Rallying call for the disabled

Published: May 18, 2007  |  Source: ekathimerini.com
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Disabled people in Greece should try to get out of their homes more, despite the obstacles they encounter on sidewalks, in stores and on public transport, the man organizing an exhibition in Athens to promote facilities and equipment for the disabled told Kathimerini yesterday.

The Autonomy 2007 exhibition began at the Peace and Friendship Stadium in Neo Faliron, southern Athens, yesterday and runs until tomorrow. But its organizer, Nikos Voulgaropoulos, is not disheartened by the fact that it will be difficult for disabled people to actually attend the show.

“That’s exactly why we are holding the exhibition,” said Voulgaropoulos, who founded the www.disabled.gr website and a magazine for disabled people that has 8,500 subscriptions.

“The exhibition is for disabled people to find out about the technology available so they can pluck up courage and get out. It is not easy. I know better than most,” said Voulgaropoulos, who lost use of his legs and arms due to a spinal cord injury.

Panayiotis Tsinganos, another quadriplegic man that spoke to Kathimerini, backed Voulgaropoulos’s views.

“The problem is that we do not see any disabled people on the streets,” he said. “Half of the truth is that the infrastructure does not allow them to get out. The other half is that we are not there to insist on better facilities.”

Tsinganos founded Sailability Hellas, the Greek branch of an international organization dedicated to providing sailing opportunities to all people. He gets around in a motorized wheelchair and identified thoughtless drivers as the key problem hampering disabled people’s efforts to get out of their homes.

“I am annoyed that every now and then I have to call the police [to remove a parked car],” he said. “But when I go to catch the tram and a parked car is blocking my way, I am left with little choice.”

Tsinganos said that accessibility to the metro and tram service is generally good but that it is more difficult for disabled people to use the bus. He is also critical of the lack of wheelchair ramps at shops and public services.