2003 was declared the 'European Year of People with Disabilities'. One of the objectives of this European year was to generate greater awareness as well as a number of programmes in Europe intended to change attitudes towards people with disabilities.
The Council of Europe has established a means of monitoring European national policies for people with disabilities. This monitoring mechanism provides for the evaluation of both progress achieved as well as difficulties and shortcomings, as well as preparing for the future.
Accessibility in Travel
In addition to efforts made in both the social and cultural domains, the struggle for accessibility was expanded to the world of tourism by establishing the following principle: a person with reduced mobility has the same right to leisure and travel as an able-bodied person. In addition, disabled people who wish to accompany family and friends on their vacations must be able to do so in the best possible conditions, and with the greatest possible autonomy.
Today, Europe extends a warm welcome to all its visitors. However, if you or one of your traveling companions have specific accessibility needs, it’s essential that you can get hold of the necessary information to enable you to plan your trip well. The idea of accessibility concerns not only people with decreased mobility but anyone who may encounter difficulties while traveling, for example older people, or even those who don’t fit the “norm” in terms of height or weight. All of these travellers may need very specific information during the course of their journey.
Tourism, the pleasure of discovering new cities, regions, countries and cultures, must remain a right that all can enjoy !
A Pan-European Initiative
In 2005 O.S.S.A.T.E (the One-Stop-Shop for Accessible Tourism in Europe) embarked on a project to create a multilingual, digital tourism information resource designed to inform travelers concerned with accessibility at tourist destinations. The launch of this platform is planned for the spring of 2007. The contents will include information about national and regional events, sites, and accommodation facilities that take accessibility issues into consideration.
The information will be communicated on the Europeforall.com website, as well as visiteurope.com and also via mobile telephones, tourism offices, and travel agents. In the first phase, the information provided will be from the following countries: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Greece, Norway and the United Kingdom. Many other countries will join in the second phase of the project.
In Finland, the organization Rullaten ry, (Travel Without Barriers) will be extremely useful in your planning.
You can also obtain specific information from the organization Travel4all, which is offered in five languages (including English), and provides a search engine for all the regions of Finland so that you can design the visit that best suits you.
In France, the objective of the 'Tourisme et Handicap' association is to sensitise travel professionals and the general public to the needs of persons with disabilities. With the support of the Ministry of Tourism, the association, has established an accessibility label. The purpose of this label is to provide reliable, consistent and objective information on accessibility and facilities available at tourist sites for people with all types of disabilities. Tourism professionals wishing to expand their client base, and to assure visitors of a perennially warm and fitting welcome, must voluntarily apply to the association to obtain a label.
All the institutional tourism organizations are promoting the label, and provide tourism professionals in their regions with the necessary information to enable them to conform to the label’s standards.