Thursday March 14, 2013
Strategies for better access
BY ANTHONY THANASAYAN
Sweden points the way to creating a disabled-friendly city.
ACCESSIBILITY is very much a buzzword in the disability community these days. So, it was little wonder that more than 200 participants packed a training centre’s seminar hall during a recent forum in Kuala Lumpur.
Called “Towards An Accessible City”, the event was a joint collaboration between the Swedish Embassy – through its commercial arm Business Sweden – and KL City Hall.
This was the second time that such an initiative was held by both countries. The first was a similar forum in February last year, which focused on the deaf in society.
“Only with active participation, awareness and support from the local authorities and citizens, can this idea (of an accessible city for all) become a concept that would later lead to a lifestyle,” noted Bengt G. Carlsson, Swedish Ambassador to Malaysia, at the opening of the seminar.
Expert speakers from Sweden tackled the thorny issue of how to transform a non-friendly city into an accessible one. They shared success stories of how the country got in tune with its disabled residents over the years and provided for their special needs.
It is hoped that their input could help Malaysia develop strategies for building a barrier-free environment. We could come up with ways to make more areas wheelchair-friendly and accessible to the blind.
Other areas that we need to work on include helping handicapped people to communicate more easily and have access to vital information about themselves, no matter where they come from.
It is also important to ensure that people with disabilities are treated with respect and dignity, have the same right to education as non-disabled people, and are able to hold jobs so that they can support themselves and their families.
They must also have access to recreational facilities all over the country.
Sweden, for example, has invested a lot in tourism. The seminar revealed that extensive accessibility programmes have been introduced in Stockholm since 2000. One of the notable success stories of that initiative was a 2011 project called “Stockholm – A City For Everyone”.
The city began consciously creating an environment for people with a wide range of disabilities, not just wheelchair-users.
These include the elderly who use a walking frame as a mobility aid, people who use crutches after an accident, young parents with strollers, and even ordinary folks with a suitcase on wheels.
It is not surprising that Stockholm was one of three cities which was given the European City Award last December for its extensive work on accessibility.
Assistive technologies for disabled persons in accordance to the standards laid out by the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – of which Malaysia is a proud signatory – are widely available in Sweden.
During the seminar, many Swedish companies presented their solutions and products for better access for the disabled. There was an exhibition of these products to enable participants to learn more about them.
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.
Another company, Artico, showcased their different lift systems which can be installed in public places, stores, shopping malls and work places. They can be fitted using very little space and are also quite affordable.
The forum opened the eyes of many to the limitless possibilities for greater accessibility for an increasing disabled population. It is what happens after such insightful events that really matters. Fingers crossed, everyone.