India: Government Releases Revised Universal Accessibility Guidelines

Asia-Pacific, Built Environment, January 10 2022

From the design plan to the implementation, various aspects of the built environment have been covered under the new guidelines for universal accessibility recently drafted by the Centre.

The Central Public Works Department (CPWD) released the Harmonised Guidelines and Standards for Universal Accessibility in India 2021 through its website in December 2021. However, an official associated with the project said a few minor tweaks were pending. The guidelines are a revision of the Harmonised Guidelines and Space Standards for Barrier-Free Built Environment for Persons with Disabilities and Elderly Persons released by the CPWD, under the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) in February 2016.

Drafted by a team of the Indian Institute of Technology-Roorkee and the National Affairs of the MoHUA, the revised guidelines aim to give a holistic approach. Professor Gaurav Raheja of IIT-Roorkee, who was the principal investigator and consultant of the project, said the biggest change lies in the name.

“Earlier, the guidelines were for creating a barrier-free environment, but now we are focusing on universal accessibility,” Prof. Gaurav Raheja told The Hindu.

The guidelines say ramps are extremely crucial for providing an accessible mobility option, but it is equally important to understand that ramps have to adhere to given guidelines. The guidelines provide the gradient and length of ramps — for example, for a length of six metres, the gradient should be 1:12. The minimum clear width of a ramp should be 1,200 mm, the guidelines say.

The guidelines are not just for Institute of Urban persons with disabilities (PwD), but for those involved in planning projects, from the construction of government buildings to master-planning cities, Prof. Raheja said. While making public buildings and transport fully accessible for wheelchair users is covered in the guidelines, other users who may experience temporary problems have also been considered. For instance, a parent pushing a child’s pram while carrying groceries or other bags, and women wearing saris.

“Built environment needs for accessibility for women should consider diverse age groups, diverse cultural contexts and diverse life situations in which women operate. Diverse forms of clothing (saris, salwar-kameez, etc.) and footwear (heels, kolhapuri chappals, etc.) require a certain orientation to built environment elements and their detailing,” the guidelines said, citing the example of uniform and low kerb heights.

The guidelines call for accessibility symbols for PwD, family-friendly facilities and transgender to be inclusively incorporated among the symbols for other user groups. The guidelines are meant for State governments, government departments and the private sector, as well as for reference by architecture and planning institute.

Originally Published in The Hindu.

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