Cambodia’s large community of people with disabilities is hoping that a draft law due for debate in the National Assembly will result in an improvement in their quality of life
Ngin Saorath (right) accompanies Eang Chan Dara as he negotiates the wheelchair-friendly access ramp at the new Ministry of Social Affairs building.
Cambodia's building access codes may soon be changed in an effort to provide equal access to public buildings for people with disabilities.
If passed, the draft law - due to be debated before the National Assembly later this month - has the potential to impact on the property management and construction industries in the Kingdom.
The draft law would require the provision of access for disabled people to all public places.
The requirements would apply to all buildings and premises that are open to the general public, including buildings already in use, as well as those yet to be constructed.
A range of benefits would flow from the implementation of the legislation, said Disability Action Council Executive Director Thong Vinal. The private sector would benefit from incentive investment and tax deductions and get quality and capable employees, he said.
Paul Clements, chief operating officer with ANZ Royal Bank in Cambodia, said ANZ Royal adopted ANZ Group policy in its property standards.
"Accordingly, where we are building new or redeveloping old sites, we are ensuring we cater for disabled customers and future disabled staff," Mr Clements said.
"For example, ANZ Royal is completing a new office and branch at Tuol Kork which is expected to be completed by August.
"At a cost to ANZ Royal directly, we are paying for the cost of the lift services which will assist customers and staff access the various floors."
Ngin Saorath, Executive Director of the Cambodian Disabled People's Organisation (CDPO), which helped put forward the draft legislation, said it was important to have full participation of people with disabilities in every sector.
"What we need is for people with disabilities not to have to live in isolation," he said.
95 percent of public buildings in the country have no disabled access.
The proposed law seeks rights for people with disabilities, including the right to hold a drivers' licence and the provision of disabled parking bays through a prakas from the ministry responsible for public works and transport.
Under the draft law, public places are defined as "areas, buildings, premises and transportation means owned by state, public or private entities which are open to general public such as ministries, departments, institutions, roads, resorts, cultural centres, sporting places, recreational places, educational establishment, hotels, hospitals, health centres, restaurants, transportation systems, etc".
Ngin Saorath said people with disabilities had been waiting a long time for the changes.
"In 1996, CDPO and other NGOs initiated this draft law, which was compiled from international law," he said.
"In 2001 the CDPO took the draft proposal to the Ministry of Social Affairs, who adjusted it to suit Cambodia's national laws. In 2005 the proposal was studied by the Economic, Social and Cultural Observation Unit to ensure it fit with a broad range of requirements."
The draft proposal was presented to the National Assembly for discussion last week, but has yet to be debated.
The new Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation building, which was opened on March 18 this year, set an exemplary standard for disabled access, with a ramp, handrails, an elevator and toilets with disability-friendly access.
However Ngin Saorath said accessibility for disabled people to buildings in Cambodia was still very low.
"Ninety-five percent of public buildings in the country have no disabled access," he said.
Hang Phyreak from Cambodian Architecture and Construction Company, who worked on the disability-friendly Epic Arts building in Kampot, said it was not difficult to make a fully accessible building, as the requirements were already well understood.
"It doesn't cost much, it just adds a little bit of cost in terms of materials," he said.
"Design can be a little bit extra but not much."