Saturday, December 03, 2005

International Day of Disabled People

Well, it seems like every day belongs to someone or something, and December 3rd is no different.
The U.N. declared in 1992 that December 3rd would forever be the International Day of Disabled People, and so it is.

The theme of this year's EU Day of Disabled People was "Living Together in Society" - finding ways to make employment easier and more accessible for disabled people. Greece is making its own proposals for aiding disabled people, including reducing municipal taxes for them, opening avenues of employment for them and making public buildings easier to access.

All these things are great, really, but from what I've seen in Italy, Holland and Greece, the EU still has a LONG way to go before it is disabled friendly. Parking in cities and around major public buildings is nonexistent, including to little to no handicapped parking. In the places where handicapped parking exists, there is no enforcement of the rules. Sidewalks in Athens are virtually unusable by disabled people, especially those in wheelchairs, but also those who have difficulty walking. The majority of buildings have elevators but they are not large enough for wheelchairs and there is no ramp access from the sidewalk - and there are often several stairs to climb to get in most buildings. Some sidewalks have ramp access but many don't. Since parking issues are not enforced in the cities, sidewalks are often blocked by illegally parked vehicles, including motorcycles.

Shopping for disabled people is almost impossible. The majority of smaller stores don't have room for customers who might be in wheelchairs, and again, access from the sidewalk often involves stairs. In Thessaloniki, there are several shops that have descending stairs, some of the stairs unusually tall - which makes it impossible not only for wheelchair users but those who have difficulty walking. Very few movie theatres have wheelchair access or space for wheelchairs.

So while I think it is great that they want to make it easier for disabled people to work in Greece (and the EU), they need to make everyday life easier as well. After all, having a job doesn't do much good if you can't get to it.


adfjkaj said...

I did my part yesterday. As I was driving up to the "Attiki Odos" (new freeway), I asked the clerk if they gave discounts for "Kathesterimenous" (tards). He smiled, but I was totally serious. I feel sometimes that in Greek society, I'm teated like a tard and have nothing really positive to contribute.

DISCLAIMER: I have nothing against mentally handicapped people and was merely using this post as sort of metaphor in a self-deprecating manner to explain my frustration at my uselessness.

The SeaWitch said...

Great post Mel. You very accurately described the life a disabled person in Greece faces and you're right to conclude that more than new laws are needed...the active enforcement of those laws is what will make a huge impact in their lives.

2 years ago, a 21 year old client of our was injured in a car accident and is now a paraplegic. He rarely ever leaves his house just because of the difficulty involved. His parents or one of his friends must come to his house, carry him to the elevator and then wait in the lobby with him while someone else folds up his wheelchair to fit it into the lift. Then they must push his wheelchair to our store. He can easily push his own wheelchair but once he gets to the corner of his block, he usually can't cross the street because the curb is too high and it's blocked by cars. Even if he could get off the curb by himself, he can't get back on the sidewalk again because the opposite curb is too high for him. Once he gets to our store, he tells me what PS games he wants and I will go get them for him since he can't climb the stairs to the loft where they are. In the beginning, he made the effort a few times to come to our stores since he only lives a couple of blocks away but now I never see him anymore. His mother says that it's just too difficult for him...psychologically (he feels bad for having to rely so much on his friends and family) and physically. And it's such a shame because I really enjoyed his visits. He has a great sense of humour and we always talked for about a half hour.

I really wish these laws were enforced so he could be more independently mobile because the quality of his young life would improve 1000%.

Thanks for taking the time to write such a wonderful and timely blog Mel.

Anonymous said...

I think people's attitudes can be worrying on this issue.

I met a guy through some friends and he was a funny guy and so on. Anyway a few months later, he is involved in an accident and ends up in a wheelchair. Now I didn't really know him well enough to go visiting but I would enquire through my friends who did as to how he was.

As well as being in a wheelchair, he also has mild brain damage. I'm told it's noticable. However when my friends went to see it 'upset them' to see him in that condition. Now this was a year ago. I know they went back to visit him once at home but I don't think they kept in touch since.

Personally I think thats disgusting, I always make a point of asking after him and they always say "yeh we really need to go and visit".

But I don't think they will...

deviousdiva said...

One of my best English friends is in a longterm relationship with a wonderful man who has cerebral palsy. He can walk for a while but it's exhausting so he relies on his rather funky modern wheelchair. About five years ago they came to visit us here in Athens. It was such an eye-opening experience for us able bodied people. Our kid was thrilled riding around on his lap! Isn't it amazing how accepting kids are of everything? Apart from the difficulty of getting around (huge) the most disturbing thing I found was the attitudes of other people. (This is not just a greek thing, it happens everywhere) People stared. People talked to him like he was two and half. Taxi drivers refused to take us.(more than usual I mean!) Several people were openly rude about having a disabled person in their midst. I was embarrassed and felt totally over-protective of our friend. He deals with this kind of thing daily so he just laughed it off (and he has a wicked sense of humour) and we all got to laugh at the idiots who couldn't deal with his disability.
They are expecting a baby in March!

melusina said...

Seawitch, I feel so bad for your client. In America he could live his live freely, perhaps needing some assistance now and then from friends or family but not often.

DD, congrats to your friends! And it is nice that he has a sense of humor about how he is treated. In Greece, and from what I saw in Italy and Holland, it seems that disabled people are swept away - probably staying at home - because it is incredibly difficult to get out and about. Add that to the prejudices (or curiousity) most people have and it can be excruciating.

The EU is ahead of America in so many ways, but when it comes to making life easier for people with disabilities, it is WAY behind. And I understand that most European countries have old buildings and villages that are hard to retrofit - but sidewalks and roadways CAN be repaved, kept smooth, with ramps and easier access. Parking areas in downtown areas can be made and enforced. There are so many little things that I think should be done before they do the bigger things.

Anonymous said...

Mel, you are absolutely right about the States. They are miles ahead when it comes to the ways they cater and treat people with disabilities.

During my trip this summer, I noticed that everywhere had made provisions for people in wheelchairs.

Even at all the theme parks in Florida, all the rides had catered for people with disabilities to make sure there was no reason they couldn't enjoy the day as much as everyone else.

The only downside to this culture was the number of people riding around in mobility scooters and taking advantage. It was so obvious that some of the people in the wheelchair line had no other disability other than their inability to keep stuffing themselves with food.

However it is those people who should feel ashamed of themselves. The States should be used as a model that all other countries should attempt to copy.

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