Yangyel Lhaden 

By September next year, the country will have the first inclusive park for persons with disabilities.

A five-member group (all visually impaired), who call themselves Zhenphen, will renovate the Royal Botanical Park at Serbithang in Thimphu.

The group’s proposed project, “Nature for all – an inclusive garden for persons with disabilities” has been approved by Global Environmental Facility’s small grants programme, with funding of Nu USD 30,380 from UNDP and USD 1,806 in kind from the government.

The project is being implemented with technical support from National Biodiversity Centre and Disabled People’s Organisation.

The 19-month project commenced in February.

The group, with technical support from various organisations, is drafting universal designs such as ramps and railings.

Zhenphen’s chairperson, Sonam, said there were many recreational parks in Thimphu but these nature parks did not have facilities for persons with disabilities, such as those on wheelchair, with speech difficulties or deafness.

He said they proposed to renovate the park to bring persons with disabilities closer to nature to benefit their societal wellbeing.

According to project proposal, wider footpaths, railings, tactile, and accessible toilets will be constructed.  There will be signboards written in Braille describing the place, botanical description of trees and plant, and also Bhutanese sign language posters for the Deaf.

Sonam said that for persons with blindness, ears are their eyes. “We’re looking into building a booth for introductory session of the botanical park.”

He said that, during the new normal of self-isolation and physical distancing, the project aims to bring persons with disabilities closer through various available means.

Members fear the grant won’t be enough to implement all their proposed plans.

A member, Tshering Norbu, said the group would perform fundraising live shows.

Sonam said that it was the first initiative the group was working on since its establishment in 2019. “If persons with disabilities stand out and make inclusive environment, the government will also look into building disabled-friendly infrastructure.”

As per Population Housing and Census of Bhutan 2017, 2.1 percent of the population, totalling 15,567 persons, are disabled.  Approximately 200 low vision and persons with blindness live in Thimphu.  103 persons under the age of 30 are deaf and 135 deaf can understand Bhutanese sign language.