On July 21-26th participants of the project Volozhin without Barriers went on an educational tour to Netherlands. It was devoted to inclusive tourism: members of the group learnt how Dutch organizations enable travel and recreation business to be more responsive for people with disabilities.
It is notable that all the partners involved in the project Volozhin without Barriers became part of the tour, namely Interakcia Foundation, Belarusian Public Association Country Escape, Public Association Belarusian Association of People with Disabilities, Belarusian Association of Assistance to Children and Young People with Disabilities, Volozhin District Executive Committee (lead partner) and Volozhin Social Service Centre.
During 6 days participants were introduced to new approaches in inclusive tourism: organizing cruises, outdoor tourism in farmsteads and castles, recreation at sea and in the countryside. People with disabilities were also among the Belarusian representatives, that is Head of Public Association Belarusian Association of People with Disabilities Vladimir Potapenko and his Deputy Sergey Drozdovski. They were able to test various devices being implemented and used in Holland in inclusive tourism sphere: automated couches in hotel rooms, wheelchairs specially constructed for riding sandy coasts.
Inclusive tourism business in Amsterdam proved to be quite a new-bown one, but rapidly developing. Thus, travel agency Accessible Travel Netherlands, founded in 2010, is at the moment one-of-a-kind in the country to be engaged with inbound tourism for people with disabilities. Belarusian experts visited the agency office, and took part in the trip to Hauge organized by Accessible Travel Netherlands. It is worth mentioning, the company is training guides with specialization in inclusive tourism.
Ontwikkelingsbedrijf NHN organization deals with routes for countryside tourism. A nice example of barrier-free environment was the excursion around Marken island, having turned into a tourist spot as a whole.
Excursion around Marken island
Now Hilton hotel in Amsterdam is acknowledged as the most adjusted for inclusive tourism: 25 suites are equipped with people with disabilities. The hotel’s management offered participants of the tour to check out all the facilities, and were eager to hear the feedback. On a practical level, couches could have been higher and with handrails in the upper part, otherwise a person with disabilities might feel uncomfortable. As Vladimir Potapenko, Head of Public Association Belarusian Association of People with Disabilities pointed out, “such infrastructure should be created with the involvement of those for whom it is intended, otherwise it won’t work”.
On Saturday. 23d, the group got acquainted with inclusive bike services. They visited the Starbikes Rental office, company which offers a great variety of vehicles for rent, including those for people with disabilities. One of the examples was the electric bicycle which could seat a wheelchair. Nethertheless, to drive this bike — thus, spin the pedals and use the steering wheel — one would need an assistant, so the person with disabilities is still not able to move completely on one’s own.
In the national Veluwe park — on bicycles and electrobikes (Amsterdam)
In front of Starbikes Rental office
Netherlands are constantly elaborating new approaches in tourism sphere. Thus, CtheCity project in Amsterdam was created for those willing to investigate the city in complete darkness. Visitors are exploring the rooms which are prototypes of Amsterdam — by touch, taste and smell, thus being on an equal footing with blind and visually impaired people.
CtheCity tour, Amsterdam
On the last day, the Belarusian group visited Scheveningen, an inclusive beach. The beach was being gradually improved, and its accessibility appeared to be crucial not only for people with disabilities, but also for young mothers with carriages and elderly people as well. Now there are 5 paths, and Biesieklette company is giving for rent hand- and motor-driven wheelchairs, specially for driving along the sandy coastland.
Besides exciting excursions, Belarusian participants established new contacts. Guests from Public Association Belarusian Association of People with Disabilities got acquainted with the Dutch colleagues from Allience for inclusion (Coalitie voor Inclusie). Like their Belarusian colleagues, this organization is promoting inclusion of people with disabilities as equal members of society.
Besides networking, there were other enriching moments during the tour. Thus, the participants reached the conclusion that it is not only important to create safe and inclusive environment for people with Disabilities, but also raise the awareness about the problem, and foster the right attitude towards it. In Belarus it is quite important to use the term “people with disabilities”, thus are emphasizing that there are still we should address them as personalities with equal rights, as part of our society. So, the social problem still exists, and is no less serious as lack of infrastructure.
The tour was organized by Belarusian Public Association Country Escape specially for experts of the project Volozhin without Barriers. The latter is being implemented by Interakcia Foundation, Belarusian Public Association Country Escape, Public Association Belarusian Association of People with Disabilities, Volozhin District Executive Committee (lead partner) and Volozhin Social Service Centre with financial support from the European Union.
As a result of the project, by 2018 up to 30 buildings in Volozhin that offer social and recreational services will be adapted, a tourist centre and hostel will be built in accordance with the needs of people with disabilities. And last but not least, one of the potential constructions will be an environmental trail through Nalibokskaya pusha.