Campaign raises awareness of difficulties faced by people with impaired mobility

02-06-2004

Since the fall of communism, much has changed in attitudes to disabled people. Terms such as "easy access" or "wheelchair adapted" have gradually entered the everyday language; pavements, many buildings and buses have been adapted to enable people with impaired mobility to be less dependent on other people's assistance. But there are cases when simple ignorance causes severe difficulties to wheelchair users or the blind. This week a campaign is under way to make people more aware of what it is like to move around the city in a wheelchair or using a white stick.

One of Prague's main squares has turned into a miniature city. There is a bus, a few cars, traffic lights, doors to be opened and pavement curbs to be mounted - all to show people how difficult simple activities might become when your mobility is impaired.

I spoke to Tomas Lanc from the Prague Organisation of Wheelchair Users and asked about the challenges that the city poses.

"The situation has improved greatly since 1989 but many things could have been done better. I think it is a pity that architects don't tend to consult wheelchair users when they design easy access buildings or pavements. Often the adaptations don't work. A small unevenness of the surface can pose a great problem to wheelchair users if they are on their own."

Tomas Lanc is a student of Prague's Charles University. He says that moving around the university building or other institutions is not so much of a problem as getting there in the first place.

"There are two special bus lines equipped with hydraulic elevated platforms that connect easy-access apartments on housing estates with the city centre. The drawback is that they go only every two to three hours. So you have to organise your time around it."

There are also almost two hundred low-floor buses now in operation in Prague.

As for the Prague metro - much of it was built before 1989. Only 22 of the 50 stations have barrier-free access to platforms and the greatest challenge is changing from one line to another.

"I would love to see the stations where you change lines adapted for wheelchair users. I don't know whether it is a technical or a financial problem but a wheelchair user has no chance of changing from one metro line to another without the help of one or two other people."

The various adaptations carried out have significantly improved the life standard of people with impaired mobility - be they senior citizens, parents with baby carriages or wheelchair users. As this week's event tries to teach the public, often simple ignorance such as parking a car on the pavement or at a wheelchair adapted curb can make all this work amount to nothing.

02-06-2004

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