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Cities improve access for people with disabilities - 03/12/2010

Blind man with white cane © EU

EU awards Avila, Spain for championing accessibility for the disabled.

Avila, known for its medieval walls and many churches, received the EU's first Access City Award for its commitment to become more disabled-friendly.

The annual award is part of the EU's strategy to improve access for the disabled and ensure their rights across the bloc. The award was launched to increase awareness of the difficulties disabled people encounter in urban areas and celebrate cities that have removed some of the barriers to their mobility.

Avila, situated west of Madrid, won the award for its work to improve accessibility to public buildings, the result of mindful town planning since 2002 in collaboration with disabled and elderly people's organisations. The city has also provided the private sector with incentives to make similar moves and has improved access for the disabled to tourist attractions and jobs.

Avila, along with Barcelona, Spain; Cologne, Germany, and Turku, Finland were finalists for the award, chosen from among the 66 European cities that entered the competition.

The award was presented in Brussels as part of the European Day of People with Disabilities, marked by a two-day conference, which ended on 3 December.

The mutual recognition of national disability cards, the ability to study and work abroad, social security schemes, and access to leisure and culture activities were among the topics discussed.

Improving accessibility for people with disabilities is one of the key planks of the European Disability Strategy for 2010-2020, adopted in November 2010.

Among other proposals, the strategy outlines actions to promote access for the disabled to buildings, transport and other services, and information and communications technologies.

About 80 million people living in the EU have a mild to severe disability. The physical obstacles they face, like gaining access to a school or work place, leave them vulnerable to social exclusion. Lower employment and education levels mean the poverty rate for those with disabilities is 70% higher than the average.

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