First stop: Chicago!
Greek professionals working in the field of accessible tourism from all over the country kicked off theirInternational Visitor LeadershipProgram (IVLP) in Chicago to examine how U.S. cities, including local and state governments, relevant authorities, and the private sector, create an accessible and welcoming environment for tourists with disabilities. Representatives of the Municipality of Thessaloniki, D.A.MOVE social enterprise and Dagipoli dance company, NGO Perpato,Prosvasis.co start-up, NGO AlliOpsis, Municipality of Komotini, and Greece4all platform/Amphitrite social enterprise spent three days in Chicago, where they had the opportunity to meet with US representatives from the travel industry sector, local authorities, and NGOs focusing on advocacy for protecting the rights of people with disabilities - all aiming to create an accessible and friendly environment for citizens and tourists of Chicago.
More specifically, while in Chicago, the Greek participants visited OpenDoors association - where one of the board members is Greek - and had the opportunity to learn about the association's market research report on disabilities and tourism and about the way the association teaches businesses how to succeed in the disability market. The participants also visited the Chicago Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities, where they learned how the city of Chicago continues to improve accessibility for citizens and tourists and they also discussed current initiatives driven by the Municipality in accessibility. The Greek delegation also met with representatives of the GreatLakes ADA Center, a program of the Department of Disability and Human Development under the College of Applied Health Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago, which provides information, materials, technical assistance, and training on the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). The participants also met with a representative of the non-profit organization Equip for Equality, who discussed with them how this NGO advances the civil rights of children and adults with physical and mental disabilities by engaging in public policy as well as conducting various oversight activities. The group also visited the Chicago Park District, a municipal pioneer in offering recreation programs in the city's parks for people with disabilities; and they also met with representatives of the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), who provided an overview of the public transportation system and discussed how the transit system aims to be fully accessible for all citizens and tourists. The Greek delegation had also the opportunity to visit the National Hellenic Museum and meet with prominent members of the Greek diaspora community in Chicago, who expressed their strong interest in supporting the work of the Greek delegation to create an accessible and friendly environment for tourists with disabilities in their Greek cities.
This is the first time that the U.S. EMBASSY ATHENS is sponsoring a study visit for professionals working at the tourism and disabilities fields, aiming to help Greek tourism stakeholders to improve their access services.
Next stop: Charleston, South Carolina, also known as "The Holy City"!