As part of its commitment to making its spaces more inclusive for Persons with Disabilities (PWD), the College of Development Communication (CDC) had installed a platform stairlift — the first of its kind not only among the colleges at the university, but in the whole UP System.

ACCESSING INCLUSIVITY. The recently installed CDC Stratos Platform Stairlift, the first platform stairlift in the UP system, provides easy access for PWDs to the second floor of the building.

Implementation long overdue

According to CDC Dean Maria Stella Tirol, the proposal of the platform stairlift has been in the works ever since the term of the previous college administration in 2016.

“This was proposed during the term of former (CDC) Dean Maria Theresa Velasco and because of the long process for bidding and procurement, it was only this year, 2023, when finally the electronic chairlift [platform stairlift] was installed,” Dean Tirol said.

Guided by the provisions of the Republic Act 7277, also known as the Magna Carta for Disabled Persons, CDC recognizes the needs of the PWD sector.

As stated in Section 25, Chapter VI of the act, the State must take steps to establish barrier-free spaces. Both public and private areas listed in Batas Pambansa Bilang 344, or the Accessibility Law, should be accessible to PWDs.

“This provided the rationale why CDC decided to install, hindi lang ‘yung [platform stairlift] mayroon din tayong ramp doon sa harapan,” Dean Tirol said.

The recently stationed equipment at the Department of Science Communication (DSC) wing of the CDC building is the Stratos Platform Stairlift manufactured and imported from Austria.

In a document provided by the University Planning and Management Office (UPMO) Architect William Jeffrey Rañola, the platform stairlift is deemed the most suitable among others as it was designed specifically to operate on curved stairs such as those inside the CDC building.

The Stratos has a maximum load capacity of about 300 kilograms, which can carry mobility devices such as wheelchairs, and is powered by batteries that allow it to recharge automatically on each landing area. With this, the equipment can still operate even without electricity.

Additionally, the platform stairlift comes with a remote that controls its movement as well as an emergency stop and alarm button. Two wireless controls are also mounted on the walls of each landing station to send the lift either at the ground level or above.

This recent development has not only been PWD-friendly, but has also catered to the increasing number of senior citizens among the staff in the College. However, there is no baseline data on the profile of the PWD community in the CDC that prompted the administration to install the equipment.

Experienced accessibility

Despite the lack of baseline data, efforts to install the platform stairlift was not just a mere compliance with RA 7277 but has also become an effective mobility instrument to its end users at the College.

Juvy Gopela, a PWD employee who works as a University Researcher for the CDC’s Department of Development Broadcasting and Telecommunication (DDBT), was the first to use the platform stairlift and has continued to do so ever since.

“Noong una, syempre, ay parang bago diba? Noong una nakakatakot ‘no, tapos makita mo naman dahan-dahan lang. Okay naman ‘yung experience ko,” Gopela said, recalling her initial impressions following the installation of the lift.

Due to Gopela’s poliomyelitis and mild stroke, which affected her mobility, her familiarity with how the platform works provided her the chance to move easily. It was as if her feet transports her to the second floor of the building where the DDBT offices are located.

She said that the only challenge she has encountered is riding the lift, “Yung pagsakay, siyempre dahan-dahan. Minsan kasi kailangan ibaba mo talaga ‘yung sakayan kasi minsan pagmamadali ko, hindi pa pala siya totally nakalapat.”

She believed that CDC made significant steps in promoting inclusivity through this development and saw the platform stairlift as a blessing in disguise.

Architect Rañola also shared the same sentiments when asked how he perceived the overall project. “Kahit saan ka pumunta, pwede mong ipagyabang na ang pinaka-unang platform [stair]lift ay nasa CDC,” he said.

With CDC starting to promote accessibility on the campus, he said that it influences the construction of  a conducive learning environment. PWDs will be given equal chances to pursue their academics through facilities that do not restrict them from reaching their full potential.

Development in hindsight

Building inclusive learning spaces means meeting the needs of every person involved in the learning process: the students, staff, and administration. In the absence of their collaboration, providing equal educational access to marginalized groups such as PWDs is impeded and eventually grows to a larger area of concern on inclusivity.

The UPMO has roughly estimated more than 10 buildings within the university that lack PWD ramps. Most of these include older buildings and those with rooms used for General Education courses.

Architect Rañola voluntarily designed and planned for the development of these ramps, including the budgetary cost estimate for handling. This endeavor was raised to the end-users and the administration and awaits approval for financing.

Other two-storey buildings like the CDC have also been recommended to set up platform stairlifts. Additionally, the office is currently working to install elevators in buildings that qualify to have one.

Rañola said that PWD inclusivity should be given the attention that it demands. He said that the UPMO has been taking the necessary measures to address this concern, but still depends on whether the administration will permit these plans.

Hindi naman pwedeng balewalain mo sila. Bilang part of the community, hindi natin sila pwedeng pabayaan kasi tao rin sila. Dapat mayroon din silang proper attention na ibinibigay sa kanila,” Architect Rañola said.

The CDC recognized the necessity to provide additional programs other than infrastructural improvements in assisting the PWD community. However, there is still indeed a long road ahead for educational institutions to be fully inclusive.

Going beyond barriers

Materializing PWD inclusive learning spaces requires effective planning, design, and implementation. Funding continues to be a major demand, especially in carrying out plans such as installation of lifts and elevators among establishments across the campus.

It’s a matter of implementation, it’s a matter of money. It really depends on the priorities,” Rañola said.

In August 2022, the National Expenditure Program (NEP) of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) proposed the 2023 budget which allotted a total forecast of P21 Billion, less than half of the P44 Billion budget that the UP administration proposed. The cuts in the budget were deemed to greatly impact the UP system’s infrastructure projects for 2023.

Furthermore, there is still a lack of baseline data on the PWD community on campus to ground the implementation of programs that heed their demands. Accordingly, there is pressure on the administration to evaluate the overall learning needs of UPLB students.

The CDC administration begins to conform to this need: “We have to start from the baseline. Specifically for the college, we need to do a survey not only for the PWDs, but for the overall criteria for inclusivity in terms of learning for the students. Siguro ayun ang ipa-priotitize namin,” Dean Tirol said.

Development cannot be spoken of if there are sectors still marginalized. There is certainly no community too small for their struggles to be left at the seams. (Mary Antonie Joan Alberto and Raven Victoria Lucero)