According to a report on physical accessibility to selected public and private institutions released in 2017, people with disabilities (PWDs) are faced with difficulty in accessing most buildings, both public and private thereby excluding and marginalising them from service delivery.
The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) published the report following an assessment of buildings which include banks, hospitals, the high courts and Parliament.
It shows that majority of the buildings do not have ramps, designated parking yard and hand rails to ease movement of PWDs.
Consequently PWDs through their representatives have asked the government and investors to consider remodeling buildings to make them accessible.
According to the Building Control Act 2013 and National Physical Accessibility Standards and Requirements, buildings should have the possibility for any person to reach a place, manoeuver within it, use a service, participate in activities provided in a public place; with dignity, independence and safety on an equal basis with others.
This entails providing signage, gazzeted parking, ramps, handrails, squat toilets with grab bars and tactile markers to accommodate people with disability.
However, some investors say provision of all these requirements simply increases construction costs which does not make economic sense. While others have very small spaces that cannot accommodate the required standards.
“The time we planned to construct our commercial properties some people never considered provision for people with disabilities and now it is becoming a challenge as we fail to attract people to rent them,” David Kanago, a property owner says.
Kanago recommends that property owners should modify their properties to comply with the Building Control Act 2013 and National Physical Accessibility Standards and Requirements.
One way of complying with the act is by adapting universal design. Universally designed features are those that are comfortably useable by all people, not just people with disabilities.
This design incorporates features that are also universally useable such as lowered light switches or levered door knobs.
Alternatively property owners can construct adaptable properties where these features can be easily added or removed depending on the individual’s needs.
Due to their easily altered quality, adaptable features give both the owner and the tenant more flexibility. For example some buildings have the provision of lifts which makes them accessible by people without disability.
Dealing with descrimination
Patrick Ntungo, the male pwd counciller in Fort Portal Town, Kabalore District, decries properties that house banks, bars, shops among others that operate in storeyed buildings that do not provide accessible features for PwDS.
“Two years ago, I went to a bank in Fort Portal and was denied access because the banking hall then had no ramps at the entrance. I brought this problem to the manager’s attention and in two weeks they had put a ramp. I was forced to close my account with another bank because they failed to provide me with easy access,” Ntungo shares.
Section 26 of the Persons with Disability Act 2006 says that a building must be accessible to all PWDs. If the building or facility is not accessible because of design it is the responsibility of the provider to give an alternative method to make the building or facility accessible.
According to Uganda National Action on Physical Disability (UNAPD) every building should meet certain standards such as:
The ramp should be located in the continuation of the accessible pathway leading to the entrance, stairs and it should be constructed adjacent to the ramps because some persons with disabilities prefer to use the stairs rather than ramps depending on their ability and handrails on both sides of the ramps to avoid risks of falls.
Barrier free entrance
Entrances to buildings should be placed in a logical relationship within the routes that serve them and should be connected with an accessible pathway, accessible indoor, outdoor and parking area.
The step rise and the step run should be in different contrasting colours, to enable persons with low vision identify one step from the other and should be constructed adjacent to the ramps because some persons with disabilities prefer to use the stairs rather than ramps depending on their ability and it should be hard and non-slippery.
Doors in public spaces should be designed to allow free passage of a wheelchair user or operation by one person in a single motion with little effort.
What to do
Toilets should be designed in such a way that they can easily be used by persons with disabilities. At least two toilets (males/females) in every public/private building should be provided specifically for PWDs. Doors should be outward opening for a clear floor space in the toilet room.
In buildings with three floors and more, it is recommended to have at least one lift, which can be used at every floor even if the floors are at underground level and lifts should be connected with accessible pathways. There should be no steps without ramps from outside the entrance to the lift.
According to construction engineer Everisto Nduhura, a standard building depends on the house plan, the purpose and occupants of the property. “The costs of putting ramps, stairs, handlers among others to enable PWDs access premises is added after completing the house plan,” Nduhura explains. He notes that it is difficult to put up ramps or lifts in a building whose original design or plan did not include them.