A little over a month ago, the Auditorium Pirelli in Milan hosted the presentation of the “Wow-Wheels on Wales” project, according to which the catamaran “Lo Spirito di Stella” will cross the Atlantic Ocean travelling from the United States to Italy. After setting sail from Miami on April 26th, the vessel stopped in New York before heading for Europe. The aim of its journey is to show the existence of a world without barriers, be they architectural or psychological. This is why the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a document symbolizing equality and inclusion, boarded the catamaran “Lo Spirito di Stella” in New York. Similarly, the vessel was specially designed for disabled people and will host crew teams with different nationalities, age and skills, thus sharing courage-driven stories. Thanks to its design, the catamaran allows them to move and collaborate in the navigation process.
During its first three sailing weeks “Lo Spirito di Stella” has already stopped in South Carolina, Virginia and Maryland; however, it was in New York, where the UN headquarters are located, that the vessel symbolically welcomed this document - not just as an important acknowledgment for the rights of persons with disabilities but also as a message of peace and equality that will be delivered to Pope Francis in Rome in September.
The Convention was the first global treaty on human rights of the 21st century. Entered into force in 2008, the Convention was ratified by 166 countries all over the world after decades of UN commitment to changing both the personal and the institutional approaches towards disabled people in favour of their equal rights recognition and a greater social inclusion. The charter consists of 50 articles based on general principles of equality and inclusion - such as non-discrimination, the respect for the individual’s dignity and equal opportunities - and more specific issues involving every single aspect of the individual’s life. Ranging from school to work and accessibility, a number of activities are promoted with regard to roads, means of transportation and health facilities, and reference is made to the urge for further technological developments to promote the access to the Internet and other communications systems. Mention is also made to further issues, such as the attention to be paid to persons with disabilities who are undergoing humanitarian emergencies, including situations of armed conflict and natural disasters, equal recognition before the law and right to life - that disabled people are free to exercise on an equal basis with others. This document not only aims at protecting persons with disabilities, but is also intended as a means of awareness-raising for everyone else. As a matter of fact, it urges more awareness within the society to combat stereotypes and promote the skills and merits of disabled people, thus enabling them to live a fulfilled life.
According to the charter, fulfilling these conditions is a process starting in the early stages of life, which is why education projects for children can be crucial. The “Wow-Wheels on Wales” project focused on this issue: at every stop, the catamaran crew meets some children, explains the project to them, lets them board this special vessel - the only one that can be accessed by persons with disabilities – and enables them to experience diversity thanks to Pinksie the Whale. As symbol of the homonymous association established in London in 2012, the pink whale is the protagonist of a books collection featuring her adventure stories to overcome the fear of diversity. On the bow of the catamaran there is the image of Pinksie accompanying the crew in their numerous legs while crossing the Ocean. Indeed, the Convention promotes inclusion initiatives at all social levels - professional, political and recreational. The countries that adopted this document need to organise themselves so that these rights are recognized; to this end, they can act independently or collaborate with businesses and companies. For instance, in the UK the Premier League launched a three-year initiative to involve people with disabilities to help them know about their skills and get more opportunities through sport. In countries such as the United States, India, Albania and Slovenia, disabled people are provided with electronic machines to help them vote during elections and referendums, while Ghana, Canada and Kosovo offer Braille ballot paper. Beside these initiatives, the attention is increasingly focusing on removing architectural barriers, which is why many cities’ roads and attractions have been made accessible to anyone. Hotels, beaches and monuments are ever more equipped with systems allowing easier access to both tourists and residents, such as the installation of ramps or translations for sight impaired people.
San Marino was among the first signatory countries of the Convention, and in 2013 was awarded special recognition as European Destination of ExcelleNce by EDEN, a project promoted by the European Union in favour of sustainable tourism. Moreover, the World Heritage site has adopted numerous initiatives both for the Wow project - carrying out diplomatic activities with the Pope and the United Nations - and “Lo Spirito di Stella” association - thus helping young people with cognitive and relational disabilities approach sailing. Indeed, for some time now San Marino has been committed to exploiting its territory - not the most favourable one for disabled people - to provide ad-hoc services such as a wheelchair accessible public swing and the possibility to rent the Triride, a device that can be attached to a wheelchair and motorise it, thus enabling it to safely travel uphill and downhill. The objective is a barrier-free environment to be obtained by installing access ramps in strategic points such as the Basilica del Santo, the construction of which was authorised a few months ago. In addition to this, programs are being developed for severely sight impaired and sight impaired people, people with hand impairment and people suffering from food allergies. The project “San Marino for All” adapts to the visitors’ needs: each itinerary is provided with crucial information such as accessibility to sanitation facilities, maximum slopes, the location of the ramps, ATMs height, doors weight and the type of floor surfaces to be encountered. These indications help more than two million tourists each year - and a potentially greater number - thanks to the special services dedicated to disabled people that are becoming more and more available thanks to the principles stated in the Convention and parallel activities carried out by the United Nations. For instance, the “Zero Project” Conference annually attracts experts in the field of international disabilities to review progress on the situation and identify new inclusion strategies.