THE municipal government of Opol in Misamis Oriental received the prestigious International Association for Universal Design Award 2010 as being part of the Non-Handicapping Environment Project of Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) in partnership with the National Council on Disability Affairs (NCDA). The local government of New Lucena in Iloilo also received the same award.

The project was recognized for its outstanding achievement and contribution to the development, delivery, and dissemination of Universal Design. Opol Mayor Dexter B. Yasay received the grand award during the 3rd International Conference for Universal Design last Nov. 1 in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan.

The grand award was given to the most outstanding among the winners of the excellence award. It was the result of a rigorous evaluation process of large number of applications coming from both public and private individuals and organizations from all over the world. IAUD Awards are given to individuals and organizations for their outstanding achievements and contributions towards the realization of a Universal Design society in which as many people as possible can enjoy a meaningful and comfortable life free from inconveniences suffered due to differences in ethnic or cultural origin, customs, nationality, sex, age or capacity.

The Non-Handicapping Environment Project which started in October 2008 and will end on Sept. 12, 2012 aims to improve physical and social accessibility through the construction and renovation of public establishments and empowerment of PWDs. Creating physical environments barrier-free is based on the concept of “Universal Design”. Yasay said the Opol government, as one of the pioneering municipalities of the project, is determined to create a municipality free of physical and social barriers.

He said the local government has started rehabilitating public facilities to be accessible to PWDs. In fact, he added, the Opol Municipal Hall already has a ramp with handrail and an accessible toilet.

In the area of social awareness, it has a weekly radio program on NHE/CBR hosted by a PWD. News and information on NHE/CBR are regularly featured in a newsletter. Forums and assemblies are also regularly conducted. The PWD focal person provides technical assistance every DAP Association meeting and regularly visits DAP members. With the full support of the Opol town government, the PWDs are actively participating in local activities as well as in local development. Executive Order 2009-18 included PWDs in the Local Development Council.

“NHE Project activities such as Disability Equality Training, Peer Counseling and Leadership and Advocacy Training helped me recognize and understand our disability. As I gain more self-esteem, I hope that other members will also be more empowered and confident to overcome all the difficulties being faced by the PWDs. Make our community accessible to all,” said Mary Jane Villanueva, president of the Association of Differently Abled Persons in Opol.

Mayor Yasay said he shares the same aspiration. “The implementation of the project in Opol is in the infancy stage unlike in cities and municipalities in developed countries which are on the verge of having physically accessible communities. To become a physical barrier-free and social barrier-free community, one needs budgetary requirements but in our own little way, with the help of Jica, the private sector and the PWDs themselves are creating a non-handicapping environment. This can be achieved,” said Mayor Yasay

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