paralympic gears, escalators, and other mobility devices have not only provided accessibility in sports but also in transport, recreational, educational, and commercial areas as well.
- Social awareness
Social gatherings, meetings, advertisements, empathy over sympathy for the specially-abled, and service orientation are some of the vital initiatives private and government authorities can come up with. For example, “World Disabled Day”, knowing inspirational people like Stephen Hawking, Marathons for the specially-abled, and many other initiatives
- Environment over buildings
A macro approach to a micro one makes a shift of barrier-free zones from erected buildings to other areas like Recreational, Transit, Institutional, Public spaces, and Industrial. A “barrier-free environment” perspective is to be approached rather than just a “barrier-free building”. The beautiful and creative design strategies in structures like Hazelwood school (Glasgow), Villa T-Extension (Slovenia), Cachalotes House (Lima), and others; needs to be extended to the open surroundings as well.
- Create new and edit old- Accessibility
In the continuation of building upcoming infrastructures, we have forgotten the fundamental requirements in the current ones. Failures in barrier-free pathways, toilets, signages, ramps, stairs, lifts, and so forth, not only be understood but applied in the old and new places. The objective is to provide barrier-free environmental designs that upgrade the past, help in the present, and continue in the future.
- Psychological focus
Humans’ experience is interlinked with psychological aspects of perception and understanding. The study of psychology in architecture has quite a large spectrum, and by using it, we will be breaking the barriers for the community. Some of them are Environmental psychology (about nature), Gestalt psychology (about patterns), and Cognitive psychology (about mind).
- Government schemes and policies
An elevated increase in national policies, schemes, constitutions, acts, and legislation will help a large-scale society not face barriers in every area they want to discover.
Equality for all is not just three words, but a lot of expectations specially-abled people, children, old-age, pregnant women, and many others have with the environment. Do make it barrier-free the barrier.
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