Prescriptive and retrospective accessibility regulations, a rich architectural and cultural history, recent civil war and a distressed asset base make for considerable challenges. This paper describes how universal design principles formed the foundation of technical training delivered to Sri Lankan professionals, to assist them comply with accessibility regulations, and their obligations under the United Nations Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The paper is based on work funded by the Australian Government's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and delivered by a delegation from the Australian Human Rights Commission. The training was based on 25 years' practitioner experience of applying universal design in the built environment. The commitment to removing barriers to the built environment for people with disabilities is evidenced by a set of robust regulations that are prescriptive and retrospective. Further, drafting and translation errors contribute to difficulty achieving these objectives and thus there is a poor level of understanding and compliance with accessibility regulations. This presented a seemingly intractable combination of difficulties. However, it was decided that providing the delegates with a robust understanding of universal design principles would allow them to navigate these difficulties by thinking about the problems differently, even if they could not achieve strict compliance. There were particular concerns about transport and the public realm. Lessons from Australia were shared including whole-of-journey transport planning and prioritisation methods such as principle pedestrian networks. Community and industry engagement were central themes to taking more strategic and universal design approach to solving complex problems.
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