The Arzhan Foundation, established in May 2010, pursues social and other socially useful purposes. They aim to provide assistance to socially vulnerable groups and people affected by emergencies, through the implementation of charitable and social projects. They offer free courses on professional orientation and the socialisation of students with and without special needs.
They include such activities as lectures, field exercises and excursions. Arzhan creates accessibility for people with disabilities that also benefits different members of the Kazakh population; the elderly, immigrants who do not understand the language, families with children in prams.
The Foundation held a conference on social tourism in Almaty on 20th September 2016, for the second year running. The focus for this particular conference was on travellers with disabilities and their personal experiences. The participants of the conference were travellers with disabilities, young people with and without disabilities who dreamt of travelling, and professionals within the tourism industry and other stakeholders.
I had the honour of attending this conference on behalf of the European Network for Accessible Tourism [ENAT]. I gave a presentation on ENAT and informing the attendees of the amazing work they do through their various projects and schemes.
ENAT is a non-profit organisation that was founded in 2008. Their mission is to make European tourism destinations, products and services accessible to all travellers and to promote accessible tourism around the world. Since they have been established, they have members from over 50 countries.
I was also given the opportunity to tell them about myself, and the purpose of my blog. Myself and another traveller by the name of Tony Giles were sent from the UK to give our perspectives as travellers with a disabilities.
During the conference, there was a presentation by a certified disabled tour guide from Russia who is a wheelchair user. She provides tours in Kaliningrad, which she described as a Russian city with German history. She offers integrated tours for people with and without special needs.
It was excellent to see a person with a disability that was a tour guide. It really hammered home to the audience that tourism should be for everyone, on both sides of the industry. As a tour operator/provider, and as a tourist.
Arzhan Foundation created a map of accessibility in 2010 with the club of “Mobile Students”. They want to make a welcome kit for people with special needs and the state wishes to help them in this endeavour.
There was a conference held in Astana, Kazakhstan about a project for information about accessibility, that was attended by excursion guides as well as businesses. This showed a willingness to provide comprehensive information about accessibility, in order to promote the city as an accessible destination.
L – R: Tony, Marina, Jay, Svetlana, Driver, Victoria (PA) at Shymbulak
The chairman of a region in Pavladar, Northern Kazakhstan, showed a video about trains going through the city. It highlighted the problems wheelchair users had with the trains and the station itself, as they had to be carried by large men to and from the train.
He did not want to have to experience this, so he created a wheelchair lift that hoisted the user in the wheelchair from the platform to the train. He mentioned a desire to develop this technology, so that it is available in all Kazakh stations.
His presentation stood out for all of the conference attendees, as this showed creativity and ingenuity. As a service user himself, he saw a gap within the transportation system and went about closing it himself. His invention provides dignity for wheelchair users as they no longer need to be hoister over the shoulders of strong men.
It gave them an independence, and was all the more important because it came from a person that would regularly use the service. As mentioned by another presenter, if travellers with disabilities do not go outside and influence things themselves, who will?
L – R: Marina, Jay, Torezhan, Tony, Svetlana, Victoria (PA) at 28 Panfilov Park
The atmosphere of the conference was hopeful in creating a more inclusive tourism for travellers with and without disabilities. Travellers with disabilities showcased their own experiences travelling within the country and elsewhere. There was a prime example of overcoming transportation obstacles by creating their own solutions. There were organisations that presented a commitment to taking a step forward to a more progressive and accessible travel industry for Kazakhstan.
While there is still a long way to go before true inclusivity, there were projects being planned and steps put in place to achieve this. And this is all being aided by those with and without disabilities. The conference hosted by Arzhan Foundation showed that, if tourism is to be for all, then the answers and solutions must come from everyone.
To find out more about the Arzhan Foundation and the amazing work they do, check out their Facebook page!