Eleftheria Bernidaki-Aldous

2nd International OSSATE Workshop on "Accessible Tourism"

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Speech by Mrs E. Bernidaki at

2nd International OSSATE Workshop on

"The development of Accessible Tourism Information Services in Europe "

to be held in Athens, Greece on

Thursday 8th and Friday 9th September 2005.

Dear Friends,

I am especially honored to be with you today, as a member of the Panel for the conference “One Stop Shop for Accessible Tourism in Europe.” This is a gathering which truly has as a goal, the essential improvement of the living conditions of the members of our society with disability.

This conference is of unique importance to our country.
Tourism and Greece are two concepts that are directly connected. The Mediterranean climate, monuments and history of Greece and the warm hospitality of the Greek people have attracted, for many years, a large number of tourists to our country. According to the official statistics of the World Organization of Tourism, Greece, in recent years, has ranked among the global leaders in arrivals and revenues from tourism. These numbers indicate, without any doubt, the existence of an exceptional tourist product.

The tourism industry and government should not ignore, anymore, that tourists with disabilities must be welcome in our country without discrimination. The right to enjoy tourism is an “equal right” issue for all. Today, this is the resounding message that we all send.

The issue of accessibility is not only an issue with great social dimensions and consequences. From a financial perspective, individuals with disabilities represent a large and developing market in the European Union for the tourist industry. At the European level, it is estimated that more than 40 million consumers with disabilities (and the number is even greater, if we take into consideration the family members that travel with them), could travel and use the tourist infrastructures, if they were accessible to people with handicaps.

In the environment which I described, Greece, as one of the most important European tourist destinations, has all the capabilities to attract and to absorb this large tourist clientele. However, for this to take place, the involved government and private sector agencies and services must address the issue of complete accessibility with seriousness and respect towards the specific needs of individuals with disabilities.

Certainly, the implementation of the goal for complete accessibility in the tourism industry is an important and worthy cause.
Dear friends, complete accessibility should not be only limited to the existence of a ramp, it also means accessible archaeological areas and museums, as well as accessible beaches and recreation areas.

Complete accessibility encompasses accessible infrastructure within hotels, hotels with the proper equipment and trained staff. The personnel must know how to address the simple needs of a tourist with a disability.

Dear Friends,

The increase in accessibility of the tourist industry’s infrastructure is not the only need. Information for tourists entails information that is reliable and easily accessible for interested tourists.

This means information regarding the infrastructure of the different tourist destinations, information concerning the existing tourist facilities and infrastructure, which can cover the unique needs and preferences of every tourist with a disability.
Informing the tourists in a timely manner is particularly important. The disabled individual must be able to choose a tourist destination of his choice, without the dream of vacation becoming a nightmare.

The use of new technology is the medium that can make the accessibility of information reliable and immediate. The O.S.S.A.T.E program’s role is very important towards this purpose and it must have the full support of all of us.
The basic precondition for the program’s success is offering accurate and timely information. Unfortunately, there are many instances in which tourist destinations declare that they are accessible, whereas in reality, they are not. Credible information from trustworthy groups needs to exist in order to inform the disabled community.
I believe that it is not enough to just have timely and easily accessible information for tourists with disabilities, but it is also necessary to provide them with accurate information. For this exact reason, it is crucial that the government establishes and monitors substantive and detailed accessibility criteria for all tourist infrastructures. Notwithstanding, monitoring such infrastructure is not enough. The government needs to impose strict penalties against those tourist businesses that are not accessible, even though they are required under the law. The government needs to show zero tolerance on this issue! Business people who ignore laws concerning accessibility need to be punished harshly because they give our country a bad reputation and step on the rights of the disabled community in the most fascist manner.
Dear friends,
It is true that many of the existing facilities for tourists, both in Greece and the European Union, are not accessible for tourists with disabilities. The result is that millions of people, in addition to the burden of their disabilities, are punished with a certain type of isolation, which they have surely not chosen for themselves. Today, disabled European citizens are seeking the abolition of discrimination in the tourism sector and in general in their pursuit of their right to happiness in life. Therefore, the state and tourism industries must realize that the unconditional use of tourist infrastructure by disabled individuals means accessibility for society, for a meaningful life.

Today, in our country, for the first time, the government is addressing the development of tourism with seriousness. The operation of a modern and successful Ministry of Tourism has already increased the arrival of tourists towards our country and I am convinced that it will help improve the accessibility of our tourist product.
The participation of the Ministry of Tourism and its interest in this European program prove, finally, that we are moving in the right direction with a quicker pace. Initiatives, like OSSATE, present a good beginning, so that the tourism industry treats disabled individuals as independent and tourist with equal rights.

With the opportunity of organizing the Olympic and Paraolympic Games, accessible tourism and mass transportation have improved significantly. Already, the ministries that are associated with tourism, such as the Ministries of Culture, Transportation, and Interior, have created and operate offices that focus on improving accessibility for disabled individuals.

Dear Friends,

Surely, we are at the beginning, and we must take many actions going forward. Such actions, however, can not become a reality through some type of magic. Rather, we need time, much work and most importantly, sensitivity shown by all the involved actors.

An important parameter for progress in the area of accessibility is the conscientiousness and sensitivity of the general public. The state, by itself, can not perform miracles. It needs the help of the private sector in such important efforts.

Here, I would like to publicly commend and praise the work and participation of the non-profit organization “Disability Now” in the European program. The participation of disabled individuals is a necessary pre-condition, for every effort and program that strives to improve their lives.

Dear Friends,

As President of the “Intra-Party Committee of the Parliament to Address the Problems that Individuals with Disability Face” and as a person who has a disability (blind since the age of three), I want to assure you that I, personally, and my committee, in the Greek Parliament, are following, with great interest, your efforts. We will stand by your side when you need us.

Concluding, I would like to welcome you to this very useful meeting. In particular, I would like to welcome our guests from abroad. I wish you every success in your work and conference and I am sure that the conference will provide meaningful and interesting conclusions for the future.

Thank you.


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