Our need for accessible and inclusive built environment

October 10, 2019 | By: Arch. Erico G. Abordo, UAP (first published in The Manila Times last October 8, 2019))

When I was with the United Nations (UN), we were given a definition of a person with disability (PWD). But more important is the definition of disability, which, according to the UN, is a barrier.

If a disability is a barrier, then what is accessibility? Its all about breaking barriers, which means creating accessibility not just for PWDs, but for everyone, including you who’s reading this piece right now.

It took me a long time to call myself an advocate. I was trained by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific in China to become an advocate for the rights of PWDs. Meeting up with different nationalities, I was supposed to see the needs of this community. But I didn’t. When I finished my studies, I felt lost. It did not awaken anything in me. No burning bush. No brilliant moment of eureka. I got back home with no idea what I went through.

Why was I chosen in the first place? I didn’t know. They just picked me from a random selection of technical people as an architect to be sent over to the UN. Of course, it was an honor to be chosen as a Philippine delegate, but that was it. I had to reach deep down inside why I should advocate for the rights of PWDs.

I can remember my car accident and the pain it brought me. I, at the front passenger seat, my artist who was driving the car, and two other managers at the backseat were going down from Baguio City via Kennon Road when we lost brakes, hit the roadside barrier and fell off the cliff. I was thrown off the car before finding myself rolling down the slope. As these were happening, my whole life flashed in front of me — starting from the point I first asked milk from my mother to the last jokes and laughter before the accident. All of that in a millisecond. I thought I was going to die. I thought it was the end.

End-user feedback must be taken to validate the needs of everyone, thus discussing best practices from around the world to learn if applicable locally.
But a farmer, who was then harvesting vegetables near the place of the accident, saw me rolling down and somehow managed to stop my fall. He saved my life. I was wounded all over, but had no broken bones. I felt so lucky.

But the real injuries showed up only after three years. The lowest base of my spine got so compressed, getting the nerves connected to it irritated. I cannot stand for even five minutes. My left foot would unexpectedly lock in extreme pain, and I would fall on the floor, sometimes even hitting my head. I was diagnosed with sciatica, a pain affecting the back, hip, and outer side of the leg, caused by compression of a spinal nerve root in the lower back, often owing to degeneration of an intervertebral disk. I have become a PWD.

PWDs do not choose to become one. I did not choose to be a PWD. I became one because of an accident or a bitter twist of fate. I can say PWDs experience constant pain. Often, PWDs are misinterpreted as being angry or feeling entitled all the time, but that is not true. They are not angry. They are just in constant pain.

There’s constant pain for wheelchair and crutch users, and other people with orthopedic disability. There’s constant fear of the environment for the blind and constant isolation for the deaf.
There’s also constant silence for those with impaired speech. And there’s constant challenge from the built environment. There’s constant discrimination, too.

PWDs only ask for reasonable accommodation to ease their pain. If architects would design the built environment in accordance with Batas Pambansa Bilang 344, or the “Philippine Accessibility Law,” then we ease the pain of traveling. We ease the pain of distance. We ease the pain by bringing relief to your father, mother, brother, sister, husband or wife. What if your child needs to alleviate his or her pain? Experiencing disability allows one to understand pain.

Let us design for our future selves. For designers in the Philippines, it is quite easier to do this because we have our own Accessibility Law in place. This law is the oldest in Asia, dating back in 1983. All we have to do is follow the minimum requirements of the law — to make our community an inclusive and accessible built environment. Other countries have copied our Accessibility Law because we have made standards at par with the approved measurements provided by the UN.

But the Philippines is far behind in implementing this law, which was meant to improve the plight of people in pain including you. Why you? Because you can never know when an accident will happen to you. Five minutes from now, you may fall and break your legs. Ten minutes from now, you may lose your sight because of diabetes. Fifteen minutes from now, you may be in a car crash.

Or a year from now, you realize you have become a senior citizen with rheumatism. The sad truth is that you will never know when these things will happen, and you must be prepared.
Thus, we must design for our future selves. It is our social responsibility, not just to the world in general, but to your own family, including you.

Let us not discriminate the PWDs. Let us create an accessible built environment for everyone. Let’s alleviate our pain.

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Erico Abordo is a graduate of the Asian Institute of Management, with Masters in Development Management. He was also the Philippine Delegate to the UN-Escap Program for Accessibility for PWDs and the co-founder of Architects for Accessibility, the subgroup and affiliate of the United Architects of the Philippines Quezon City Central Chapter, advocating for the Rights of PWDs through an inclusive built environment not just for PWDs, but for everyone, including you.


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