Accessibility

Article 9 of the CRPD requires accessibility for persons with disabilities to buildings, roads, transportation and other indoor and outdoor facilities, including schools, housing, medical facilities and workplaces; and to information, communications and other services, including electronic services and emergency services. (Article 9 (1))

The State’s obligations in this regard include monitoring the implementation of minimum standards and guidelines for accessibility of facilities, training those to assist to ensure accessibility to PWDs and promoting the design, development, production and distribution of accessible information.

Laws and Policies Promoting Disability Rights

The 2013 Disability Rights Act defines ‘accessibility’ (Section 2 (13)), in line with the CRPD, as including

  • physical accessibility into all premises (public and private including open space and buildings) and the ability to use public transport without restrictions, as well as
  • unrestricted access to opportunities and services, information, data, technology and any form of communication.
  • regarding accessibility to public transport, the Act requires owners, authority, drivers or conductors in charge of the transport to reserve 5 % of seats (on boats, airplanes and land transport) for persons with disabilities. (Section 32(1))

Regarding existing public buildings and structures, if any are identified as inaccessible, prompt arrangements must be made by the State to make them accessible for PWDs (Section 34). For new buildings and structures, the Building Construction Act, 1952 must be followed (Section 34(1)).

All public and private buildings, roads, transportation, indoor and outdoor facilities, including schools, medical institutions and health care service buildings and workplace premises must be accessible for PWDs (Part 5, Schedule).

Penalties for any owner, authority, driver or conductor who fails to comply include revocation of the license of the public transport body in question, provided that the Transport Committee submits an application to the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) requesting this (Section 32(2)).

All forms of information and communication and all mediums of technology and language used for accessing information/communication must be accessible and user friendly for PWDs (Parts 4 and 6, Schedule).

Regarding accessibility to buildings, the Building Construction Act, 1952 have been supplemented by the more recent Building Construction Rules, 1996 and the Dhaka Metropolitan Building Construction (Construction, Development, Protection and Removal) Rules, 2008.

Rules 5(5) and 13 of the BCR provide the specifications for construction of wheel-chair accessible ramp.

Rule 75 of the Dhaka Metropolitan BCR 2008 provides for universal accessibility for all including persons with disabilities. Schedule 3 sets up the minimum standard and specifications to ensure barrier free access to a building through installation of ramps, handrails and lifts and by reserving separate parking space, washroom toilet and entry and exit points for the use of PWDs. Additional provisions lays down the requirement for all buildings to have at least one toilet or in the case of a building with more than one toilet on each floor, at least 5% of the total number of toilets should be reserved for people with disabilities (Section 64, Dhaka Metropolitan BCR, 2008).

The Bangladesh National Building Code 2008 also contains disabled friendly construction rules and guidelines. The definitions on ‘accessibility’ and ‘adaptability’ comprehensively cover facilities or any part of them that can be approached, entered and used without assistance by persons with temporary or permanent physical limitations. They also provide for adaptable spaces/features designed for persons with physical limitation to have access to adaptable toilets, kitchens, lifts and so on. (Part 3)

The Right to Information Act, 2009 gives every citizen the right to access ‘information’ (as defined in Section 2 (d) (f) of the Act) from any ‘authority’ (as defined in Section 2 (b)). It includes two disability friendly provisions. Firstly an ‘officer in charge’ [1] of any missing word shall provide assistance to a person with sensory disabilities to enable them to gain access to information (Section 9(10)). Secondly, any information published or publicized by any authority under the Act, must be indexed in a manner accessible to all (Section 6(1)).

The National ICT Policy, 2009 expressly aims “to create mainstream social advancement opportunities for disadvantaged sections of the society including persons with disabilities and special needs (Article E.1 “Social Equity”). It provides that everyone shall have the opportunity to access all electronic technologies used in creating, storing, processing, communicating and disseminating information (Article3).

Gaps in Laws and Policies

The Disability Act addresses the issue of access to transport, but the lack of Rules or detailed guidelines prevents effective implementation. For example, while 5% of seats are reserved for PWDs by law, the lack of any rule or practice for allowing additional time for PWDs to board, or for ramps or wheel-chair access, means that access is denied for physically disabled people.

Regarding access to buildings, while Rules are in place, and do provide detailed measures to ensure disabled friendly access, they are not implemented. The Building Code Authority is yet to be established [2].

The RTI Act does not specify how authorities must publish/publicize information in an accessible manner for PWDs. Also since the Act only extends to government bodies, and NGOs meaning for profit organisations, and does not cover privately owned organizations/institutions, it cannot be used by a PWD seeking information from any such establishment.

Government and NGO websites are not yet accessible for people with visual impairments. The ICT Policy does address many accessibility issues for PWDs but these provisions are rarely put into practice. As a result, barrier free access to information is still a challenge for PWDs.

Key Concerns

Access to public premises: Most public premises, including hospitals, courts, banks, local government offices, and police stations are not fully accessible. Although some school buildings have ramps, most, especially government buildings do not have lifts and stairs are usually very steep. There are no audio facilities in any public places or lifts making it impossible for a person with visual impairment use such premises.

Although some government and public institutions have ramps and toilets for use for persons with disabilities, they are still inaccessible not having been constructed according to the 2008 building code. Government meetings and congregations (held as a part of government led public awareness campaigns) are held in inaccessible places exemplifying a two-fold barrier to access, as PWDs inability to access such premises deprives them from access to the information/communication available at the meetings held there [3].

Access to educational institutions and private premises: School premises remain largely inaccessible for disabled children. Buildings, premises and facilities do not have signage in Braille, contrary to CRPD Article 9 (1) (d). Although the 2013 Act does not specify that buildings, premises and facilities require signage, it does require making all private and public structures accessible to PWDs.

Survey Findings

Fig1_AccessibilityFig 1: Have any steps been taken to ensure accessibility features in private offices, schools and other premises?

Inaccessibility of Public Transport: 50% of surveyed persons with disabilities stated that transportation was not disabled friendly; among them 29% said that buses and trains are not built with features for easy access/wheelchair access making it almost impossible to use them. Another 21% said the main cause was non-implementation of the 2013 Act.

Entrance to public transport is not disabled-friendly at all acting as a barrier for PWDs for accessing public transport. Some public transport in Dhaka has reserved seats for PWDs, women and children but they are mostly used as ‘seats reserved for women and children’ only [4].Only 7% of PWDs surveyed in Dhaka said there were seats reserved for disabled people; but they also noted that these but could not be used by them. The situation on trains and buses are worse, with disabled people compelled to use the cheap cabins/seats and ticket masters charging extra for passengers with disabilities [5].

Fig2_AccessibilityFig 2: Do PWDs enjoy transport facilities at the same level as non-disabled people?

Access to Information: Electronic or emergency services provided by mobile phone operators (information on health, breaking news bulletins, emergency number for police, national helpline etc.) are inaccessible for disabled people as the mobile devices are not designed to be user-friendly for PWDs with audio features. Among our survey respondents, of 54 % (see Figure 2 below) who said that they could not use mobile and internet services, 11% felt such services were not disabled-friendly.

The Government’s Access to Information program (A2I), Prime Minister Office, has produced digital multimedia books for the student of class-I to class-V [6].

Fig3_AccessibilityFig 3: Can a person with disabilities enjoy the same facilities (re language and technology) as a non-disabled person when using mobile and internet services?

Positive government initiatives include:

  • The Bangladesh National Disaster Action Plan 2010 (aiming at reducing vulnerability of the poor to natural, environmental and human-induced disaster) and the Information Communication Technology (ICT) Policy (Access to Information Technology), 2009 addresses accessibility issues for persons with disabilities.
  • Introduction of sign language in state television news.

However, the majority of PWDS continue to feel that information through state media is inaccessible, as shown below:

Fig4_AccessibilityFig 4: Is information broadcast through public media in a way that is accessible to PWDs?

There is no dedicated government institute on sign language for trainers, interpreters and teachers.

Recommendations

Public Transport and Accessibility: Implement Section 34 of the Disability Act to ensure easy /wheelchair access in all public transport, separate spaces/seating and other arrangements in airports terminals, bus stops, train stations and docks.

In the interim, amend the Disability Act, or issue a circular from BRTA to ensure that all drivers/conductors in public transport assist disabled persons to board vehicles and punish any breaches.

General physical accessibility: Establish the Building Code Authority and develop a plan to ensure universal accessibility for all including persons with disabilities throughout the country as per Rules 5(5), 13 of the BCR and Rule 75 of the Dhaka Metropolitan BCR 2008 and Chapter 2 (Organization and Enforcement) of Part 2 of the Building Code 2008 during the construction of school buildings under the Local Government Division’s Primary Education Development Programs (PED).

Adopt a government order to designate RAJUK and the respective Unnayan Kartipakkha (Development Authority) of all other Municipality Corporations as the respective Code Enforcing Agency (Authority) for enforcement of the Code.

Implement the Dhaka Metropolitan BCR 2008 to provide separate access points to public premises and buildings (parks, marketplaces/shopping malls, cinema halls, libraries etc) and hospitals, courts, police stations, government buildings for people with disabilities and install at least one toilet on every floor of a multi-storied building and in a single-storied building where there are more than one toilet; reserve at least 5% of those for use of disabled people.

Implement Schedule 5 of the 2014 Disability Act to ensure all disabled friendly access points/ toilets properly maintained so no disabled person faces any physical barrier to accessibility. Public places and lifts ought to have audio facilities to enable a person with visual impairment to use such facilities.

Access to data, information, communications:

Amend 2013 Act to specify legal consequences for denying the right to access to above to a person with disabilities.

Amend Section 14 of the Copyright Act 2000 to include an exemption clause allowing for books, publications etc to be printed in an accessible format (braille, audio etc) for PWDs.

Implement Guidelines in the RTI Act 2009 and the National ICT Policy 2009 to ensure accessibility of all information addressed there and to make IT policies disability inclusive.

Increase amount allocated in the Service Innovation Fund (SIF) under the Government’s Access to Information Programme to enable State-led technological advancements that would allow improved accessibility to information and communication for PWDs.

Develop institutes for development and training on sign language for trainers, interpreters and teachers pursuant to Articles 9 (2)(e)(g)(h), and 21(b).

Reasonable accommodation under Section 2(14) of the 2013 Act must be understood in the light of Article 2 of the CRPD with attention given to four key points: [7]

  • unobstructed reach to accessibility features
  • entry into a disabled friendly accessible area
  • circulation of exterior or interior way of passage from one place to another for disabled pedestrians including walkways, hallways, stairways and stair landings
  • use of disabled friendly accessibility features) [8].

 

[1] An ‘Officer in Charge’ is a ‘Designated Officer’ who according to Section 10 (2) of the RTI Act 2009, is an officer appointed by any authority/organization under the RTI Act for providing information according to the provisions of the Act.
[2] BLAST And Another Vs. Bangladesh And Others [‘Building Construction Code And Worker Safety’ Case]. Writ Petition No. 718. 2008 : http://www.blast.org.bd/issues/231
[3] NGDO, NCDW and BLAST, (2013). Consolidated Report 7 FGDS. Producing the CRPD Shadow Report to bring about a greater engagement by the State and key social actors to the recognition of disability rights in Bangladesh. Dhaka, pp.10 -11 (on file)
[4] NGDO, NCDW and BLAST, (2013). Consolidated Report 7 FGDS. Producing the CRPD Shadow Report to bring about a greater engagement by the State and key social actors to the recognition of disability rights in Bangladesh. Dhaka, pp.10 -11 (on file).
[5] NGDO, NCDW and BLAST, (2013). Consolidated Report 7 FGDS. Producing the CRPD Shadow Report to bring about a greater engagement by the State and key social actors to the recognition of disability rights in Bangladesh. Dhaka, pp.10 -11 (on file).
[6] Production of accessible reading materials for the students with print disability of class 1 to class-10 through DAISY standard: http://isif.asia/projects/projects/view/625
[7] Singapore, B. (2013). Code on Accessibility in the Built Environment 2013. [online] Available at: http://www.bca.gov.sg/BarrierFree/others/ACCESSIBILITY_CODE_2013.pdf [Accessed 04 Jan. 2015].
[8] Humanrights.gov.au, (2015). The good, the bad and the ugly – design and construction for access. [online] Available at: https://www.humanrights.gov.au/publications/good-bad-and-ugly-design-and-construction-access-0 [Accessed 04 Jan. 2015].

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