Creating barrier-free cities for all

  • Nihit Bhave, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: Feb 12, 2015 00:35 IST

Climbing stairs, withdrawing money from an ATM, crossing the street, or finding a public loo — these are routine activities that an able-bodied person takes for granted.

At Barrier-Free, panellists discussed making these facilities as seamless for those with special needs — like the differently-abled, or the elderly.

The session, organised as part of the Urban Design and Architecture section of the Hindustan Times Kala Ghoda Arts Festival, discussed concepts such as universal convenience in architectural design.

“This is the ideal platform for a seminar on this topic,” said Parul Kumtha, an architect and activist for issues relating to disability. “A large number of specially abled and elderly people attend this festival, so it’s easy to create awareness.”

The session started with five groups surveying areas with heavy footfalls in Churchgate — the railway station, the signal near Regal cinema, a few ATMs and toilets — and reporting back on how accessible they were for the specially abled.

Very often, we have the infrastructure, but we don’t know how to use it, said Kumtha.

“If there’s a ramp for wheelchairs, but a barrier of poles right in front of it, then who are you helping?” added Neenu Kevlani, a paraplegic who was a panellist at the seminar. “All too often, architects pick solutions out of books and apply them without any thought for functionality.”

The group that surveyed toilets said there was no space inside for a wheelchair to turn; the group that surveyed ATMs found most machines were not equipped with voice instructions and were therefore unusable by the blind.

A group of urban planners and architects was present at the session, to compile the findings and possible solutions in the form of sketches. “We will put up a panel of these sketches at Horniman Circle on Thursday,” said Kumtha. “It will be representative of the common problems and simple solutions.”

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