A GNA feature article by Sumaiya Salifu Saeed .
“Some of these ramps are simply death traps,” Patience Atuah, a physically challenged journalist with the EIB Network echoes responses of many People living With Disabilities (PWDs) on wheelchair access to public places with ramps.
Making public places accessible to every individual, irrespective of one’s physical appearance or special needs, ensuring wheelchair user integration and granting PWDs opportunity of participating in daily activities goes a long way to ensuring equality and inclusiveness.
In many countries, wheelchair ramps and other features that facilitate universal access are required for building permits when constructing new facilities which are open to the public.
Internationally, the United Nations Convention on Persons with Disability mandates nations to take action to enable persons with disabilities to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life.
Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) eleven seeks to ensure that cities and human settlements are inclusive, safe and sustainable. Among others requirements, Member States are mandated to provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, particularly for PWDs.
A tour of the two-storey Volta Regional Coordinating Council (VRCC) to ascertain its accessibility showed that the Council has still not worked on the structure into a disability friendly one, two years after the expiration of the moratorium captured in section 60 of the Persons with Disability Act 715 of 2006, was passed in 2006 with the aim of ending discrimination against Persons with Disability (PWD).
The moratorium gave a 10-year grace period for all existing public places to be made accessible to PWDs.
At the entrance to the main building housing the various offices and departments under the Council, one will find a ramp which is supposedly meant to be used by PWDs.
The Council’s conference room and other auxiliary offices are housed on the first floor while the Regional Coordinating Director, Deputy Minister and Regional Minister are on the second floor. Both floors have narrow stairways making it difficult for PWDs to access upper floors for any business.
An incident happened on the 28th of June, 2017, when the then Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection, Madam Otiko Afisa Djaba paid a working visit to the Region and had to meet with PWDs and some NGOs at the VRCC Conference Hall which was on the first floor.
At the end of the meeting, the PWD groups that came around could neither participate nor meet their sector Minister because the wheel chair and white cane users could not access the hall. There are no lifts, ramps or handrails to carry them up the stairs! Some people offered to carry them at their backs to the hall which they rightly declined!
The United Nations Charter, 1945 states that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and in rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood”. Therefore they found it demeaning and undignified to be carried by their fellow ‘men’ to meet with the Minister.
In an interview with Mr Felix Chaahah, Regional Director, VRCC, he alluded to the fact that the building as an old structure did not factor in PWDs and the aged. He said though the building was inaccessible
with ramps for PWDs and some vulnerable in society, the Council had put up a Client Service Office on the ground floor to deal with the shortfall.
Mr Chaahah was hopeful “with funding in the near future”, the Council would commission engineers to relook the building. He also made mention of the ramp, which obviously does not meet the standards of the Ghana Standards Authority.
Ironically, at the Judicial Service Court Complex in Ho, which houses High and Circuit courts, only one short narrow ramp is found at the many entrances to the building.
The single storey complex has narrow stairways making it very disability unfriendly. It leaves one to wonder how PWDs who have to make it to the courts get there and whether or not they commit contempt should they fail to make it to the court rooms. Same can be said for the Municipal and Regional Police Headquarters.
A few new and old buildings in the regional capital have ramps, but are done haphazardly, which Patience described as death trap ramps.
According to the GSA Building and Construction Materials- Accessibility Standard for the Built Environment guiding document, the goal of the Standard was to contribute to universal accessibility in the built environment.
The document says the built environment in Ghana is not barrier-free to allow for easy and safe movement, function and access for all, regardless of age, sex or condition but fact is, today, “Accessibility for All” is recognized as a basic necessity with attempts all over the world to achieve such objective.
It must be said that making public places accessible to PWDs and the vulnerable in society goes beyond ramps. It covers everything from exterior to interior areas. But for the sake of this article, I will touch on the exterior areas (ramps and guards and handrails). This is because once the building is inaccessible; its offices will also not meet the criteria.
In an interaction with Mr Francis Asong, Executive Director, Voice Ghana, a disability NGO, he observed that most public places with ramps are “terribly dangerous” and short of standards.
The ramps are steep, narrow with smooth surfaces which make them very unfriendly to people with disabilities and the vulnerable. Surprisingly, many of them are without handrails or guards.
Handrails and guards are used interchangeably as they both provide a handhold on a platform, walkway, stairway or step ladder to help with stability so people do not slip or misplace their footing and fall down the stairs.
They must be strong enough to resist breaking if a person falls or leans on it. It should be provided on either side of a ramp or stairway wherever three or more steps are provided and must be no more than 50mm in diameter and mounted between 865mm and 965 mm above stair nosing.
The rails should also terminate either by turning down or by going into a wall as an aid to persons with visual limitations.
The GSA says ramp or wheelchair ramp is an inclined plane that can be used instead of stairs by wheelchair and it’s advisable that wherever the gradient was more than 1:20, ramps should be provided with the following criteria;
Ramps must be no steeper than 1:12, with individual ramp sections no longer than 9m. (Meaning if the height of the ramp is one foot or one metre, the length of the ramp must be twelve feet or twelve metres). This allows for the gradient or slope to be gentler).
Ramps widths should be a maximum of 1100mm and a recommended minimum of 1015mm between handrails to allow persons using mobility aids to move easily and to grasp handrails if required.
Where ramps are required for use by persons with visual limitations only, ramps up to 1525mm are preferred in order to allow space for a companion or guide dog.
These among others are listed as the standards for developing disability friendly facilities.
Some PWDs commended the management of the Ho Technical University, GCB Bank Limited and the Sonrise Senior High School for standardizing a major part of their institutions for PWDs and special beneficiaries. SG-SSB, the NIB and a good number of hotels in town are least accessible.
So what is preventing physical planners from incorporating these into the building plans? One would ask.
Some officials at the local Assemblies say inadequate funds are the topmost reason for the lack of incorporation. But it is worth stating that many, including Planning Officers have little or no idea on standards and requirements regarding construction of ramps.
This calls for the orientation of Planning Officers on the importance of making public places accessible to all by designing facilities with ramps and other disability friendly fittings that meet international standard and requirement.
Non-governmental organization with focus on inclusiveness must ensure that local Assemblies and government institutions make their facilities accessible.
They must also ensure that the Assemblies decline or revoke building permits for public facilities without accessibility features.
Lawyer Andrews Adugu of the Attorney General’s Department in Ho in an interview said, “the law is not automatic, someone will need to test it” if these public places still refuse to conform.