September 29, 2023


The public criticism emanating from the installation of hazard guides for the blind and vision-impaired on city sidewalks because of the perceived dangers it may cause when people step on them has brought to the fore the value of prior consultation and proper information in order to avoid, if not minimize the backlash from implementing projects that are supposed to aid people with disabilities, especially if these are relatively new to the public.
This is not the first time that PWDs complained about inappropriate facilities installed in government or private buildings and in public areas around the city. Several years ago, wheelchair-bound individuals said that inside City Hall, the incline of the ramps were a little steep necessitating the need to exert more effort when going up. They are also at risk of falling facedown from their wheelchairs because of gravity when they go down a building. Those in crutches also complained that the ramps were slippery.
On our streets, the blind and vision-impaired also have to contend walking on sidewalks blocked by parked cars and other obstruction that tend to disorient them.
These situations are just some of the struggles that the PWDs face everyday for most of their lives. There are not enough facilities in government and private buildings, public spaces, and inside our homes that would have made it easier for them to move around or perform their tasks with less help from able individuals.
In an effort to be inclusive, the city go-vernment has proposed to the Department of Public Works and Highways that in the repaving of sidewalks, hazard guides for the differently-abled should be installed.
But the result although appreciated, was met with criticism. The association of differently-abled said the members should have been consulted so they could suggest an appropriate design or they could at least inform their members that Baguio’s sidewalks have features that can aid the differently-abled.
Concerned officials and the PWDs both have valid reasons and there is no point in debating on who is right or wrong.
The lack or absence of consultation is not the only concern here but the issue exposes the lack of knowledge of the use of devices or facilities meant to aid the differently-abled.
If not for the complaints raised on the slippery hazard guides, many would not have known that these tactile tiles are not mere designs on the sidewalk.
The reality is that for many decades, the PWDs were the ones adjusting to an environment designed primarily for people with complete faculties. This is a sad reality, as society should adjust to the needs of PWDs, and not the other way around.
Look at how people use the blue lanes. Sadly, it’s the able individuals who cross these lanes most of the time, not the senior citizens and PWDs.
Using facilities meant for the PWDs and senior citizens only shows that we as a nation either ignore or are not fully aware of the rights and of our responsibilities to the differently-abled. We are behind in so many aspects even if we claim we are a highly-educated nation.
If an audit were done nationwide, it will clearly show that only a few areas have facilities for the differently-abled. Likewise, only a few employ people with disabilities, resulting in them taking odd jobs or for this sector to be classified as one of the poorest in the country.
This is despite the presence of laws such as the Magna Carta for PWDs and our being a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Disabled which mandate the government to have policies geared towards promoting their welfare.
Decades have passed since the passage of these laws to include the National Building Code, and expanded benefits for the disabled but full realization of its benefits to the sector most in need has yet to be achieved.
It is about time we change our mindset. Being compassionate to those in the vulnerable sector, such as the differently-abled should not be limited to physically assisting them, but providing them with all interventions that will make them self-reliant resulting in their integration into mainstream society.