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Belarus launches a tourism accessibility campaign 

30.09.2016  |  Society   |  EuroBelarus Information Service,  
Belarus launches a tourism accessibility campaign  photo by Tatiana Zharnosek

According to the Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, today no less than one fourth of Belarusians needs accessible touristic services.

During the session of the roundtable “Tourism for everyone: promoting accessibility of tourism for all” the results of the monitoring of accessibility of Minsk tourism infrastructure were presented. The session also gave the start to the implementation of the first regional initiative for the development of tourism for everyone.
Natalia Borisenko-Klepach, the author of the report “Tourism for everyone as a new market segment” (Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, International Tourism Department of the Faculty of International Relations in Belarus State University) recalled: Article 30 of the UN Convention of the rights of the disabled provides for “the countries-members to acknowledge the right of persons with disabilities to take part in the cultural life, entertainment, and sporting events on par with the others and take all the necessary steps for that”.
What do we understand by accessible tourism for all? According to the World Tourism Organization (WHO), this is the form of tourism, which includes the process of cooperation between the different actors of tourism that helps people with disabilities to get accessibility, including its mobile, visual, auditory and cognitive components, as well as function independently with the help of universal touristic products, services and environment.
According to WHO, in 2011 almost 15% of the world's population (about 785 million people) are people with disabilities. 
Speaking about the European Union, about $138.8 million need accessibility.
However, as Natalia Borisenko-Klepach noted, even in the EU only 9% of tourist service providers offer "accessible" options for recreation. According to the expert, the difference between the modern supply and demand for accessible travel services is 27.8%. 
According to the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection, Belarus is home to about 550 thousand people with disabilities (almost 6% of the population), with about 1.9 million people older than 60 years. According to the Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, at least 26% of Belarusians are in need of accessibility.
Today, the situation with the available tourism infrastructure is as follows:
- 273 spots in health centres for wheelchair users (in 2010 there were only 40);
- 60 rooms in hotels (in Minsk);
- About 20 mansions, offering some accessible services;
- 2-3 travel companies offering accessible services.
The initiative "The accessibility of cultural life, leisure, and recreation for people with disabilities" announced by the Office, aims at "promoting the right of persons with disabilities for equal participation in cultural life, recreation, leisure and sport." The initiative provides for:
- Monitoring the accessibility of tourist facilities and recreational infrastructure with the involvement of volunteers;
- Informing the touristic and recreational legal entities about the need to ensure the accessibility of their services;
- Information campaign in support of the equality of rights of persons with disabilities to participate in cultural life, recreation, leisure, and sport.
The idea of converting the whole area into the area accessible for any tourist emerged in 2012. For now the participants of the project inspected about 200 buildings on the subject of accessibility. "There was not a single object that met the requirements of accessibility for all, - Irina Ivanova, a representative of Interaction, a local fund for promoting the development of international dialog and cooperation said. - It is expected that up to 30 public facilities providing social and recreational services will be adapted to the needs of people with disabilities. The project is funded by the European Union with the budget of 1.111 million euro."
In the meantime, as evidenced in the monitoring of the Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, accessibility of tourism services infrastructure is woefully low, even in the Belarusian capital, the city of Minsk. Of the 54 studied objects 35 are completely inaccessible to people with disabilities.

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