According to the World Health Organization's most recent data, over 1 billion people (or 15 percent of the global population) experience a certain form of disability, and at least 517,536 of them are living in the Philippines.
Despite these statistics, the National Commission on Disability Affairs in 2020 reported that there are still structures and establishments that lack accessibility features for Persons with Disabilities (PWDs).
To mention a few, most of them lack accessible ramps with adequate slope measurements, braille instructions on signage and posters, and text-to-speech features on mall guides and elevators. Since these accessibility features are much more expensive to integrate and install, they are frequently overlooked in the establishment of public places.
This is what the Interior Design students at De La Salle – College of St. Benilde hope to address in their “Pandama: Resonating with Silence” project, which was done in collaboration with the Philippine School for the Deaf.
With Pandama, project head Erika Ordinario and her team aim to provide an inclusive and experiential space for deaf students, wherein users will not feel limited, and will be able to connect spatially through tactile, visual and olfactory stimuli.
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YOUNG STAR: When did you first start thinking about becoming an interior designer?
KYRAH SY: I found my passion in interior design when I first decorated an event for my high school. I was always into the arts and painting ever since I was little.
PATRICIA PESEBRE: My first choice was actually architecture but I got put in the interior design course instead. In the end, I learned to love interior design more than architecture. I actually can’t imagine myself being an architect anymore! I think I was really meant for this.
Can you tell us the story behind Pandama?
JANINA RUBIO: We were tasked to design and construct the dining hall of the Philippine School for the Deaf. The origin behind our project’s name is heavily inspired by our beneficiary. Pandama is defined as “senses” and our project aims to create a dining hall that caters to the needs of its users by amplifying their sensory reach.
The students of PSD are hard of hearing; thus, it was important that the design of the space is barrier-free and focuses more on how they can make use of their visual, tactile, and olfactory senses throughout the space.
AUNDREA BUNYI: We envisioned this project to become an experience for everyone, wherein we construct an inclusive space that will truly benefit the users who are deaf and hard-of-hearing.
How can the Pandama project amplify the voices of those living with disabilities?
TALA GIL and KIMBERLY GUINTO: In a way, the design amplifies the fact that these communities are here and should be seen and heard through a different light –– a light that takes all their needs into consideration without limitations through accessible design. Their capabilities are then amplified as they are more than what they seem.
Do you think that the interior designs of public places in our country can be considered as inclusive?
JASMINE SY and MICAELA TEMPONGKO: We believe that our country is slowly and continuously growing and improving. We have also had a set of rules and regulations for a couple of years, catered to people with disabilities, namely the BP344 Act (Accessibility Law).
This act focuses on making any kind of space accessible to any kind of user, not only to PWDs but also to the elderly, children, and the like. The implementation and application of this law can be seen in several interior designs of public places, such as malls, train stations, etc.
One thing the country can improve on, in terms of expanding access to all users, is to ensure that every building and establishment can accommodate wheelchair users. There are some existing buildings that wheelchair users cannot freely move around in.
Have you learned something that changed the way you look at the field of interior design?
ERIKA ORDINARIO: I’ve always been a strong believer in interior design’s capability in enriching the lifestyle and experience of people within a certain space. However, most of my interior design philosophies have often been very design-centric in such a way that I forget everything else that makes this field so holistic.
Other than design and the users, there are also the people in the middle — your suppliers, contractors, as well as the funding to achieve your desired plans. It’s been a stigma in the Philippines that interior design is a luxury for those who can afford it and although there is some truth to this thought, the interior design industry is making strides in cultivating a more innovative and accessible practice that allows well-designed spaces to benefit those who need them the most.
What’s your advice for aspiring interior designers?
MARK ARANA: Keep on researching new trends because designs and technology nowadays are constantly changing. Keeping up with trends and putting them into practice is an important skill for designers to acquire. As design students, we must be innovative in both our designs and how we can incorporate our current technology into new products.
MICHAEL VAZQUEZ: Remember to communicate clearly with those around you so that nothing is misunderstood. This way everyone knows what to expect and can help each other out in their weaknesses.
JASMINE and MICAELA: Interior design is more than just creating and beautifying different kinds of spaces and environments. It's all about keeping the space functional, safe, aesthetically appealing, and accessible to users, including people with disabilities.
The Pandama Team presented their design during the INDX ‘21 Virtual Exhibit last Nov. 22, 2021 via Facebook Live. For more information about the project, check out their page on Facebook and Instagram .