2004 Paralympics provide major challenge for hosts

The 2004 Paralympics will not only provide Greece with accessible buildings and public facilities, but also leave the country with a new attitude toward people with disabilities, the chief organizer for the Athens Olympics said yesterday. For years, construction codes for private and public buildings had no special provisions for the disabled. In view of the Paralympics, to be held immediately after the Olympic Games, the government made significant changes to its laws. Government officials have said all buildings, sidewalks and other public facilities must be made accessible, including sports venues, hotels, restaurants and museums. No budget has been given for the task, as the government has not yet been able to estimate its scale. Officials have blamed delays in making changes to a Greek mentality of neglect for the needs of the disabled. «The greatest legacy for all of us will be an accessible infrastructure and most importantly, a new social awareness,» said Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, head 2004 organizer, at the beginning of two days of meetings with Philip Craven, president of the International Paralympic Committee or IPC. Craven – who uses a wheelchair – said he would personally visit downtown Athens to check accessibility for himself. As an incentive, Craven said that an award could be given to the municipality in the Athens area that has the most accessible facilities ready in time for the 2004 Paralympics. Angelopoulos-Daskalaki said IPC officials will spend two days being briefed on Athens’s preparations. Organizers are also preparing an event to mark the two years remaining until the start of the Paralympics, to be held from September 17 to 28. «On a daily basis we are preparing the Paralympic Games with the same determination as we do for the Olympic Games. It is an immense responsibility,» she said. «I believe that every single Greek will be moved by the performance of the athletes.» According to Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, a recent poll carried out for organizers showed that Greeks were very enthusiastic about the 2004 Games. Results of the poll have not yet been released. «We do know through research… that the Greek people are very aware and they are very motivated by this organization,» Angelopoulos-Daskalaki said.

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