The key to the European Capital of Culture is to remove the barriers not excluding those which are often not recognised by people who have no problem with their hearing, seeing and moving. Did you know that over 8.5 % of Slovenian population comprise of people with special needs? These are precisely the people that the creators of the European Capital of Culture are trying to accommodate at the venue sites, so that its content and programme can be accessible to all. It is therefore mandatory to inform the public, which most of the time acts obliviously, about the problems of this demography.
A working group comprising of representatives of the blind and visually impaired, deaf and physically handicapped persons was formed in cooperation with the Council of Disabled People of the Municipality of Maribor. They have checked over 40 scenes and made a list of descriptions which obtain detailed information on accessibility of the venues for people with special needs to whom we, the ECOC, wish to enable easy accessibility and thus encourage them to freely follow our programme. Then followed a joint search for creative solutions for 2012, which was the leading point of a project Easy Access of the Cultural ecological society Smetumet.
Both the external and internal surfaces using natural and recycled materials are now changing the image of the town, which displays openness, environmental awareness, and sociable character. The Smetumet Spatial Interventions have revived the aesthetic and playful public spaces with their design solutions and thus enliven the outlook of the town.
Accessibility does not include only physical access to venues, but also the adaptation of the venues itself, their facilities and programs of the European Capital of Culture in need of the adjustment for blind and partially sighted, deaf and hearing-impaired persons, persons with mental disabilities, and others who need to be provided with adjustment for equal participation in the European Capital of Culture. By forming a dialogue between assorted handicapped associations, institutions, and companies and coproducers and organisers on the other side we are trying to adjust as many events as possible by bringing them closer to those who have special needs. The areas that allow these adjustments include additional audio-descriptors, writing in Braille, the use of interpreters of the deaf - live and video, extra descriptions on posters, subtitles at events, tactile images, replicas of works of art so that the blind can feel and touch them, induction loop, special guided tours, and assistants for helping those with special needs. Events that include these types of adjustments are noted appropriately with the use of icons and descriptions on the online calendar of events.
Internet and mobile technologies are often considered as a synonymous of accessibility. But in fact they raise new barriers and establish new practices of exclusion. Therefore, a special attention was given to increase the accessibility of website content of the European Capital of Culture with the use of the software named eSova which is supported by key standards and applications for accessibility for the blind and partially sighted.
Programme strand LifeTouch also contributes to the matter by offering opportunities through digital content to focus the people's attention to everyday life stories of disabled people and the diversity of their needs, thus reveal the stereotypes by opening up a space for critical reflection.
Cultural-ecological fellowship Smetumet organises campaigns in the public setting throughout the year and thus spreading awareness, shattering tabus, stereotypes, and prejudices, and igniting public debates. This gave birth to another project, Special (needs) Friends, which offer workshops and installations titled Nature Enables. In them workshops and collaborations between handicap-dealing associations are being held with the topic Gifts which is based on the sales of products in the Info Points of the ECOC. Apart from already mentioned endeavors, Smetumet is expanding its mission of environmental and social 'spokesperson' by organising garbage collecting and public competitions for slogans. With such actions they slowly but gradually and firmly change the shape and the mentality of the town.
We create new environment, which is more accessible and benevolent to the entire town population, not only from the technical aspect, but also on the level of empathy, mutual helping, creating co-existing envirnment, and a relaxed atmosphere. We are thankful for the help of all the volunteers, educational institutions, retirement homes, handicap associations, institutes, and other organisations, which contributed tremendously.