Sunday, September 18, 2011

PUTTING HEART INTO THE ART: A Rights Based Barrier Free Community

Last July, I got an email from Lantawan Magazine's editor- in-chief, Archt. Bela Lanyi, SVD telling me that University Of San Carlos' Department of Languages is asking if they can publish an article I wrote 2 years ago (with Eugene yaoto) in an English text book. I said no.  KIDDING. WHAT AM I CRAZY? :)) Of course I said yes, I was so happy I ran straight to my parents room to proclaim the good news. Haha. I'm honored and hyped that a lot more students will get to read this article that I poured my soul into. Thank You, Lord. :) 

This article is about Designing for Persons with disabilities.  So here I am, sharing it with all of you. Some may find it candid, some naive, some just plain idealistic. But here's a piece of my heart that goes out to our  brothers and sisters who are physically deprived :)

(Thanks to Sam Despi, our beautiful layout artist, for sending me a copy of this article again. haha. You the best Sammie! :D )


2010 Cover

Like a paper tiger, the bahay kubo bravely folds out of the void, as if to challenge the sterotypes of native Filipino aesthetic as one of "horror vacui" or fear of empty spaces. In fact, its utter simplicity has more in common with Zen or modernist design, proof once again that distaste for clutter knows no borders.

Putting Heart into the Art
An advocacy for a Rights Based Barrier Free Community for Persons with Disabilities
By: Kathrynn Dawn Sy and Eugene Laurence Yaoto

Imagine traveling the world in alacrity, boldly breaking borders and discovering fresh ideas, reaching dreams and enjoying undisclosed havens. You’re just thrilled and thriving.

Then suddenly, you glance through a mirror, see a missing arm, discover an immobile pair of legs, a hearing aid,even ablurry reflection.The idea hits you—it’s not as easy as it seems.

Our ancestors found ways to reach far-flung places by building bridges, be it in the form of land bridges or boats. They discovered faster means of mobility shortly after.  But somewhere between the past and the present, along the highway towards urbanism and development, access became a problem. Ironically.

July ___,  2009. To our surprise, design class was cancelled. We heard it over the speakers.We had to be at the CAFA theatre to attend a talk about “People-Friendly Environments for an Inclusive Rights-Based Barrier Free Community for Persons with Disabilities(PWD).” Half curious and half skeptical, we went inside to check what it was about  with, frankly, an intention to make our exit and carry on with our design plate twenty minutes after.

We went inside and saw a slide onscreen but no one onstage. We scanned the place for a new face, a prospective speaker, and we beheld an intelligent and kind-looking woman in a wheelchair. She was Ms. Adela Kono, Vice-Chair of the Accessibility Monitoring Committee. Having spent half of her lifetime in a wheel chair, she’s an active accessibility specialist who believes in the worldwide disability movement’s motto:“Nothing about us without us.” To make the long story short, our skepticism, which continued on through halfway of her presentation,was slowly replaced by a burden. We found ourselves hanging on to the lady’s every word and every slide. Yes, we finished her presentation.

Building communities is a great honor bestowed on creators such as architects, engineers, and designers. Along with this is a sense of accountability for the safety and well-being of the inhabitants of our built environment, safety most especially for those who are already physically deprived.

Having been introduced to Batasang Pambansa 344 or the “Accessibility Law”  in our Professional Practice class, we were already aware of disabled persons’ needs and demands in so far as the practice of architecture is concerned.However, it wasn’t until that afternoon that we came to know how pressing and necessary it is to strictly yield to these demands and shed off little compromises as designers. We didn’t realize how strenuous and dangerous these small compromises are for PWDs until we actually heard it from them, elaborated and demonstrated down to the details.

 We have noticed that a lot of times, when designing structures with very limited areas, architects tend to shorten PWD entrance ramps, increasing the slope andmaking it difficult to access, lessen the toilet space, and forget about all the short access ramps that take PWDs from one storey/elevation/space to another.  Perhaps the reason that owners are hesitant to yield to these needs is that it takes a good deal of marketable space. Space, after all, is money.  Plus, it is not very aesthetically enhancing. But what is form, or in this case economics, without functionality?

To be honest, their needs are nothing too expensive, nothing hi-tech, nothing rocket-science. Their needs, however, still demand a lot of space and close attention for logistics: foot space, positioning of grab bars, distances and clearances to the .05m, height of switches and outlets, furniture and fixtures, parking spaces. It’s all just a matter of human rights, of putting heart into the art.

How can we think of comfort for usual people and not think of comfort for those who need it more? We truly need humane designers who will pay attention to the PWD’s most pressing needs and give some empathy in the service we call architecture, a call for relearning, an appeal for concerned professionals to put their knowledge in application.

Buildings are made for people, not the other way around.

That’s basic. Well, supposedly.

If designers were more humanitarian, more sensitive to the needs of others, then organizations such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities need not exist.

Disability is not a deficiency. It is a consequence. “It results from the interaction between persons with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others” (UNCRPD).

So you think your building is PWD-friendly? Below is a checklist, ten ways of checking if your building is barrier-free and universally accessible. Go over it. Pin it to your cork board. Attach it to your organizers. Whatever it takes. 

Be honest! 

(Checklist attached here, To see the chart checklist, get yourself a copy of the Lantawan Magazine 2010 back issue! :D )


Thanks again, Bro Bela for allowing me to write, Eugene for encouraging me to join, And Mrs Kono, our resource person.

To everyone from CAFA, you'd be amused to know that this article was cooked at the ACC (archtitecture computer center) one hectic deadline afternoon when the ACC was full! You know what that's like!:)) ) 

Meanwhile, This year's theme is "Nation Building" and I still haven't thought of a topic due one month ago. My brain cells are dead, I think it misses school. Oh no.

Later. :)


  1. That's something BIG! Congrats, Kath! You really deserve it! :)

  2. So sweet of you, Chyrel. Thank You :)

  3. I was also in the FIDA event. How come we never actually met if we were in the same place? :)

  4. haha idk. :)) I wasn't sure it was you mansad. If I did I would've said hi. :)


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