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Building Modifications for Disabled People

Infrastructure modifications for disabled people

There is an increasing awareness of the need to design buildings, streets, parks, etc to suit the needs of disabled people. This has been a blind spot in Indonesia but, with increasing tourism, authorities are starting to change. Public safety and behaviour that can disable people are being addressed more and more. Here we look at the needs of disabled people and some of the changes that are occurring.

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It is nearly new year and the very silly season is upon us. The government has wisely banned fireworks and yet kids can buy them everywhere. We have to wonder how many serious injuries and deaths it will take before people will hear the message and start to protect their children from themselves.

Sadly we know that people will suffer burns, lose eyes and perhaps even limbs through a lack of responsible parenting. The silly season is particularly worrying for people who live in houses with alang alang thatched roofs and it is probably a good idea to take the precaution of having a hosepipe ready. Perhaps we should all be praying for rain.

Talking of injuries does, however, raise the subject of disabilities and how movement and sense impaired people get through their daily lives.

Access and facilities for disabled people in Indonesia

To say that historically the whole issue of facilities for disabled people has been a bit of a “blind spot” throughout Indonesia is rather an understatement but I have a sneaky suspicion things are going to change. Already local regulations in Jakarta are being introduced to make the city more user friendly for disabled people. With increasing awareness of their needs, we can assume that it is only a matter of time before public areas (particularly hotels and restaurants) will have to comply with disabled access standards across Indonesia. This will have major ramifications for the tourism industry and will require a steep learning curve for an industry which, until recently has been largely oblivious to such matters.

At this stage I should point out that there are many hotels, restaurants and other public places that do have comprehensive facilities for disabled people particularly the large hotels that provide internationally accepted standards of service. The example they set will be important for the many others who may have a lot of catching up to do.

The first wheelchairs in Bali

It is only a few years since disabled people were kept at home out of sight and out of mind. Wheelchairs were virtually unheard of in Bali until only a few years ago when the Rotary Club of Nusa Dua received 200 wheelchairs as an overseas donation. It took months to get them through customs but the club persevered and since then wheelchairs have become for more widely available in Bali. A number went to Tampak Siring where there is a group of people (quiet heroes that most of us have never heard of) who run an organisation called Yayasan Senang Hati (The Happy Heart Foundation) a charity that takes in disabled people and gives them meaningful work and a community to belong to. The foundation and its work have become accepted and appreciated by the wider community of Tampak Siring and attitudes to disabled people are being changed. If you are in that area call in and see them, you'll find a cheerful group of people that will warm your heart.

Steadily the world is improving for physically disabled people in Bali (sadly the more challenging world of mentally disabled people has still got a long way to go).

While attitudes may be changing infrastructure is another matter and it is going to need a lot of work to remove the physical obstacles and make the world more user friendly for the disabled. If you look around through the eyes of a disabled person you will quickly see that throughout Bali access in and around buildings or along streets can be very difficult for anyone with even a minor disability. Remember that if you are confined to a wheelchair a single step, kerb or drainage canal can render a whole journey impossible. Facilities such as disabled toilets are rarely found.

Understanding their needs requires empathy and the ability to place oneself in their position, to see the world through their eyes. Not easy for an able bodied person and it is well said that only by borrowing a wheelchair and taking the effort to sit in it for a day can we even start to realise the difficulties these people face.

Home modifications for small people

Many years ago I was involved in the modification of a house for a very small woman, a client of a public housing authority. She was unusual in that she was perfectly in proportion but only around 3 feet tall. The more we looked at her housing needs the more issues came up.

What initially looked like simply putting a few steps here and there so she could reach things became a far more complex exercise.

To start to understand her circumstances imagine everything and every part of your house being twice as large as it is. Consider living in a house where the washbasin, kitchen sink benches and cooker are all 1.8 metres above the floor, stair treads half a metre high, doorhandles and locks 2 metres high and light switches 2.8....... forget it, she'd just have to eat lots of carrots so she could see in the dark.

The bathroom was particularly challenging, steps can help you get into a bath but would you be able to get out? Of course you'd need a step ladder to get onto the toilet and the size of the hole in the seat would have a tendency to increase her stress levels somewhat. In the end it was necessary to build a complete house in miniature after all this lady had the right to live just as any other person lives.

Of course there are many forms of disability each requiring their own special form of assistance or aid. Blindness, deafness, amputees, people on crutches, large people, small people, even speech impediments and people who need reading glasses. Could we describe not understanding the local language as a form of disability? If we start to think about it we realise that, with so many shades of grey, there is no dividing line, no black and white distinction between disabled and able bodied people and in fact a large number of us are disabled in some way or another.

Infrastructure modifications to provide wheelchair access

Let us look, however, at the most common and challenging building modifications that are required to satisfy disabled access requirements. These are building design factors that serve the needs of people in wheelchairs:

  • Everywhere pavements, pathways and even aisles in supermarkets need to be smooth and wide. There should be no steep slopes, steps, holes or deep patterns in them and there need to be ramps to get up kerbs particularly along streets and at traffic lights.

  • There need to be alternative routes provided to bypass steps and staircases using ramps and lifts (escalators will not do).

  • Doorways have to be wide enough for wheelchairs to pass through.

  • Toilets and bathrooms need particular attention with wide doorways and also enough room inside to accommodate the wheelchair next to the toilet. Well positioned grab rails are needed to allow the transition from the chair to the toilet seat or into the bath. The door handles and locks need to be easily accessible and operated and attention needs to be paid to heights and depths of washbasins so that taps can be reached.

  • ATMs are going to need quite a lot of attention. They shouldn't have steps into them, the door has to be wide enough to enter, the inside has to be able to take a wheelchair and the machine height has to be accessible. ATMs also need to be specifically designed to assist visually impaired people with braille keys and sound alerts.

Turning to other disabilities people with walking difficulties need handrails on stairs and walkways, blind people can be assisted with warning signals at traffic lights and braille patterns on keys.

The whole issue of making the world a user friendly place for people with disabilities is an extensive topic and a work in progress needing ongoing development.

In a country that is only just waking up to such considerations and where established practice does not consider the needs of the disabled a lot of rethinking will be needed. All those new footpaths being built throughout Bali with deeply patterned yellow tiles down the centre are not exactly user friendly for people with walking difficulties and has anyone considered how a wheelchair bound person would get onto the new Sabigata buses?

Changing attitudes and infrastructure is going to be a huge exercise but if Bali is serious in its desire to be considered a world player in the tourism industry it will need to take positive action and start to address these issues. We can all play our part in this, we can make our own small part of paradise user friendly, we can incorporate design considerations in new developments and we can continually advocate for the rights of people less fortunate than others.

Of course for some there is little that can be done such as those mentally disabled persons who, in spite of being forbidden by the Bali Government and by the police, sell fireworks on an island where so many houses have alang alang roofs and where children are allowed to run around maiming each other in gay abandon.

See also

Copyright © Phil Wilson December 2011
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