The Upgraded Blind People's Park: a Unique Sensory Experience

On Thursday, April 14, a reopening ceremony was held for the Blind People Park, after several years in which the park suffered from poor maintenance.

In addition, with Israel's updated accessibility laws, the need to make the trail accessible for all the people with disabilities. The trail stretches across 500 meters, and reaches several sites of interest: a water pit, a wine press and an old ruin. There is also an ancient orchard which the trail surrounds and it also hosts other trees as fig, pomegranate, almond, olive and carob.

The trail consists of three circular rings, providing the feeling of a larger site for the travelers.
The trail has been paved with asphalt, and its incline has been adjusted according to accessibility standards. The diagonal kerbstones were kept as they were, and they assist blind people who use a guide cane. They are painted in contrast to the color of the trail, helping the visually impaired, and keep people who use a wheelchair from falling outside the trail.

The old handhold was replaced with a new one, all along the trail, so that a person with a guide cane can feel and hold into it more easily. A grapevine hut was built near the ruin, and the wooden lots were replace with stones.

The wooden benches we renovated and a new empty space nearby allows a person in a wheelchair to sit beside them. To mark active areas, the entrances to them were added with stone stripes built into the asphalt, used as guiding strips for people with lighter cases of visual impairment. The stone bridge at the entrance has also been renovated and it includes a wind bell.

As part of the renovation of the trail, audio elements used with a special application tell the story of the site. Along the trail are signs with explanations in Braille that include illustrations.

The spice garden was rebuilt and lowered to allow more convenient access. Trees, cyclamen and squills were planted in the orchard and along the trails. Near the park, two picnic recreation areas were set up. The park is located on the main path of a cycling track where "Tandem" groups of blind people also come cycling.

צילום: ברונו שרביט, ארכיון הצילומים של קק״לPhotograph: Bruno Sharvit, KKL-JNF Photo Archive

As noted above, the trail was paved at the beginning of the current millennium by KKL-JNF as trail that fits the visually impaired. In 1998, Israel passed a law ensuring equal rights for people with disabilities, leading to making recreation areas and forest public sites accessible. The idea of setting up a trail for visually impaired people came from the "Peula" ("Action") organization. The upgrade of the Blind People's Garden was done with a large accompanying KKL-JNF team which includes the planning division, the area management, the public coordinator, the operations division, and the accessibility director of the planning division to start the new planning for the trail.

The forest chosen for the trail is the Ben Shemen forest. The forest covers about 205,000 acres, and acts as a green lunch at the heart of the Gush Dan area. The forest is visited by thousands of travelers every year.

The park has been renovated with the support of JNF Germany, Switzerland, Italy and USA.
Neta Laska-Mizrahi, coastal plain area public coordinator at KKL-JNF: "As part of the collaboration with the Hevel Modi'in regional council, guides from "Accessible Guide" arrive at the park and allow people with special needs to guide nature tours. These people find their place in guiding blind people in the park and the whole area and allow people with disabilities to fit with people who have no disabilities.
"One of the guides is Ronnie Eliyahu, a visually impaired man who brings the feeling of visual impairment to the public. The experience of a tour guided by him is incredible. KKL-JNF encourages bringing people from the local community in its projects. In this project, too, we are delighted to empower and collaborate with these guides. As part of the park's upgrade works, we have replanted the spice plants in the flowerbeds, allowing blind people to enjoy a variety of spice plants in the park, feel and smell them."