Access Living staff travel to
Hungary for International

From February 22 - March 5, Access Living’s Candace Coleman and Tom Wilson visited Hungary as part of the Professional Fellows international community organizer exchange program sponsored by the U.S. State Department. Through the program, Access Living staff and international partners have the opportunity to learn how respective agencies and organizations work to strengthen citizen participation, transparency, and accountability.

Tom and Candace traveled to Hungary to learn from local disability community organizers and also share some of what they know about disability from their experiences in the United States. In Hungary, Candace and Tom worked with three organizations: Step by Step, a group for parents of kids with disabilities; Rehab Critical Mass, an organization dedicated to rehabilitation; and Retextil, a group local to the town of Pecs, which teaches people with disabilities how to make toys, decorations, and many other things.

In terms of physical accessibility, there was a stark contrast between cities within Hungary. In the town of Pecs, 90% of buses are wheelchair-accessible. However, that is in sharp contrast to Budapest, where only 25% of buses are wheelchair-accessible. In Budapest, access isn’t much better outside of the trains. The city has the second-oldest subway system in Europe, but has done recent updates to make it accessible. According to Tom and Candace, there is no way to get on and off the subway system in a wheelchair. They also have electric trams which do not have accessibility. The city is paved with brick and cobblestone which makes for very rough riding in a wheelchair.

Despite the lack of transit access, Tom was impressed with the accessibility of the bathrooms. He observed that not only did they have handrails and roll-in showers, but accessible mirrors as well. Attached to the bathroom mirror was a string which when pulled could tilt the mirror downwards so that someone in a wheelchair could look up at themselves.

Similar to the United States, institutionalization and community supports are an issue in Hungary. Tom and Candace met two women who had just moved out of an institution into the community. There were 500 people living in that same institution. The women were trying to figure out the home care situation so that they could successfully stay in the community. Hungary’s government will only pay for home care five days a week, just four hours per day.

Tom and Candace spent the trip with Peter Golgozi, a fellow advocate who is from Pecs. As part of the Access Living exchange, Peter visited the United States, and worked at Access Living in October 2016. While Tom and Candace were in Budapest, they filmed Peter crawling up the stairs of the National Cathedral to illustrate how inaccessible it is. Peter uses a wheelchair, and the cathedral has 20 steps and no elevators or ramps to help him make the journey to the top. Peter believes that Hungary fails to improve accessibility at the cathedral and other locations because renovations would destroy historic status. Nevertheless, Peter hopes that his work, along with the work of disability organizations, will improve accessibility and community opportunity in Hungary.