Is Your Housing Society Disabled-Friendly?

Inclusive developments that cater to the needs of all citizens, including the physically challenged, are necessary to realize the full potential of all. Here’s how residential spaces are adapting and innovating to meet inclusive development goals

Having lived with reduced mobility throughout his life due to a polio condition, 78-year-old Mumbaikar Valerian Fernandes feels that including the needs of physically-challenged citizens in the design of both, public and private spaces in

India needs a more systemic approach. “Today, what we see are ad hoc measures taken as an afterthought. Consider ramps in most public buildings, malls, restaurants, etc. The UN’s Accessibility Design Manual prescribes a gradient of 1:12, but poor design thinking has led to ramps as steep as 1:8 in our city today. This serves no purpose for wheelchair-bound persons. The premium on space has resulted in smaller elevator cabins, which again are too cramped to accommodate us. I hope with greater awareness and collaborations between public authorities and private developers, we will see more disabled-friendly spaces in the future,” shares Fernandes.

Evolving priorities post-pandemic
According to Census 2011, about 2.2 per cent of India’s population is living with some form of physical disability. In 2015, the government launched the Accessible India Campaign, but without adequate funds to achieve any real change. Budget 2019 allocated about Rs 135 crore to this project, amounting to approx. Rs 14 per disabled Indian.

Does the real estate sector have any role to play in developing inclusive and accessible housing projects for persons with disabilities?
Anuj Puri, chairman, Anarock Group, says, “There is much that needs to be done in this regard. Today, most public and private buildings lack basic facilities for both, seniors and the disabled. There are lifts in most new projects (both high-rises and even those with fewer floors), which facilitate mobility for people on wheelchairs or those with callipers. However, many other key facilities such as engraved/braille signages, side rails, ramps, tactile pavings, etc are lacking. Developers are gradually recognising the need to make their projects more senior and disabled-friendly by incorporating a few, if not all, such facilities. Moreover, Covid-19 has somewhat reshaped the future of the senior living segment in India as the demand for such residences is reportedly rising amidst pandemic-induced uncertainties. The senior population is on the rise and post-Covid-19, we are seeing many seniors move in to live with their children (working in cities). As a result, extra facilities for seniors in housing societies are preferred by many. Basic facilities such as side rails, ramps, and lifts for free movement of wheelchairs are among the common facilities in demand.”

What kind of projects to consider?
For those families looking for projects that are disabled-friendly, or individuals planning to invest in homes for their retirement years, green buildings are a good place to start. Gupta elaborates, “Today, many more residential consumers (owners and tenants) are now demanding sustainable buildings as their use over time clearly shows an impact on wellness, health, and efficiency through resource optimisation. Communities are also mobilising to ensure responsible living as collectives with demands for sustainable infrastructure at the society and neighbourhood levels. A sustainable development that is classified as a ‘green’ project by credible external rating agencies such as the Indian Green Building Council (IGBC) mandates design for the differently-abled too. This ensures that the development caters to all residents and addresses the needs of senior citizens as they age, without their needing to compromise their quality of life.”

So ultimately what is the value of an accessible and inclusive building project for society at large?
Architect Jayesh Ganesh, design lead for Bengaluru at Edifice Consultants, observes, “There is greater awareness among both, private and public authorities towards inclusive and accessible design, which makes the city and the built environment enjoyable and engaging for a much wider population. Campaigns like Accessible India (Sugamya Bharat Abhiyan) launched by the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (DEPwD) have helped this mission. The Harmonized Guidelines and Space Standards for Barrier-Free Built Environment for Persons with Disabilities (PWD) and Elderly Persons (2016) is another comprehensive accessibility-focused design guideline that may come into force this year. The value of an accessible project to persons with disability is intangible. In the context of a built environment where access for the differently-abled has never been shown priority, the ongoing transformation is the strongest affirmation by the community of policymakers, architects, builders, and other stakeholders towards making our cities and spaces inclusive. As a society, we have only now begun asking difficult yet important questions about accessibility and inclusivity. As we begin understanding the unique and diverse challenges people face, our cities will also show more acceptance in finding and implementing empathetic solutions. Home-buyers who are senior citizens or people with disabilities are now (for possibly the first time) in a position to enjoy many of the previously inaccessible social, community, recreational and public spaces.”

What is the policy on designing buildings for the physically challenged?
The National Building Code of India 2016 lays down detailed guidelines that help ensure that entering, using and evacuating buildings of all categories and functions should be safe and easy for all individuals across age groups including persons with disabilities. The focus is on providing equitable access to all spaces and facilities. Key accessibility issues addressed in the code are as follows:

-Equitable approach to buildings through designated parking, clear pedestrian routes separate from vehicles and cyclists, no steps or obstacles, short distances from parking and public transport, good signage, good lighting and good visual contrast;

-Equitable entry via common entrances in the form of easy-to-locate main entrances, no steps or obstacles, wide openings, adequate manoeuvring space in front of the door, low operating forces, good signage, good lighting and good visual contrast;

-Equitable use of the same paths in horizontal circulation: There should be adequate manoeuvring space, wide door openings, easy to operate doors, resting places, clear layout, good signage, good lighting and good visual contrast;

-Equitable access to the same paths in vertical circulation: There should be safe stairs, spacious lifts with easy operation, good signage, good lighting and good visual contrast;

-Equitable use of the same rooms through ample circulation space and different seating possibilities, good acoustics and hearing enhancement systems, good lighting and good visual contrast;

-Equitable use of the same equipment and facilities through easy-to-understand signages, adequate manoeuvring space and operating height, information via two senses;

-Equitable use of sanitary facilities through good signage, adequate manoeuvring space, good transfer options, well-placed equipment, easy operation;

-Equitable means of egress and concepts for emergency planning: There should be no steps or obstacles, fire-protected lifts, good signage, good lighting, good visual contrast, good fire safety, protection and evacuation, accessible means of egress;

-Important information should be delivered via two or more senses (visual, audible and tactile).

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