COMMUNITY

Australian ambassador calls for more integration

OMAIRA GILL

Australian Ambassador to Greece John Griffin with students from the Aghios Dimitrios School of Special Professional Education and Training.

TAGS: Community, Health, Society

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 hanging of a painting presented to the embassy 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 importance 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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