An architect’s ‘vision’ for inclusivity

Kavya Poornima Balajepalli emphasised her utilisation of architectural expertise to promote universal accessibility and disability inclusion.
Kavya Poornima Balajepalli
Kavya Poornima Balajepalli

VISAKHAPATNAM: In an earnest effort to address the often overlooked challenges faced by individuals with disabilities in the built environment, architect Kavya Poornima Balajepalli has emerged as a beacon of change.

Apart from confronting personal adversity, Kavya’s commitment to foster inclusivity has propelled her to spearhead the initiative ‘Poornamidam,’ which delves into the intersectionality of architecture, environment, and disability. In simple words, she is working to make public spaces more accessible to everyone, including persons with disabilities.

Kavya believes that the architecture and environment can play a key role in achieving inclusivity. By studying how buildings and outdoor spaces are designed, she wants to find ways to make them easier to use for the differently-abled. Her goal is to create a ‘World’ where everyone, regardless of their abilities, can enjoy public places without any barriers.

A graduate in architecture, she was diagnosed with idiopathic intracranial hypertension in 2017, leading to vision loss in both eyes. Undeterred by her condition, she has dedicated herself to advocating for universal accessibility in public spaces.

Currently pursuing the NCPEDP-Javed Abidi Fellowship on Disability, Kavya focuses on data-driven research and advocacy for universal accessibility in leisure, recreational, and cultural spaces. One of her projects is working on universal accessibility at Rushikonda Blue Flag Beach. She advocates for the inclusion of universal design in the architecture curriculum, recognising education’s role in fostering inclusivity.

Kavya’s research at the beach revealed accessibility gaps, prompting her to present her findings to local, national, and international Blue Flag authorities. As a result, Blue Flag is revising its architecture curriculum to incorporate proper infrastructure for the disabled. Reflecting on her work, she emphasised the significance of integrating disabled perspectives into architectural design to ensure inclusive public spaces for all. “While many support disabled individuals superficially, true change stems from systemic improvements,” she noted.

Kavya’s endeavours have garnered recognition on both national and international platforms, including presentations at G20 India, the Global Disability Youth Summit, and UN India, among others. Her initiatives, such as ‘We All Belong’ and ‘It’s Our Beach Too,’ spotlight universal accessibility while advocating for the rights of individuals with disabilities. Empanelled as a committee member in the District Level Committee on Disability in Vizag, Andhra Pradesh, she actively engages in grassroots efforts to bring about a systemic change. She is also the driving force behind ‘IIH Warriors India,’ an online support group for individuals with idiopathic intracranial hypertension.

Collaborating with institutions like the Harvard Law School on a project concerning persons with disabilities and UN India-NIUA, Kavya has contributed to seminal works on climate-resilient and accessible architecture and gender and disability inclusion in urban development.

She emphasised her utilisation of architectural expertise to promote universal accessibility and disability inclusion. “I firmly believe in (Aano Bhadra Krtavo Yantu Vishwatah), drawn from the Rig Veda, translating to ‘Let Noble Thoughts Come to Us from Everywhere,’ ensuring that we ‘Leave No One Behind.’

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