Winds of Change
2003 European Year of People with Disabilities
The day began with a storm, the likes of which not many in the southern
part of Greece had seen. Torrential winds howled through the majestic
ancient pillars of the Acropolis. In the city of Athens below, another
fierce wind howled through the new Megaron Concert Hall. This wind was
a little different in its fury, maybe more determined, more deliberate.
This was the wind of change. This powerful force had been building for
years, culminating and releasing its energy on that day. The day was January
26, 2003 and the start of the European Year of People with Disabilitiesthe
most aggressive political drive for people with disabilities in the history
At the EYPD opening ceremony, European leaders called on the European
Union member states to make the existing rights in legislation a reality
in the day-to-day lives of those who have disabilities. Member states
are not doing enough to give the 37 million people with disabilities in
Europe equal rights with people who do not have disabilities, said
European Commissioner for Employment and Social Affairs, Anna Diamantopoulou.
The commissioner stated that these invisible citizens should
have the same rights to accessaccess to a job, access
to buildings and access to the Internetas citizens who do not have
Diamantopoulou serves as a great support to this cause. I was very
excited that this was not just another thing on her to-do list,
said Vice President of HP Marketing and Strategy, Kyle Ranson. This
is clearly what she cares passionately about, and is personally motivated
to drive, which gave me a high degree of excitement.
HP is one in nine companies who have joined EYPD to be corporate participants.
The other companies include Accor, Adecco, IBM, Manpower, Schindler, Sony,
UITP and Volkswagen. Were also very excited that Commissioner
Diamantopoulou is rallying the corporate troops and the government troops
to be good corporate citizens and do the right thing, added Ranson.
The opening ceremony was organized by the Greek Ministry of Health and
Welfare and the European Commission, in cooperation with the European
Disability Forum and the National Confederation of Disabled People of
Greece. Guests were blown away with art and music that filled the Megaron
Concert Hall. Beginning with a performance by the Childrens Dance
Group, participants enjoyed hours of musical and theatrical performance
as well as an art exhibition. The event attracted many influential and
prominent people of Europe, including the President of Greece, Constantinos
Stefanopoulos. Most of the event planners, performers and speakers involved
had some form of disability and are all advocates for those with disabilities.
The event evoked a great deal of emotion for Ranson after a lady took
stage and performed a song in sign language. It touched me so much
and it wasnt part of the program, said Ranson. Thats
what was so beautiful about it. Shes in a program for the deaf and
she did it spontaneously. It was spectacular.
In addition to the emotional performance, presenters were radio personality
and journalist Nikos Limberopoulos and actress Julie Fernandez. Fernandez,
who stars in BBC2s television award-winning series The Office, uses
a wheelchair and is a strong defender of the rights of those with disabilities.
Fernandez voices her concerns in her regular column in The Sunday Express
titled The View from Here, wherein she writes of her day-to-day
activities. Fernandez believes that people who have disabilities are mistreated
daily and encourages advocates to become a nuisance to change
this reality. If you dont make your views known, things will
not change, Fernandez stated. Among the musicians present was Gilbert
Montagne, a successful French musician who is blind. His 30-year career
has led him through Europe and North America and finds him in line to
play the role of Simon in Frances upcoming version of American Idol.
Montagne also wrote and dedicated a song to the European Year titled,
Although the storm has passed and the event is over, the power behind
the initiative moves on. With one in 10 Europeans having been identified
with some form of disability, EYPD will meet the needs of the individuals
within their communities through festivals, debates, partnerships, marches,
parties and lobbying efforts throughout Europe.
We want European Year 2003 to come from the grassroots, rooted
in localities where people with disabilities live, said Diamantopoulou.
Our aim is not just to make a difference for people who have disabilities,
our aim is to make a difference with people who have disabilities.
To involve citizens with disabilities or anyone interested in participating,
EYPD developed a mobile campaign headquarters called the Peoples
March. The Peoples March will campaign throughout the streets of
Europe in the EYPD-mobile vehicle. Colorfully decorated with childrens
art, the EYPD-mobile is fully equipped with the latest technology, which
is accessible to all. The vehicle will wind through the 15 member states
of the European Union for one year, raising awareness of those with disabilities
and will serve as a drop-in center for anyone interested. According to
Ranson, the vehicle is packed with technology for people who have disabilities,
including assistive technology for the deaf and the blind. The basic
concept is to educate the general public to some of the challenges that
people with disabilities face, and then support them with the technologies
that are available, said Ranson.
The EYPD mobile carries campaign participants with disabilities along
with their family and friends who will provide visitors information on
the program and how to get involved. With the motto Get on Board!
painted on the vehicle, union citizens are encouraged to find out when
the EYPD mobile will be in their country and organize an event to join
the march. The vehicle has already traveled through Greece and will continue
traveling through the member states ending the trip in Italy in December.
Just as the organization considers voluntary citizen involvement an important
contribution to the aim of EYPD, it also looks for companies to voluntarily
participate by integrating people with disabilities. Companies play an
important role in society as providers of products, services, employment,
mobility, and social contact.
Corporate participation plans will create awareness and support for the
EYPD through companies internal and external communication channels.
EYPD will also initiate long-term commitment of companies to disability
issues including: promoting employment and training opportunities for
people with disabilities, and developing designed-for-all products and
services to improve accessibility to assistive technologies.
Plans for companies that are not apt to volunteer are also in the works.
New legislation, adopted by the European Union, to outlaw all forms of
discrimination in the workplace will be implemented by the end of the
year, according to Commissioner Diamantopoulou. The legislation will further
require all work environments to provide reasonable accommodation
for people with disabilities... CONTINUED IN ABILITY MAGAZINE......
EYPD website: eypd2003.org
Travel arrangements provided by United
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Winds of Change