Report of the 3-day workshop
This workshop led by Samarthyam, National Centre for Accessible Environments, Delhi based organization's access experts Ms. Anjlee Agarwal, Mr. Ashwani Kumar and Mr. Debabrata Chakravarti.
Starting from basic concepts about what defines a barrier free environment, as an environment in which people can participate in ways that are equitable, dignified, maximize independence, conserve energy and are safe and affordable; and to who benefits from such environments not just disabled people, but everyone, including people with reduced mobility due to temporary ailments or senior citizens, pregnant women, people with heavy luggage, families with children; and access is not just having ramps or accessible toilets but it is about the diverse needs of all people including those with reduced mobility or disabilities. This section of the workshop tried to break myths and beliefs using dynamic simulation exercises of a blind fold walk around the Town hall!
The second section started from the Universal Design (UD) concept as the design of products and environment to be used by all people to the greatest extent possible without the need for adaptation or specialized design i.e. not to do a design and then change it later on, when so much more energy and effort would be needed, but to think of a design that fits all, from the very beginning/planning stage the UD considerations and guidelines would have to be applied to all places within buildings steps, ramp, floors, lifts, toilets, signages, etc besides the external environment here, the cycle paths of Auroville were much appreciated, but the need to widen the gates was mentioned, as wheelchair users cannot access these paths easily.
Visit to the Matrimandir area
The third aspect of the workshop focused on the process of Access Audit which was defined as a survey tool to identify barriers within a building and outside also. Giving assessment from which initial suggestions can be done and using these suggestions from the report, specific people can be involved in the design modification of the building. Audit covers accessibility to the building from outside pathways, parking places, lighting, signages, etc; entry to the building itself and within the building steps, thresholds, doors, seating, lighting, floor surfaces, levels, handles, staircases, toilets, washrooms, eating spaces, safety measures for emergency situations, help facilities for assistance in a building.
When audit gets done to a completed building, then all the suggestions may not be possible to apply due to structural limitations; plus the costs will become much higher than if such suggestions were incorporated in the planning of the building. Also in the former case, prioritization of changes to a completed building will have to be done and for this, the professional services of an access consultant becomes necessary. It is a myth that accessibility is an expensive add-on' but if incorporated into the design/planning stage, it only is 1-2% of the total project cost.
Visit to Sadhana Forest
The team went to visit different places in Auroville like Bharat Nivas, Savitri Bhavan, Sadhana Forest and Matrimandir and in each of these places appreciated the different details, but also offered valid and pertinent suggestions as part of their access audit exercise. The fact that the Government of India has brought out various laws and regulations for building guidelines regarding accessibility, it was urged by the Samarthyam team that it would be best if Auroville could also develop its own guidelines (some Codes on essential accessible elements in the buildings) in the near future.
That Auroville is envisaged as a city with a universal philosophy that encompasses all aspects of society and culture, having an environment accessible to its entire people, is also part of the universal design concept including people who have reduced mobility due to various reasons or with specific disabilities. Also physical barriers can always be removed or changed, but the main blockages from mental barriers through our own attitudes are what we will have to address before looking at the physical barriers to asses our own sensitivities to barriers.
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