Up the garden path
At last, a forest reserve with disabled-friendly facilities.
TRAVELLINGnin cyberspace and making new friends on Facebook and Twitter is wonderfully convenient for people who use wheelchairs and walking sticks.
But I must admit that when it comes to getting out and actually being on the ground, there is simply no comparison to the real fun and excitement that Mother Nature can bring into your life. About 150 persons – including people in wheelchairs and the elderly – pleasantly discovered so last Saturday when we turned up at Kota Damansara in Petaling Jaya, Selangor.
We were there to witness the official launching of Kota Damansara’s LA21 Herbal Garden by the mayor of Petaling Jaya. The herbal garden isn’t the only unique feature that one can find at the Kota Damansara Community Forest Reserve (KDCFR).
Visitors to the area will also be able to find people-friendly facilities, such as wheelchair ramps that are also suited for mothers with prams and the elderly.
“We had to think carefully before we came out with strategic spots in the half acre area in which we decided to place the disabled-friendly facilities,” said local conservationist Jeffrey Phang.
Phang, who has been actively involved in the forest for nearly a decade, pointed out that the facilities included a wheelchair pathway, handicapped-friendly toilet that was also geared towards elderly persons, and an outdoor barbeque stand that was at the height level of wheelchairs.
Phang, an assistant professor at University Tunku Abdul Rahman in Cheras, Kuala Lumpur, added that ideas are in the pipeline to bring disabled communities inside the forest instead of just remaining at its fringes.
“The idea to integrate all communities of people instead of only selected groups was brought up at the historic Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992.
“It was there that the local agenda concept of getting governments, businesses and communities to work together from a more holistic approach rather than a parochial perspective in developing liveable cities and towns, was born,” said Phang.
“In other words, LA21 challenged us to be more inclusive of all persons in creating structures that provide solutions for everyone, instead of just some people.
“We have to build our cities to be more conscious of safety, more caring about the environment and more inclusive of the disabled, elderly, women and children,” said Phang, who was a key organiser of the launch together with the Petaling Jaya City Council and the Selangor Forestry Department.
Besides the disabled, other parti-cipants included the elderly, boys and girls, and business groups.
Among the two new groups of stakeholders present were residents from low-cost flats and representatives from nearby primary and secondary schools.
After the speeches, the dozen or more disabled and elderly participants couldn’t wait to test the facilities.
We were delighted that a special ramp was designed to take wheelchairs and prams right down to the herbal garden area.
The wheelchair users pointed out areas where the ramp was rather steep and needed to be levelled further. All these points were noted as their participation was also meant to provide user-friendly feedback.
Many of the handicapped visitors were thrilled that the people behind the reserve had taken the trouble to install disabled-friendly facilities, compared to other parks that hardly have any wheelchair accessibility.
“Because we at the KDCFR are a community forest, we felt that we should set an example to other parks and forests in the country, so that every stakeholder and their needs will be considered,” said Phang who is also chairman of the Friends of Kota Damansara group.
“Our next plan is to get wheelchair-users as close as possible to the lake where they will be able to dip their feet in the water, if they wish.”
Phang pointed out that a perfect location had been identified for the disabled to do this.
“Some environmentalists may frown at the idea of having some alterations in the forest and feel that nothing at all should be disturbed,” said Phang.
“However, to view things this way is rather inward-looking. Whilst the deeper areas of the forest can be left untouched, we should seriously consider making some parts of the forest accessible to those who otherwise may never be able to appreciate its benefits.
“The goal is to include people with their differences and diversities. In this way, environmentalists will be able to garner more support for their clarion call to save our forests,” Phang added.