Feeling at home in Europe

ACT presents its history exhibit at the European Council in Strasbourg Last month I went to France to talk disability […]

ACT presents its history exhibit at the European Council in Strasbourg

Last month I went to France to talk disability rights. The seeds for the trip were planted when Advocating Change Together (for whom I work) sold one of its Disability History Walls to the Hungarian Eotvos Larand University program on disability. The history exhibit consists of 21 poster-size depictions of issues and attitudes on disability over the last 2000-plus years. A group within the Hungarian university adapted the exhibit, adding eight new panels specific to disability issues of Hungary and Europe.

The adapted exhibit has since traveled widely in Europe, and Eotvos Larand University’s program on disability studies was invited to present the story of ACT’s history wall to the European Council in Stras-bourg, France. I was also invited to talk about the wall and about societal perceptions of disability. The presentation was in connection with opening of a conference sponsored by the Swedish government in regards to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities or CRPD.

The trip to Strasbourg struck me as noteworthy for a couple reasons. One is the amount of international attention that disability rights in general—and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in particular—has been receiving. That these issues are being presented and debated all over the world I find very positive for persons with disabilities.

Other issues now being addressed worldwide are the attitudes toward, and the accessibility for, a person (like me) that uses a motorized wheelchair for their mobility. The specific issues of my travel logistics are being talked about at the Europe Council (and more and more here in the United States). Attitudes of the mind do produce physical and programmatic inaccessibility.

In my case, the question was: will the airline offer any assistance for a person to get on and off the plane in Amsterdam? In fact, Northwest Airlines/KLM did offer assistance, complete with grumbling from the captain of the flight. However, Air France would not transport my wheelchair nor offer me any assistance in transferring on and off their airplanes. So, I was back in territory all to familiar to those of us using chairs to get around: I had to get creative in making my way from Amsterdam to Strasbourg.

At least the conference offered a glimmer of hope that things are rolling in the right direction.

Rick Cardenas is co-director of Advocating Change Together and community organizer for Self-Advocates Minnesota (SAM).