Friday, 29 June 2012

Whither universal design ?

Times of India, June 30 2012

Two  words  I have been hearing a lot of late have been  `universal design', which encompasses other phrases such as `accessibility' and `barrier-free environments', which I have been concerned with especially after I started having to use a wheelchair for most activities needing my moving around a bit. The fact that my extended family includes a large number of architects had ensured that I had heard of the `National Institute of Design' at Ahmedabad as being the Mecca for design of various sorts. Also contributing to this knowledge was the fact that a close family friend for several decades had been the late Dashrath Patel, the first director of design education at NID.

A few weeks ago, I  heard about a fellow wheelchair-user who had applied for and been selected for the Graphic Design course `under PH category'. Although the institute recognised the existence of such a `PH category', its designers do not seem to have done so. Going by the description one finds in the blog maintained by Vishal, our would-be designer on a wheel-chair, most of the classrooms as well as the rooms in the boys' hostel are on the 1st, 2nd or 3rd floors; and the main buildings  have no elevators. To be fair to our designers, they apparently do have some ramps  on the ground floor, but they seem to have decided that nobody in a wheel-chair would need to go any higher!

Before dashing off a `fire-and-brimstone' article to ToI, I thought I should discreetly check with Vishal about his subsequent experiences with NID, and learnt of the refreshingly encouraging reception Vishal seems to have been receiving from the administration; they have already built some ramps in the hostel and campus areas; they have commenced building a room in the hostel for people like Vishal; they have identified a place where a new elevator will be built. It is only fitting that NID should lead by example  for others to follow.

Not everybody is as lucky as Vishal. In fact, not long before  I  first heard about Vishal and NID, I had also heard about a visually impaired person studying Computer Science in an Engineering College affiliated to Anna University, Chennai, being told by the University officials that technical professional courses like engineering are not for visually challenged people and asked to go out of the college without spoiling the results of the college. I would be very surprised if his college in Erode was anywhere near as sympathetic as NID.

Let me conclude with this amusing tidbit, that people like Vishal need to pull their weight to make a reality before long: (I hear he has already started in the right direction and is preparing to start an NGO called `Give some space'! You can find more about it at

The `Guidelines and Space Standards for Barrier Free Built Environment for Disabled and Elderly People' prepared by the Central Public Works Department, Ministry of Urban Affairs and Employ- ment, India, 1998, says, among other things, that:

The scope and responsibilities which have been identified in various organisations will include the following:


 There should be a conscious attempt of all educationists to develop young architects/planners with an awareness of creating barrier free environment for physically handicapped.

A detail design exercise should be carried out in all schools of Architecture in their curricula as an essential subject of architecture education.

(Note: I have taken the liberty to edit the italicised lines above, merely to conform to the King's English.)

1 comment:

  1. Dear Sir,

    I am an architect from Pune ( Maharashtra ) and also have completed my M.A. in Archaeology from Deccan College , Pune. I am interested in pursuing research in the following topics : 1 ) How persons with disabilities perceive and experience heritage buildings and sites ? 2) How can the interpretation and experience of heritage spaces be enhanced for persons with disabilities by creating enabling environments ? May i request you to please share your thoughts and experiences related experiencing historical / heritage sites and buildings and the challenges faced while doing so. Thanks and regards. Kavita Murugkar