Aus­tralian am­bas­sador calls for more in­te­gra­tion

Kathimerini English - - Focus - OMAIRA GILL

John Grif­fin, Aus­tralia’s am­bas­sador to Greece, has called on the coun­try to aid the in­te­gra­tion of men­tally and phys­i­cally dis­abled mem­bers of so­ci­ety.

Dur­ing a spe­cial event at the em­bassy in Athens yes­ter­day to mark the pre­sen­ta­tion of a paint­ing by stu­dents from the Aghios Dim­itrios School of Spe­cial Pro­fes­sional Ed­u­ca­tion and Train­ing, Grif­fin said that the in­clu­sion of the men­tally and phys­i­cally dis­abled in so­ci­ety was vi­tal.

“The pur­pose of to­day’s event is very sim­ple and very im­por­tant. When we ar­rived in Athens, my part­ner Pete and I were sur­prised that we didn’t see peo­ple with spe­cial needs in the street – and hardly any fa­cil­i­ties for them. So­cial in­clu­sion is a ba­sic hu­man right in so­ci­ety. Every­one de­serves that Aus­tralian fun­da­men­tal value of a ‘fair go,’” he said, also ref­er­enc­ing the Amer­i­can Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence ar­ti­cle cit­ing the right to life, lib­erty and the pur­suit of hap­pi­ness for all mem­bers of so­ci­ety. “I al­ways bear in mind the words at­trib­uted to the great Ma­hatma Gandhi: ‘A na­tion’s great­ness is mea­sured by how it treats its weak­est mem­bers,’” he said.

The art­work, based on Gus­tav Klimt’s paint­ing “The Kiss,” was a Christ­mas present to the am­bas­sador fol­low­ing an em­bassy visit to the school in Septem­ber while stu­dents had been work­ing on it.

“Ev­ery in­di­vid­ual and or­ga­ni­za­tion can make a small con­tri­bu­tion to in­te­grat­ing peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties in our so­ci­ety. The em­bassy’s small con­tri­bu­tion is to help raise the vis­i­bil­ity of peo­ple with spe­cial needs, and of those ded­i­cated pro­fes­sion­als who work for their devel­op­ment – so as to high­light the im­por- tance of so­cial in­clu­sion for all,” he con­cluded.

The Aghios Dim­itrios School of Spe­cial Pro­fes­sional Ed­u­ca­tion and Train­ing is a pub­lic vo­ca­tional school in Athens for chil­dren and adults with spe­cial needs such as men­tal dif­fi­cul­ties, autism and var­i­ous psy­cho­log­i­cal is­sues. There are cur­rently 245 stu­dents aged 12 to 22 en­rolled. Sev­eral were in at­ten­dance at the event, as were other peo­ple from spe­cial­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions which work with, train and ed­u­cate peo­ple with spe­cial needs.

Thank­ing the school and its stu­dents, Grif­fin said: “This gift will serve as a re­minder to us all of the valu­able work be­ing done in the com­mu­nity to en­sure every­one re­ceives a fair go. We should all be aware of and sup­port this work.”

So­cial in­clu­sion for the men­tally and phys­i­cally dis­abled in Greece re­mains a chal­lenge and is fur­ther com­pounded by the eco­nomic cri­sis, which has seen fund­ing for spe­cial schools slashed.

Greece has rat­i­fied the United Na­tions Con­ven­tion on the Rights of Per­sons with Dis­abil­i­ties, and as part of this the coun­try is re­quired to take con­tin­u­ous steps to­ward im­prov­ing the lives of those with dis­abil­i­ties and give them an equal stand­ing in so­ci­ety, in­clud­ing ac­cess to an ed­u­ca­tion. De­spite this, a re­port by the Greek branch of Ac­tionAid in May 2015 re­vealed that 85 per­cent of Greek chil­dren with a dis­abil­ity were not re­ceiv­ing an ed­u­ca­tion.

The main ob­sta­cles keep­ing dis­abled chil­dren from at­tend­ing school were cited as short­ages in trans­porta­tion, in­fra­struc­ture such as ramps, au­dio­vi­sual aids, qual­i­fied staff and reg­u­lar fund­ing.

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