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Barrier-free environments for disabled and elderly women

In international forums, disabled and elderly women are often excluded, either because of ignorance or not counted at all. Statistically, the number of women with limited mobility is on the increase due to poverty (such as malnutrition), diseases, accidents, wars, physically harassed, and old age. The problem of limited mobility lies in the physical environments that are full of barriers, such as steps. Such environments inhibit them from moving around independently. Despite their disability and old age, many of them participate in outdoor social life and activities. Research indicates that, in general, women are users of a wider spectrum of the built environment. If the daily activity of men is usually one single trip (going to the workplace and returning home), women do multiple trips: bringing and collecting their children to and from school, accompanying their elderly parents to health centres, shopping, going to the bank and post office, visiting sick people, doing household work, and sometimes working to add to the household budget. These works are also done by women with limited personal mobility. An example is the steps in front of public buildings and public transport which obstruct their walking ability.
As a polio survivor, the conditions of the built environment not only limits, sometimes nullifies, my mobility, but also the chances to make significant progress which may enhance my quality of life. I live and have worked in Bandung, Indonesia. Since my parents passed away, I live by myself in our parental home (I have four siblings) and do many things by myself, even though at a slower pace compared with non-disabled women. I have an old helper who does the household chores that I am not able to do. Once outside the house, I use the service of motor-cyclists, who pass my house, to take me to the main road. There is a tariff for this service. This is followed by the use of a four-wheeled public transport. It is not advisable for me to sit on a motorcycle as I am not agile to sit behind the motorcyclist. Also, my back bone is not that strong which means that I have to embrace the male-driver firmly in order to sit stable. Many people are against this, but who will regularly take me to the main road. Fortunately, I have been brought up by my parents to be independent as much as I can. Once on the vehicular road, I stand and wait for the four-wheeled public transport. I have to sit in front of the vehicle as I am not able to enter the rear part. Accordingly, I have to wait many minutes until I see an empty seat next to the driver.
Waiting on a vehicular road outside the pavement is another challenge. The pavements are high without the construction of unobtrusive ramps. How can I go up the pavement with weak leg muscles and bones. Standing in such an unsafe spot means facing the risk of being hit by a vehicle. But my goal is to arrive at the intended place.
Another unavoidable barrier is the step(s). Worse is if handrails on both sides of the steps are not provided. I walk with a stick and sometimes wear a leg brace. I am a customer of two banks in the vicinity of my house. One of them pays off my monthly retirement fee (I retired from a government organization). At the entrance of both banks are staircases without handrails. If one step paralyzes me, the more so a staircase. Handrails are an inevitable help to move independently, although it remains difficult to go up the steps."Why are builders insensitive about the special need of people with limited mobility" has always been my obsessed question. When I go to the bank, I ask for human help to get me inside the building. But, asking the same persons for help is a nuisance. I loss the liberty to be myself, as I need to smile or show a friendly countenance, even if I don't want to.
Against the aforementioned backdrop, I strongly recommend the authorities enforcing the constitution about accessible buildings, public infrastructures, and public transport. Disabled and elderly women are in need of safe and convenient facilities. The next generation will appreciate and use the barrier-free environments created by the current government. This is sustainable development.
National leaders of Indonesia ratified the CPRD (Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (United Nations) in October 2011. This means that people with disabilities have the same rights in every area of life as the non-disabled people. Hence, creating accessible environments is mandatory.

Bandung, 30 May 2012
Inge Komardjaja

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