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TX: 27.09.04 - PARALYMPICS LEGACY

PRESENTER: JOHN WAITE & PETER WHITE

THE ATTACHED TRANSCRIPT WAS TYPED FROM A RECORDING AND NOT COPIED FROM AN ORIGINAL SCRIPT.  BECAUSE OF THE RISK OF MISHEARING AND THE DIFFICULTY IN SOME CASES OF IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL SPEAKERS, THE BBC CANNOT VOUCH FOR ITS COMPLETE ACCURACY.

WAITE
Moving right along, bet there'll be a few hotel rooms coming free soon in Athens because the Paralympics are drawing to a close there. Two weeks of course in which the eyes of the world have been on the prowess of disabled athletes. Our own Tanni Grey Thompson is coming away with 11 medals, I think I heard in the news at midday. But how much have things changed for the disabled people of Athens and the rest of Greece, who'll still be living there when the whole games bandwagon leaves town tomorrow?
 
Peter White's been covering the Paralympics for us over the past fortnight.
 
WHITE
Well John there have certainly been changes over the past few months, as we've been reporting. There's no doubt about that, there is now an accessible metro system, there are trams, there are accessible buses, which are going to be a lasting legacy from the games and they work - that's fine. But when it comes to the actual pavements and the parking that's a good deal more problematic. The city of Athens is very proud of having laid 70 kilometres of textured paving for visually impaired people. And the idea of that, I mean you'll be aware of it in London, is to guide visually impaired people towards significant landmarks - like crossings etc. - which is fine until you dare to turn off the main drag where you could encounter anything - and I have - from a chorale of motorbikes to a large drop into the basement of a gutted building. So how much has this been window dressing for the games and how much will the work go on - which is a question I put to the deputy mayor, who's got responsibility for the infrastructure - Theodoros Skylakakis.
 
SKYLAKAKIS
From now on, certainly in Athens and in most municipalities all over Greece, nobody's going to rebuild a pavement without taking into consideration people that have visual difficulties or other disabled people. It may take 10 years or 15 years - the whole infrastructure in terms of pavements in Greece will be changed. A lot of years - decades - have passed without nothing happening, the thing that has started is here to stay.
 
WAITE
Deputy Mayor of Athens Theodoros Skylakakis. But of course it isn't just about infrastructure, is it Peter?
 
WHITE
No it isn't at all. What it's actually about is the reasons why people park on the pavements, without it occurring to them it might be a problem for somebody else, it's about why large numbers of disabled people still live in institutions here in Greece, rather than in the community. And it's about why there are very few Greek disabled people in lucrative jobs or indeed out on the streets - you don't see many disabled people. Of course history and economics, both contribute to that, but whatever the reasons it doesn't make it any easier for people who have to live here. Christina Papamichael - that's the lady who some of you might remember who went up the Acropolis the other day on our previous piece - she's been disabled from birth and her mother felt so strongly about Christina's prospects in Greece that the family actually left the country for England when she was nine. She goes back for holidays but she always felt as a teenager uncomfortable and excluded.
 
PAPAMICHAEL
There are a lot of disabled people in Greece and in Athens but they're not seen anywhere, they're still pretty much hidden away at home. And this isn't just an issue of accessibility, it's also an issue of mentality. The mentality in my opinion began to change radically in Greece four or five years ago. Before that people would look at me, if I was out in the street, as if I had leprosy - taxi drivers wouldn't take me, if I was going to the cinema with a friend they would tell me friend why didn't she leave me at home and they would take her but they wouldn't take me. The fact that things are very slowly beginning to become slightly accessible rather than wholly inaccessible I think it's going to take some time to sink in.
 
WAITE
Christina Papamichael. Well the Greeks have tried hard Peter, haven't they, to involve children in these Paralympics - isn't that an optimistic sign?
 
WHITE
Well it is John. What they've actually done, they've done what the Australians did - they paired up schools with Paralympic athletes, so that the children could learn about the various sports that they were likely to see and what disabled people could do and they then handed out thousands and thousands of tickets to schools, which achieved two things - it actually filled the venues because the tickets sales didn't go particularly well at the start and hopefully it's educated the next generation who've also probably seen more disabled people out on the streets doing very unusual things than they've ever seen before - people who take independence for granted. These are the views of just a few of the youngsters who were drawn to the stadium and watched the sport.
 
VOX POPS
I have been to basketball, athletics and swimming. I like swimming because people there have big problems and they manage to finish.
 
It's very important for these people because they have problems and it's very different being an athlete. So it's important for our country.
 
I will help them at the road and I will help all the time with them. Before in Greece we didn't help them and see them. The Paralympic Games showed us what we must do.
 
WAITE
Well some Greek youngsters there but of course millions and millions of people around the world have been seeing disabled people haven't they.
 
WHITE
They have indeed and a lot of them are going to be saying hang on our facilities aren't any better than that. I mean most countries would find it difficult to stage the Paralympics without a great deal of work, including Britain, I mean we have the 2012 bid, we've got an inaccessible underground system, we've got a heck of a lot of work to do before we could say that we are fully accessible. So it isn't just a question of cocking a snoop at the Greece, who have tried I think very hard. This city looks very different now than it did even a year ago.
 
WAITE
So the Greek gauntlet has been thrown down for London?
 
WHITE
Well I think it's reasonable to say if Greeks could do it from the start they had - of an ancient city, even more ancient than London - then anyone should be able to do it.
 
WAITE
Peter White thank you very much indeed. 

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