We had the honor of meeting Mr. John Vardakastanis, President of the National Confederation of Disabled People of Greece and President of the European Disability Forum (EDF).
Mr. Vardakastanis visited our school and was extremely happy about our project, and wanted to learn more about us and help us in our first steps. He pointed out that disability is a part of the diversity of humans. There have even been Gods with disabilities in Greek mythology, like Hephaestus who lost his leg when he fell from Olympus.
We also discussed accessibility, and that it needs to be thought of as a chain of things and not just single actions. For example, the subway here in Athens is more accessible than the subway in Stockholm. However, the city of Stockholm as a whole – roads, sidewalks, public infrastructure, etc. – is far more accessible than Athens.
Another general example in the discussion of a city’s accessibility is the ATMs. In Athens they are physically accessible as they have the proper height, and the buttons have Braille writing on them, but realistically they are often inaccessible because usually there are some steps to reach it! So we see that there is a basic structure for disabled people in buildings and on public transport, but there are still many things that need to be done.
What we learned from the meeting with Mr. Vardakastanis was that great things happen only when we change our whole view of them. We feel tremendous gratitude toward him and his daughter for visiting us, accepting our hospitality, and sharing their insight with us!