On the Belize Zoo's 30th birthday, almost a year ago, 7News told you the major upgrade they had engineered allow disabled persons access to the facility, by putting in over two thousand five hundred feet of concreted pathways.
Today, on one of the days set aside to note persons around the world living with disabilities, members of the Belize Assembly for Person with Diverse Abilities went to the zoo to experience it like every other citizen. 7News was there, and Daniel Ortiz reports on the experience of BAPDA:
Daniel Ortiz reporting
Today, the Belize Assembly for Person with Diverse Abilities hosted their World International Day of Disabilities at the Belize Zoo.
It is appropriate because the Zoo boasts to being the first nature reserve facility which accommodates persons living with disabilities. It has a pathway that provides wheelchair bound Belizeans with almost complete access to all the animals who call the zoo their home.
Sharon Matola - Founding Director, Zoo
"We've been working on accessibility for about a year or more to make the zoo accessible for all Belizeans, not just fit Belizeans with diverse disabilities and actually they contacted us because they had been following our progress and today was such a special day, you saw the looks on those kids faces just to see the animals and to be able to move around the zoo with ease - it's the best it's been so much
work to get it to the point where it is now and it's been an awful lot fundraising and a lot of effort. Belize has help out a lot and the Rotary; just various aspects of help have come our way. It's not even finish yet, but I think the meaningfulness of it was really accented today by this visit and has re-enforced everyone working here that we are really doing such a special and great thing for Belize."
The wheelchair access was carefully planned with realistic goals in mind.
Jerome Flores, one of the differently abled Belizeans who depends on his wheelchair, and who has been a tireless advocate for disabled Belizeans, was called in to consult on the actual building of the pathways.
He happily assisted to ensure that wheelchairs users could enjoy the zoo like everyone else who had fully functioning legs.
Jerome Flores - Consultant, Belize Zoo Pathways
"I was the consultant for the pathways because of 10 years I am in a wheel chair and so I would know where they would need adjustment or improvement or whatever they did, so they asked me to be the consultant, so I would visit and I came with my friend Ms. Domingo and we
had fun. It wasn't completed but we still had fun and now that it's almost finished we had even more fun today, not only us but all persons with disability; children came today and I know all of them really had a great time today."
The caretakers of the zoo proudly hosted BAPDA on a complete 1 hour tour of the facility where the members were able to interact with the animal population up close and personal.
They also got a souvenir to commemorate their visit to the zoo on this important day. BAPDA had only gratitude for the hospitality given to them.
Eva Cayetano-Middleton - Voluntary Office Manager, BAPDA
"We have had a wonderful time today. The last time I remember being at the zoo was 1985 there about and I think I really enjoyed it because I feel like I'm in the rainforest and I haven't been able to go to the rainforest after I lost my legs, so this was a beautiful experience. We must say thank you for your hospitality. Thank you for sharing the zoo with us and we definitely will come again someday."
Estimates from the United Nations say that 15% of the world, or over 1 billion persons, are currently living with disabilities.
On December 12, 9 days from now, the Zoo will be 31 year-old. Director Sharon Matola told us that there are currently no celebrations planned for that anniversary.