Accessibility in daily life is at the core of this year's theme for World Standards Day - ‘Standards make the world accessible for all’. Accessibility is increasingly a vital issue as the number of older persons and persons with restricted ability increases towards 20%. For them, as well as for the able-bodied, access to information and communication is an inherent right, as is the ability to access a building or a toilet, use an elevator or safely turn on and use a device.
Anybody at any stage in life can experience temporarily reduced accessibility. When that happens, simple everyday activities should never become complicated or a safety hazard.
Advantages would also be felt by pregnant women, children, those carrying heavy luggage and pushing infants in prams as well as those temporarily debilitated.
|Dr. Ajith C. S. Perera
Standards make the world accessible for all. The International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO), International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and International Electro-technical Commission (IEC) are the three partners of World Standards Cooperation (WSC).
They coordinate their work to review and examine the standards needed, helping designers, manufacturers, policy makers and end-users to make the world safer and more accessible for all, today and tomorrow.
For example the Standard ISO/IEC 10779:2008 offers guidelines for making IT office equipment friendlier for the elderly and disabled.
Our own standard in building construction SLS ISO TR 9527:2006 provides design guidelines enabling the disabled not only to make full use of premises and facilities in daily life but also to be active partners in national development.
ISO 9001:2008 international standard specifies generic requirements which are intended to be applicable to all organizations regardless of type, size and product or service provided.
It provides guidelines for an organization to demonstrate its ability consistently to provide products or services to meet customer and regulatory requirements.
For these to be meaningful, establishing accessibility to buildings and facilities become imperative. Hence in the greater national interest, in awarding ISO 9001:2008 recognition to organisations, accessibility should be an essential necessity.
Nationally recognised and internationally accepted standards when implemented rightly contribute significantly towards making ‘accessibility work equally for everyone’ in all these key areas.
This in turn would enable individuals to reach their full productive potential, minimise unwanted dependency and thereby reduce colossal waste- economically and socially while promoting physical and psychological wellbeing.
It was inspirational for me to witness how little changes in designs bring significant improvements to accessibility and how this has empowered people so as to dispel disability, diminish frustration, transform thought processes and lifestyle and ‘enable’ not only paraplegics worse than me but even quadriplegics with enhanced quality of daily life.
Assistive technology-based products and services have surfaced to add value to the quality of daily life despite restricted abilities.
They have the potential to enable the disabled and elderly, even the housebound, enhance their education and awareness, circumvent physical barriers, enable them to work productively even from home, enable buying, selling and paying utility bills, secure transmission and transaction banking services, add quality to daily functioning, networking to keep actively in touch with friends, family and others who have mobility difficulties, entertain them and thereby maintain independence.
Benefits of International Standards
International Standards are drafted adhering to specific rules. They ensure environments; technology, products, services and systems are cost-effective and time efficient, commercially viable, and consistently perform the way they were intended to. They include safety considerations, ergonomics and harmonized test methods all geared to increase everybody’s access to structures, technology, services and products.
- A properly designed ramp will be really useful for a new mother with a baby carriage.
- A device with a large switch makes things easier for someone with an injured hand.
- A sensor stopping doors from closing could prevent accidents when a back injury impairs movement.
- The little dot above the number 5 on a phone keypad makes it easier to find numbers – a boon in the first days after an eye operation.
Implementation – whose
Sri Lanka Standards Institution (SLSI) is the recognised National Standards Body (NSB) and sole member body from Sri Lanka in ISO. However, SLSI is not and cannot be the enforcement and implementation body.
In the greater national interest, standards vital in daily life should be called into our legislation and compliance made compulsory. They should also more often be incorporated into legal contracts.
Exactly a year ago, the Supreme Court has also given an order (Ref: SCFR: 221/2009) to make compliance mandatory for all new public buildings and facilities. Engineers, architects, investors, respective ministries, authorities and departments, businessmen, etc as well as all end-users have the social responsibility, moral duty and legal obligation to ensure they enforce compliance with the right design standards correctly.
Verification and validation is necessary to ensure a building, product, service, or system meets design standards and fulfils its intended purpose. It also prevents waste of country’s resources. These are in fact two critical steps of a quality management system as ISO 9001:2008.
For meaningful results validation should be performed by a competent outside party having wide practical knowledge and proven good understanding of the intricacies.
A classic example here is in establishing accessibility at new public buildings. Design standards for building construction should be implemented rightly to meet the overall needs and safety of the widest possible range of people having diverse ability. Before the issue of ‘certificate of conformance’ such validation is an imperative national need. Also for a meaningful classification of our hotels, this must be an essential prerequisite.
No doubt the measures highlighted in this article in the national interest, when adopted rightly, will form steps towards continual improvement of effectiveness even the ISO 9001:2008 standard is concerned about.
(The writer, the chief executive of IDIRIYA, is a pioneer voluntary campaigner promoting accessibility to buildings and assistive technology.)