Addressing the battle cry of disabled persons
“By far, the most disabling thing in my life is the physical environment,” said Australian comedian, journalist, and disability rights activist Stella Jane Young. “It dictates what I can and can’t do everyday.”
Like Young, the surroundings restrict the movements of disabled persons in the Philippines who, Section 4 (a) of the Magna Carta for Disabled Persons, as amended, defines as those suffering from restriction of different liabilities, as a result of mental, physical, or sensory impairment, to perform an activity in the manner or within the range considered normal for a human being.
According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, 1.443 million or 1.57 percent of the Philippine population of 92.1 million are disabled persons as of 2010.
The National Council on Disability Affairs (NCDA) reported that, despite the enactment of Batas Pambansa (B.P.) Blg. 344, otherwise known as “An Act to Enhance the Mobility of Disabled Persons by Requiring Certain Buildings, Institutions, Establishments, and Public Utilities to Install Facilities and Other Devices,” little progress toward barrier-free buildings remains.
Ramps either lack handrails or are too steep or too narrow. Bathroom cubicles for disabled persons are usually too small or lack grab bars. Some elevators are not operational or do not contain Braille markings.
Meanwhile, roads continue to endanger pedestrians, much more disabled persons.
“My daily struggle with mobility usually starts the moment I step out of the house and set my wobbly feet on the streets: a reality that any [person with disability (PWD)] will tell you is no mean feat,” said journalist Ed Geronia Jr. in his published article, “Life as a PWD in the Philippines,” with the Esquire Magazine. “To a disabled person, a large chunk of this world seems to be designed for regular people by people without any disability.”
Undeniably, B.P. Blg. 344 and its implementing rules and regulations (IRR) sufficiently prescribe the specifications for PWD-friendly infrastructures.
Under the IRR, the following criteria should be considered in determining the dimensions for spaces in the infrastructures:
varying sizes and structures of persons of both sexes, their reaches and their lines of sight at both the standing and sitting positions;
dimensional data of wheelchairs, crutches, and other technical aids of disabled persons; and
adequate space for wheelchair maneuvering.
Meanwhile, the following principles must be applied in planning said infrastructures: accessibility; reachability; usability; orientation; safety; and workability and efficiency.
The IRR likewise prescribes requirements, such as the number of stairs, walkways, corridors, ramps, switches, controls, and buzzers, handrails, parking space, and elevators, among others, and wheelchair seating capacity for auditoriums, for different categories of infrastructures.
B.P. Blg. 344, however, may serve as a poor deterrent to non-compliant infrastructures.
To be sure, B.P. Blg. 344 merely prohibits the grant or issuance of a license or permit for the construction, repair, or renovation of infrastructures, unless their owners or operators install architectural facilities or structural features enhancing the mobility of disabled persons, such as sidewalks, ramps, railings, and the like.
Moreover, persons violating the provisions of B.P. Blg. 344 and its IRR shall, upon conviction by a court of competent jurisdiction, only suffer the penalty of imprisonment of not less than one month but not more than one year or a fine of P2,000 to P5,000 or both, at the court’s discretion.
In case of corporations, partnerships, cooperatives, or associations, the president, manager, or administrator, or the person who has charge of the construction, shall be criminally responsible for said violations.
“Although some institutions and establishments have implemented the necessary changes for PWDs, it’s [still] very sad to say that more than 30 years of being a law, it’s only now that government agencies and even the private entities are really cramming to catch up with the implementation of [B.P. Blg. 344],” said NCDA Director Carmen Reyes Zubiaga in an interview with independent media organization Vera Files.
“Even though we have a law that protects us, it’s very vague in terms of penalties and sanctions for those that do not comply,” Zubiaga further said.
According to Zubiaga, amendments to B.P. Blg. 344 are still being pursued.
Sara Mae D. Mawis is an Associate at Esguerra & Blanco Law, and a Lecturer at the College of Law, Adamson University
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