ACCESSIBILITY is very much the buzz word in the disability community these days.
So it was no wonder why more than 200 participants jam-packed a training centre’s seminar hall in a special forum on the subject last week in Kuala Lumpur.
Called “Towards An Accessible City,” the event was a joint collaboration between the Swedish Embassy – through its commercial body Business Sweden - and City Hall of KL.
This was the second time that such an initiative was held by both countries. The first was a similar forum held in February of last year focusing on Deaf people in the society.
“Only with active participation, awareness and support from the local authorities and citizens, this idea (of an accessible city for all) can become a concept that would later lead to a lifestyle,” noted Mr Bengt G Carlsson, Swedish Ambassador to Malaysia at the seminar during its opening.
The full-day event comprising expert speakers from Sweden on disabled-friendly facilities tackled the thorny but essential issues of how to transform a non-friendly city into an accessible one.
Sweden then went on to share their stories of success of how the country started getting in tune with its disabled residents over the years and providing for their special needs.
It was hoped that the inputs provided could help Malaysia develop helpful ideas and strategies in building a barrier-free environment too.
These include coming up with concepts of making more and more areas wheelchair and white cane friendly.
Other areas include helping handicapped people to communicate more easily and have access to useful and vital information about themselves no matter where they came from.
It is also important to ensure that people with disabilities are treated with respect and dignity – including in how facilities are made for them, have the same rights to education as non disabled people and be able to hold jobs successfully in order to support themselves and their families.
They must also be able to function normally like any other residents in a city and have access to recreational facilities like the non disabled all over the country.
Sweden for example has invested enormously in tourism. This includes where the disabled and the elderly can also successfully participate in it.
The seminar revealed that extensive accessibility programmes have been conducted in Stockholm since the beginning of 2000.
One of the notable success stories of that initiative was a project in May 2011 called, “Stockholm – A City For Everyone.”
The city began consciously creating an environment for people with a wide range of disabilities and not just strictly for wheelchair users alone.
These include people with communicative impairments to the elderly who go around the city with a walking frame as an aid to mobility.
Also persons who use crutches after an accident, young parents with strollers and even those with a suitcase on wheels.
It was not surprising why a year later in December Stockholm’s initiatives went on to become one of the top three cities that was awarded the European City Award for their extensive work on accessibility.
Other notable nuggets from the Swedish experience from the March 5th seminar disclosed how there was a good structure of the Swedish authorities administration procedure of responsible implementation, coordination and monitoring of disability policy in the country.
The availability of assistive technologies for disabled persons in accordance to the standards laid out by the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – which Malaysia is also a proud signatory of – is also widely available in Sweden.
Many of these innovative technology and services are not only available in the public and at work but also in the home environment as well.
The afternoon session was particular interesting as many of the Swedish companies presented their solutions and products to greater disability access for facilities for the physically handicapped to the blind. An all-day exhibition of these technologies was also provided to curious participants who wanted to know more about them.
A couple of these were from the company called Scania’s very latest version of an accessible city bus, Prisma Teknik “push button” for pedestrian safety as well as safe crossing for blind and low vision people.
But what was particularly interesting was the presentation by HAGS. They successfully illustrated how playground activities can be made accessible for kids and grown-ups in wheelchairs.
Sandpits, for instance, can be raised to the wheelchair level for disabled kids and planting in the same way can be accessible to elderly persons with walking difficulties.
Another company Artico showcased their different lift systems that can be installed in public places, stores, shopping malls and work places. They can be fitted using very little space and are also more affordable.
The forum which was opened by the Mayor of Kuala Lumpur Y.Bhg Dato' Hj. Ahmad Phesal bin Hj. Talib certainly opened the eyes of many about the limitless possibilities that every can contribute to provide greater accessibility for an ever increasing disabled population.
It’s what happens AFTER such insightful events that really matters. Fingers crossed everyone.
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