First of all we are talking about people with hearing and visual impairments and with limited mobility. In spite of significant financial investments to the preparation of Hockey World Championship (HWCH) the key objects and services which can be interesting for fans have just a few accessibility elements and the accessibility is not of a system character. These are the main conclusions of the monitoring held by the Office for the rights of persons with disabilities before the major international sport event in Minsk.
Specialists emphasize the fact that accessibility evaluation was done not of the whole city but only of the objects and services which possible participants of the event could need.
- We were considering accessibility from the point of view that every person has the right to take part in the championship, including people with severe forms of disabilities. That is why our evaluation doesn’t let us determine an object as “semi-accessible” or partially accessible – says the Office’s project coordinator Sergei Drozdovskiy. – The monitoring showed: the evaluated objects are more often provided with elements of barrier-free environment for wheelchair-bound persons or those using walkers, a cane etc. but organizers of the event paid much less attention to the accessibility standards for persons with hearing and visual impairments.
Independent visit is a risk.
First problem a guest is facing is the absence in free sale of tickets to places for persons with disabilities, particularly for wheelchair-bound disabled.
All such tickets had been distributed for free and in random order through bodies of social protection, special institutions and organizations of persons with disabilities. This situation is of a discriminative character. There is a possibility that fans from other countries stayed at home. Taking into account the fact that they had asked to buy tickets to special places but their request was ignored.
Those who finally came to the country, together with a ticket to the Championship bought a pig in a poke: website of the official touristic company of HWCH "ЦентрКурорт" has no special information for persons with special needs. There is no information about living conditions, fan village, tours what is a serious barrier for our country’s guests. As a result fans, who got used to European accessibility, risk a lot when independently visit Belarus. Till the last moment it is not clear if they are able to move around and live in Minsk without assistance.
Without a toilet and a bus.
After recent reconstruction of the national airport “Minsk” the degree of its accessibility and comfort has increased. Probably, the case of Evgeniy Shevko played its role. Modern chairs were bought for moving passengers aboard. Airport’s website has special section on peculiarities of rendering services to passengers with different types of disabilities.
But toilets that were specially equipped are often closed. By the way, it is the problem of not only the airport but also other public places. Very often spacious toilets are a good place for keeping tools and equipment there. We should understand that search of suitable W.C. can sometimes finish not very successfully, - says Sergei Drozdovskiy.
There are no other working accessibility elements at the airport: sound machines for visually impaired, information in Brail in informational kiosks. But it is important to state that if to compare with railway stations the airport did rather good job in the sphere of accessibility.
Very often a person with disabilities has no opportunity to leave the airport: there is no social taxi service which would be equipped with ramps. There are regular low-floor buses but their drivers don’t know how to work with wheelchair-bound passengers. They stop a bus far from the curb and don’t help a passenger to get in the bus. And it is difficult to catch such a bus, because the schedule doesn’t show when a low-floor bus comes that is why it is not clear for how long a person with disability will have to wait for it.
At central railway and bus stations a person with disability will face more problems. For example, all the ticket offices are so high that it is almost impossible to reach them when you are in wheelchair.
Another example: there are a lot of glass doors at the central railway station and they are not marked with yellow strip that is why a visually impaired person can simply not to see them and as a result will start his trip with a trauma. But it is just the beginning: inaccessible Minsk is waiting behind the doors.
“It is scary with a suitcase and even scarier in wheelchair”
Specialists evaluated hotels and hostels of different price range. It was difficult to learn something about a hotel beforehand because their websites have no information about accessible rooms.
- In 8 out of 17 evaluated hotels we got the answer: we are not waiting for clients with disabilities. Practically, 9 hostels are inaccessible. Cheap rooms are very small and are equipped with bunk beds, - says the specials. - During the monitoring the first thing we did was the evaluation of a possibility to get inside a hotel. We realized that we couldn’t even get inside some of the hotels. For example hotel “Planeta” which is attractive to tourists because it is situated in the center of the city has such an awful ramp that it is almost impossible to use it for suitcases not talking about safety of a person with disability.
It is clear that a room’s design can’t be written in norms. But the main advice in this situation is to think and to listen to advices. But there are really odd things: in one of the hotels in the special room the system of toilet flush was equipped with a leg pedal. And it was in the room were people who can’t walk will stay.
Among most wide spread obstacles of staying in our hotels I should also mention the absence of special parking places in 70 meters range from the entrance, critical violation of ramps’ characteristic, absence of special toilets on ground floor. Sometimes rooms for disabled are occupied by people without disabilities although there are spare rooms in the hotel.
According to volunteers hotel “Arena” is the most suitable for people with disabilities. Although hotel “Belarus” was positively evaluated during the monitoring its administration asked the Office for the rights of persons with disabilities to send them recommendations which could be used for elimination of barriers.
Nowhere to eat, no chance to get to movies.
It could be a problem for a fan with disability to find a place to eat. Public catering is completely not ready for visits of people with disabilities.
- Taking into account that buildings are not accessible and there is no possibility to change it, cafes and restaurants don’t want to make summer terraces accessible and comfortable. No website of a restaurant or a café writes that it is not accessible, - says the expert.
- You can hardly find accessible drug stores or post offices. Fans with limited mobility didn’t have an opportunity to take part in the night of Museums that took place during the Championship. Museum workers were very unfriendly with volunteers who were holding monitoring.
You will not be able to go to movies: there is no special W.C. in any of movie theatres, not saying that many cinema halls are situated on the 2nd floors. A person in wheelchair will not be able even to enter cinema “Oktiabr” because the only accessible entrance is closed for visitors. It is difficult to find an ATM a visually impaired person can use – there are only 2 of them in Minsk.
They always forget that there are different kinds of disabilities
“Minsk-Arena” and “Chizhovka-Arena” the places were games take place are accessible for fans with disabilities. But there are also some shortcomings. You can hardly get to “Minsk-Arena if you go there from the center of the city because of inaccessibility of the underpass. At “Chizhovka-Arena” places for fans with disabilities have a ramp with inadmissible angle and it is not wide enough for maneuvering in a wheelchair and there are no necessary safety handrails. Both Arenas lack informational support for visually impaired fans and there are no scrolling information boards for people with hearing impairments. The conditions of Arenas’ accessibility are not complete for people with different types of disabilities: sport complexes have better accessibility for persons with physical limitations and worse with visual and hearing impairments.
The positive moments are: volunteers were working at the arenas and rendered necessary assistance to people with special needs.
Summing up the specialist mentioned that the preparation to WCH hadn’t provided full accessibility of environment. WCH’s accessibility completely depended on the accessibility of Minsk. Besides creation of volunteer service and distributing free tickets organizers have done nothing. We can only guess if the organizers consulted with accessibility specialists and it is the norm for such large-scale events.
Experts of the Office for the rights of persons with disabilities consider that the monitoring of the event showed a lot of shortcomings which can and should be taken into account during preparation to other large-scale events.
The monitoring was presented in the frames of Accessibility week 2014.