Barrier-Free City
PERSPECTIVE - Cherry Piquero Ballescas (The Freeman) - July 24, 2014 - 12:00am

It is everyone's dream to reside in a livable city- where basic needs are sustainably provided for and where public services are readily accessible and affordable. "Peace and quiet and open air wait for us, somewhere..." goes the song, but who does not want to be in a place that allows one to be human, to be free, regardless of diversity?

Plans and policies, however, forget about diversities of people and communities. Often, the special needs of special vulnerable groups are not given attention or priority. Women, children, the elderly, the people with disabilities and the poor need urgent sensitive policies and responses. To date, however, the challenge is to mainstream their needs in law, in policy, and in implementation. Consulting and including them as well for plans and policy directions still need to be practiced more.

The passage of the Barrier-Free Tourism Ordinance, the first ever in the country, opens the doors and paths wide for PWDs, including short people, to have better access to places that previously posed so much hurdle for them. These special people will, hopefully, not have to negotiate difficult steps and pathways in public areas.

Hopefully, even public transport will make provisions to make their steps easily accessible to people with special needs. For example, while most commuters step into buses and jeepneys without difficulty, the small people have difficulty daily just to get into public vehicles. We look forward to one-step public transport that will be friendly to these people, including the elderly, children, and the pregnant women.

The barrier-free transport ordinance requires commercial establishments as well to provide friendly access to these special people (with tax incentives) or else face penalty and fines and non-issuance of business and building permits.

The intention is not just to attract more tourists to come to Cebu City but as Councilor Alvin Dizon posted, "the Barrier-Free Tourism Ordinance is our humble contribution in helping Cebu become a barrier-free city and a livable city. More importantly, the approval of the ordinance is a victory for all PWDs and the elderly."

Adela Kono, in behalf of the Organization of Rehabilitative Advocates for Inclusion also posted "Truly grateful to God for giving this advocacy the support of Hon. Councilor Alvin Dizon and his very efficient staff, Ms. Ailee Tejano and Ms. Shyne Alexis Montecillo Embalzado, Hon. Margot Osmeña, Vice-Mayor Labella, AMC-Chair Engr. Josefa Ylanan and Architect  Flo Catalan of OBO, the Dept. of Tourism, and the Cebu City Tourism Commission. Thanks to them, I have great hope that barrier-free and INCLUSIVE TOURISM for Cebu will soon be a reality."

Councilor Dizon also shared the news about the visit to his office of the members of Cebu's deaf community represented by the Gualandi Volunteer Service Programme and the Cebu Gualandi Association of the Deaf to express their gratitude to the members of the Cebu City Council after the local legislative body passed a resolution requesting the Senate to consider the proposed Senate Bill No. 2117 known as "The Filipino Sign Language Act in Broadcast Media 2014" as a priority legislative measure and to work towards the immediate passage of the bill.

Councilor Dizon, the proponent of the resolution, also encouraged all television stations within Metro Cebu to provide Filipino sign language insets or closed captions or subtitles during their newscast programs for the benefit of those with hearing impairments. "This measure aims to strengthen the PWDs' right to information by making mass media more accessible to them. There is a need to build a safer and more inclusive society for the Filipino deaf community as well," Dizon said.

He also shared data from the World Health Organization which show that the prevalence of disabling hearing loss in children is greatest in South Asia, Asia Pacific and Sub-Saharan Africa, with the Asia Pacific as the region with the second highest incidence next to South Asia. In the Philippines, 1.23% of the entire population is either deaf, mute, or hearing- impaired. As of 2009, the projected deaf population is already at 241,624 for those who are totally deaf, and 275,912 for those who are partially deaf. That means that at least 517,536 people currently have very limited access to media and information because of their hearing impairedness.

So much more to do for so many in our city, our country, our world. However, small significant steps such as the Barrier-Free Tourism Ordinance and the proposed Filipino Sign Language Act in Broadcast Media 2014 will be very positive steps to address the needs of our PWDs who equally deserve to enjoy their lives in a livable city, like everyone else.

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