“Unwelcoming stadiums for people with disabilities – Recommendations of the Commissioner for Administration”

The report highlights accessibility issues raised by the Cyprus Paraplegics Organization (O.P.A.K.) concerning the new stadium in Limassol, as well as other football stadiums.

In a series of recommendations aimed at reversing the situation prevailing in football stadiums regarding the accessibility of people with disabilities, a special report by the Office of the Commissioner for Administration and the Protection of Human Rights, Maria Stylianou-Lottides, is issued. The goal, emphasized, is to take specific measures so that people with disabilities can enjoy sports events equally and without any discrimination, including football matches at all football stadiums.

According to the Commissioner, there should be:

· Parking spaces for people with disabilities, available at all times, near the stadium entrance, and measures taken to prevent them from being occupied by unauthorized individuals.

· Sufficient and continuous access chain from the parking area to the stadium gates, where there should be appropriately configured ticket booths and service points at a lower height for people with disabilities using wheelchairs, as well as separate accessible non-revolving entrance gates to the stadium.

· Unobstructed and obstacle-free movement for people with disabilities to their seats within the stadium, as well as along the aisles and to/from the refreshment areas and restroom facilities of the stadium.

· Specially designed seating areas for people with disabilities that ensure an equivalent view of the playing field to that enjoyed by other attendees in the stadium. Based on standards of adequate visibility, the line of sight for people with disabilities, especially those who, due to the nature of their disability, remain seated throughout the match, should remain clear and unaffected by obstacles.

· In any case, these designated seats, as well as restroom facilities and refreshment areas, should be available in the stands not only of the home team but also of the visiting team, so that people with disabilities have the opportunity, like other fans attending the stadium, to choose their seat and watch the match alongside the supporters of their team. They should enjoy the same experience within the stadium without feeling excluded or restricted in any way.

“The specific areas, which are envisaged to provide protection from weather conditions, should be located both at the top of the stands and at the back of the boxes, as well as close to the playing field, at a higher level, however, to ensure an adequate field of vision. Furthermore, they should provide easy and adequate access to the restrooms and refreshment areas, as well as to the exit gates in case of emergency.”

· Ramps and specially designed elevators for wheelchair users to allow them access to the upper rows of the stands and other shared areas.

· In existing stadiums and where the installation of a suitable conventional elevator is difficult, vertical lifting platforms or stair lifts should be provided to ensure access for people with disabilities to all key areas of the stadium.

· An audio description service of the match for spectators with visual impairments or hearing impairments, which should not be limited to a predetermined area of the stadium, but should provide a portable audio description system (via headphones) so that users of the service can choose where they want to sit to be close to their relatives and friends and among the fans of their team.

· In any case, the attendants of people with disabilities, besides being exempted from the ticket purchase obligation as highlighted by the relevant UN Committee, should have an available seat close to the person they are accompanying, to provide immediate and timely support or assistance that the person with a disability may need, especially in case of an emergency.

· Determination of a specific timetable with defined deadlines to identify and record all existing barriers to accessibility for people with disabilities in football stadiums and to develop a plan for implementing necessary improvements within a specified timeframe.

The Commissioner’s Office made recommendations to the Cyprus Sports Organization (CSO), the Cyprus Football Association (CFA), and the Stadium Licensing Authority to take necessary actions so that people with disabilities can enjoy equal access to sports facilities, especially to football stadiums hosting First Division matches, on an equal basis with others.

The report highlights accessibility issues raised by the Cyprus Paraplegic Organization (CPO) regarding the new Limassol stadium, as well as other football stadiums where First Division matches are held.

“The first National Strategy for Autism has been approved.”

The Cabinet proceeded today with the approval of the first National Strategy and Action Plan for Autism


“The Cabinet progressed today with the approval of the first National Strategy and Action Plan for Autism, with Deputy Minister of Social Welfare Marilena Evangelou emphasizing that the implementation of the strategy will allow authorities to have a comprehensive approach and a real image of this disability, which presents increasing trends both internationally and in Cyprus.”

“In statements following the Cabinet meeting, Ms. Evangelou said that action for the implementation of the Strategy is beginning, with one of the first actions involving the creation of a national electronic platform for autism, as well as information programs, training, upgrading, and expansion of the services provided.”

“The establishment of the national strategy and action plan for autism separately from other disabilities was deemed necessary due to the increase in autism diagnoses both in our country and internationally, and because autism spectrum disorder is a developmental disorder characterized by varying degrees of difficulty, with diverse levels and gradations of symptoms and challenges,” explained Ms. Evangelou.

According to Ms. Evangelou, the National Strategy and Action Plan for Autism 2024 – 2028 includes 53 actions under 7 thematic pillars, following the life course of a child, an adult with autism, namely research, early detection and diagnosis, health and therapeutic intervention, early childhood and family intervention, education, social protection and independent living, employment, and participation in leisure, culture, and society.

She further emphasized that the importance of the national strategy lies in its ability to centralize all services related to autism under the umbrella of the national strategy for better coordination of actions and holistic addressing of needs as well as challenges.

“The action now begins,” she continued, “for the implementation of the strategy and Action Plan. Our first priority is to continue the operation of the National Committee, which I will convene very soon, the establishment of permanent subcommittees under the coordination of the Department of Social Integration of Persons with Disabilities of the Ministry of Social Welfare, and the systematic cooperation of all stakeholders, especially the organizations representing individuals with autism themselves.”

As she said, the coordinating body of the National Strategy is the Ministry of Social Welfare, and other ministries participate in it, such as the Ministries of Labor, Health, Education, Transportation, and Finance.

“We want to have a complete picture in Cyprus.”

Asked about autism cases in Cyprus, Ms. Evaggelou stated that according to data from the World Health Organization, 1 in 100 children or adults worldwide are diagnosed with autism, while in Cyprus, the recorded data from the Department of Social Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities reports about 2,000 cases.

She noted, however, that “one of the reasons for the need for this national strategy is to capture the true picture of the situation in the country because clearly the Department of Social Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities of the Ministry has the data of individuals who apply to the Department for the benefits or services it provides.”

So, she said, one of the goals of the national strategy is to have a true picture of the number and not only in terms of numbers but also what is provided to these individuals in terms of services, how they live, what treatment they follow, how their integration and activation in society are.

Ms. Evaggelou further explained that there is a wide spectrum of autism with different symptoms, needs, and challenges. “Therefore, there may be individuals who do not feel that they need support or services. However, we need to know the real picture that exists,” she added.

“I personally believe that there are more (people with autism), how many more and why they have not turned to the Department of Social Integration with Disabilities remains to be proven along the way,” she added.

At this point, Ms. Evaggelou also mentioned that “we are not starting from scratch,” as there are programs targeting people with autism. She referred to the “Aktida” program for preschool-aged children with autism, which intervenes immediately after diagnosis, offering psycho-social and educational support both to the individuals with autism and to their families.

She cited as an example that through the national strategy, there will be continuous training based on all new scientific data for professionals such as doctors, pediatricians, educators, and kindergarten teachers in schools and wherever there are children for the early diagnosis of autism. “Because early diagnosis and intervention matter,” she emphasized.

Ms. Evaggelou stated that as part of the Strategy, the organization of a national conference on autism is also planned for this coming autumn, which will be established annually.

Source: CNA

“Access Denied: Websites of European Political Parties Inaccessible to People with Disabilities”

The serious deficiencies in the accessibility of the websites of major European political parties make it very difficult for people with disabilities to be informed about the European Elections.

“People with disabilities were almost completely ignored by political parties on their websites in view of the EU elections, according to a report compiled by the European Disability Forum (EDF) and the independent non-profit Foundation Funka.”
“The main conclusion is that citizens with disabilities struggle to access the content and, therefore, are not adequately informed to exercise direct democracy.”

“The report analyzed the websites of the seven main European political families – the European People’s Party, the Party of European Socialists, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, the European Conservatives and Reformists, the European Greens, the European Left, and Identity and Democracy.”

“The main conclusion is that citizens with disabilities struggle to access the content and, therefore, are not adequately informed to exercise direct democracy.”

“According to the study, European political parties neglect their obligation to provide information to all voters, whether they have specific accessibility needs or not. In doing so, they create a barrier not only for people with disabilities but also for the democratic process itself. Our democratic systems and political procedures rely on citizens being informed when they vote. However, as this report shows, political parties seeking the votes of over 100 million Europeans with disabilities largely fail in their duty to provide accessible and reliable political information.”

“The results are very disappointing, but not surprising – they reflect the widespread lack of attention to information accessibility in the political world,” said Ioannis Vardakastanis, President of the EDF and the ESAmeA, to Euronews.”

“These findings at the European level may also indicate that national political parties face similar challenges, according to the central body representing the rights of 100 million people with disabilities in the EU, the EDF.”

“Political parties must ensure that their communication is accessible to every voter – including voters with disabilities,” added Mr. Vardakastanis.

“The party with the worst performance was the far-right Identity and Democracy, passing only four out of the seven criteria used for evaluating the websites. All the tested websites passed the test for automatic subtitles for deaf or hard of hearing users.”

“The EDF calls on the political parties of the EU and all political actors:”

  • “Website administrators need to be trained in the basic skills for accessible digital information.”
  • “They should use the European standard for accessible ICT (EN301549) in the procurement, design, and development of digital interfaces. The standard is free.”
  • “Users with disabilities should participate in the design, development, and testing of digital interfaces to ensure they work for everyone.”

“Finally, they encourage all political actors to actively involve organizations of people with disabilities in accordance with the updated motto of the disability movement: ‘Nothing About Us Without Us.'”

“A Spectrum of Possibilities”

“The Greek Community of South Australia stands by autistic individuals.”

“For the first time in its history, the Greek Orthodox Community of South Australia (GOCASA) celebrated World Autism Month with a special event aimed at raising awareness and understanding of the condition among the general public, highlighting the contribution of autistic individuals to the broader community, and encouraging more multicultural communities to join the conversation.”

The event with the theme “A Spectrum of Possibilities” took place symbolically at the Community Meeting Room on Wednesday, April 3rd, one day after the 17th World Autism Awareness Day, when the Malinauskas Labor Government inaugurated the state’s first Autism Inclusion Charter.

The speakers were the country’s first Assistant Minister for Autism, Emily Bourke, the president and founder of the Gold Foundation, Angela Pangallo OAM, and the world’s No. 2 in Australia and No. 5 in the world tennis player with intellectual disability, Andriana Petraki.

“I am very proud of everyone who participated in the event. It is important as one of the oldest multicultural organizations in the state to play our role in raising awareness about autism, removing barriers, and promoting acceptance and inclusion of autistic individuals, their caregivers, and families,” said Panagiotis Gonis, Vice President of the Hellenic Orthodox Community of South Australia.

“Through education and dialogue, we can understand autism in communities like ours and reduce the stigma and misconceptions associated with it,” emphasized Mr. Gonis.

According to recent statistics, it is estimated that 3.2% of school-aged children have been diagnosed with autism in Australia, while the quality of life of autistic Australians is among the lowest in Australian society.

“Autism is the largest primary disability group in the NDIS, and South Australia is above the national average, with 41% of NDIS participants in South Australia being autistic,” said Assistant Minister for Autism, Emily Bourke.

“Many wonder why we need an Assistant Minister for Autism – and it’s unique. We are the only government in the world to have this position. It’s because if we let down the largest disability group in our community, then we let down every disability group.”

Angela Pangallo OAM, the president and founder of the nonprofit organization Gold Foundation, moved the audience with the story of her son, Connor, who was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome fifteen years ago. She shared how the challenges he faced after the diagnosis, particularly without available support, inspired her to “give kids a chance” and help other families.

In her speech, following a few words from the Mayor of the City of West Torrens, Michael Coxon, Ms. Pangallo made a special mention of how the late president of the Greek Orthodox Community of South Australia, Vasilis Gonis, whom she referred to as a “pioneer and visionary,” helped the organization find a new home at the Camden Park Community Centre.

“It’s a huge privilege to do this work for the autism community, and the special honor is doing it with the support of the GOCASA. I grew up in the Greek Orthodox Community, and my parents were part of it from its inception. That gives it more meaning and purpose,” Ms. Pangallo said.

In her touching and inspiring presentation, Australian tennis champion of Greek descent, Andriana Petraki, stated that as an autistic individual, she has faced challenges but maintains a “positive and resilient” attitude.

“We need to encourage each other and people with disabilities to participate more in sports, schools, workplaces, and organizations,” she said.

“The technology ‘ally’ of blind pregnant women: How they were able to ‘see’ their unborn babies”

An unexpected “gift of life” was provided by technology to a 44-year-old mother with vision problems. She managed to “see” her unborn baby through the sense of touch. The new type of ultrasound has a relief form and even combines Braille writing, so blind mothers can experience this milestone in their pregnancy.

Karen Tripp passes her fingers over the relief ultrasound of her baby. Unlike her previous pregnancy, this time she is able to feel all the characteristics of the fetus she is carrying.

Born with a rare eye condition, 44-year-old Karen from England never believed she could experience this touching moment for all future mothers.

“When I was pregnant ten years ago, it was very difficult. Ultrasounds were not a pleasant experience. Because the staff didn’t have the time to explain it to me,” she said.

In the 8th month of her pregnancy, technology, as well as her doctor, gave her the unique “gift” of feeling the image of her unborn baby, beyond just hearing its heartbeat.

Photos of Karen’s baby are included in the “Invisible World” exhibition, hosted for a few days in London, featuring a series of photographs taken by world-renowned photographers, some of whom also have vision problems.

Visitors will thus be able to have a unique tactile experience, designed entirely for people with little or no vision, including relief prints, audio descriptions, and incorporating Braille code.

Edited by Athena Korovesi

Autism – ADHD: What role do microbiota and antibiotics play in their appearance

The role of the gut appears significant in the emergence of neurodevelopmental disorders in children, according to recent study data published in Cell. Specifically, disrupted gut flora in the early years of life is linked to diagnoses such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) later in life, as revealed by the study led by researchers from the University of Florida and Linköping University.

This study is the first prospective study examining the composition of gut flora and a wide range of other factors in infants in relation to children’s neurological system development. Researchers identified many biological markers that appear to be related to future neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, communication disorder, and intellectual disability.

“The remarkable aspect of the work is that these biomarkers were found at birth in umbilical cord blood or in the child’s feces at the age of one, over a decade before the diagnosis,” said Dr. Eric W Triplett, professor in the Department of Microbiology and Cell Science at the University of Florida in the United States, one of the study’s researchers.

The role of antibiotics

Autism: Turning the focus to parents with spectrum children – A psychologist explains

For the study, more than 16,000 children born between 1997 and 1999 were followed from birth to 20 years of age. Of these, 1,197 children, accounting for 7.3%, were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, communication disorder, or intellectual disability.

A large number of lifestyle and environmental factors were identified through repeated surveys conducted during the children’s upbringing. For some of the children, researchers analyzed substances in umbilical cord blood and bacteria in their feces at just one year of age.

“We found in the study that there are clear differences in gut flora as early as the first year of life between those who develop ASD or ADHD and those who do not. We found correlations with some factors affecting gut bacteria, such as antibiotic treatment in the child’s first year, which is associated with an increased risk of these diseases,” explained Dr. Ludvigsson, senior professor at the Department of Biomedical and Clinical Sciences at Linköping University, who led the study together with Dr. Triplett.

Children who had recurrent ear infections in their first year of life were at an increased risk of being diagnosed with a developmental neurological disorder later in life. It may not be the infection itself that is the culprit, but researchers speculate that there is a correlation with antibiotic treatment. As they found, the presence of Citrobacter bacteria or absence of Coprococcus bacteria increased the risk of future diagnosis.

A possible explanation is that antibiotic treatment may disrupt the composition of the gut flora in a way that contributes to neurodevelopmental disorders. This risk may increase the likelihood of diseases associated with the immune system, such as type 1 diabetes and pediatric rheumatism, as shown in previous studies.

Other environmental factors

The present study also confirms that the risk of developmental neurological diagnosis in children increases if parents smoke. Conversely, breastfeeding has a protective effect, according to the study. Specifically, from umbilical cord blood samples for the detection of various substances from metabolism, such as fatty acids and amino acids, it was found that children who were later diagnosed had low levels of several important fatty substances in the blood. One of these, linolenic acid, necessary for the formation of omega-3 fatty acids and with positive effects on the brain.

Although the research is in its early stages and involves only a portion of children, and more studies are needed, the discovery that many biomarkers for future neurodevelopmental disorders can be observed at a young age opens up the possibility of implementing long-term preventive measures.

Increase of 115% in kidney patients undergoing dialysis, says the Nephrology Society

“Increase of 115% in kidney patients undergoing dialysis,” says the Nephrological Society – On the occasion of the second Thursday of March, which has been established globally as World Kidney Day.

An increase of 115% in the number of our fellow citizens undergoing hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis is observed in our country during this period, according to the Nephrological Society of Cyprus.

In a statement issued on the occasion of the second Thursday of March, which is globally established as World Kidney Day, the Nephrological Society reports that kidney health problems are the 10th leading cause of mortality worldwide, while 1 in 10 people worldwide is affected by chronic kidney disease (CKD), and it is estimated that this number will continue to increase over time.

It is noted that even if only a small percentage of these individuals will require support through methods such as dialysis – such as hemodialysis – or kidney transplantation, in our country, these individuals amount to over 200 per year, a rate of inclusion that remains among the two highest in Europe over the past 10 years.

These rates are almost double the average for Europe and other Mediterranean countries, so “we observe an increase of 115% in the number of our fellow citizens undergoing hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis in our country during this period. This continuous and prolonged increase in patients with serious kidney health problems is accompanied by a significant economic burden on the healthcare system, which, combined with inadequate planning and timely and proper management of CKD in its initial stages, has led to many shortages in specialized medical and nursing staff, areas that also face shortages globally.”

The message of this year’s World Kidney Day, “Kidney Health for Everyone Everywhere,” becomes even more important, it is noted. With the implementation of the General Healthcare System (GHS), it is added, access to healthcare services, both personal and specialist doctors, has become much easier for most residents of our island.

As stated, with more frequent and regular health checks, our primary goal of combating and timely addressing CKD, as well as other significant diseases that feed it – such as Diabetes Mellitus and Arterial Hypertension – becomes more feasible.

“A simple blood analysis to assess kidney function and glucose, a general urine examination to check for the presence of leukocytes (or albumin) or other signs of kidney damage, as well as blood pressure monitoring are often sufficient for the timely diagnosis and treatment of these diseases. As Diabetes Mellitus and Arterial Hypertension are contributory factors to the progression of CKD and affect more than 50% of the patients who are undergoing extrarenal dialysis therapies, it is also important to combat obesity and excessive salt consumption,” it is added.

In combination with what has already been implemented, the Nephrological Society of Cyprus (NSC) promotes and closely collaborates with the Health Insurance Organization (HIO) to adapt to Cypriot data and implement the guidance of the British National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) for the diagnosis and management of CKD.

This process, it is noted, is now at an advanced stage, and we have already committed as a scientific body to contribute to the training and education of healthcare professionals for their correct use and implementation. We also promote the integration of new drugs into the GHS, whose effectiveness in treating CKD is supported by numerous serious and large clinical studies. The evaluation process of these drugs, it is reported, by the HIO and the Drug Advisory Committee has already begun.

Finally, for those patients reaching the final stage of CKD, it is noted that kidney transplantation offers the best clinical outcomes as well as better survival and quality of life.

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Vision: Where is the suspected location on the body for eye conditions that lead to blindness

Could the health of the eyes be related to the functioning of the intestine? A recent study reveals a unique correlation and the role played by the gut microbiota

Recent findings create hope that antibiotics could potentially treat certain genetic diseases that can lead to blindness.

For genetic eye conditions that lead to blindness, according to a recent study published in Cell, bacteria that escape from the intestine and “travel” to the retina may also be implicated. Until recently, specialists estimated that the eyes are usually protected by a layer of tissue that bacteria cannot penetrate. Therefore, these results are “unexpected” according to Dr. Martin Kriegel, a microbiome researcher at the University of Münster in Germany, who was not involved in the study. “This is a major shift in the paradigm we knew until now,” he adds.

Inherited diseases of the retina, such as retinitis pigmentosa, affect about 5.5 million people worldwide. Mutations in the Crumbs homolog 1 (CRB1) gene are the primary cause of these diseases, some of which lead to blindness. Previous studies have shown that bacteria are not as rare in the eyes as ophthalmologists previously believed, leading the authors of the study to wonder if bacteria cause diseases of the retina, says co-author Dr. Richard Lee, an ophthalmologist then at University College London.

As Dr. Lee and his colleagues found, mutations in CRB1 weaken the bonds between the cells lining the intestine, in addition to the role they have long observed in weakening the protective barrier around the eye. This conclusion prompted the study’s co-author, Dr. Lai Wei, an ophthalmologist at Guangzhou Medical University in China, to create mice with CRB1 mutations with reduced levels of intestinal bacteria. These mice did not show signs of distortion of the cellular layers in the retina, unlike those with typical gut flora.

Near miss call to disabled due to lack of sidewalk – “I could have been killed”

Independence and accessibility. That’s what Damien Handlan, a resident of DeSoto, Missouri, is asking for. After a bone infection in 2015 led to the amputation of his leg, he became confined to a wheelchair.

He never felt disabled himself. Only when he was forced to go onto the road because there was no sidewalk, and even received a warning from a local police officer.

“He stopped in front of me, essentially blocking my path. He got out of the car and came to tell me that I couldn’t be on the road. I told him there was no sidewalk,” says Damien Handlan.

The warning says he wasn’t moving with traffic, but he argues it would have been more dangerous to cross the road. “I could have been killed. You say you care about my safety and life. Then do something about it,” adds Damien, saying, “I don’t need you to pay for the rest of my life. I just want a sidewalk.”

Twin: New exoskeleton gives mobility to people with disabilities

A new robotic exoskeleton could allow individuals who have lost the ability to move their legs to stand up and even walk again. It can also help them walk independently, guiding their movements and keeping them upright as they participate in rehabilitation therapy.

Named Twin, the exoskeleton designed in Italy for the lower body was presented at the Museum of Science and Technology in Milan. It is still in the prototype stage and is being developed by scientists from the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (Italian Institute of Technology) and the Istituto Nazionale Assicurazione Infortuni sul Lavoro (National Institute for Insurance against Accidents at Work).

Designed for use by patients with reduced or absent mobility in the lower body, it moves their legs through motors located at the knee and hip joints. These motors are powered by an integrated battery, which is said to last for about four hours of use per one hour of charging. The Twin can be used in three different operating modes. In Walk mode, intended for individuals who cannot use their legs at all, the exoskeleton moves the user’s legs on their behalf and assists them in sitting and standing up. The person still needs to use crutches for balance, as with other assistive exoskeletons.

Retrain mode is for patients who still have some mobility in their lower limbs. It allows them to walk on their own to the extent they can, but provides adjustable assistance when needed. Throughout the process, the exoskeleton guides them towards a predetermined optimal trajectory of leg movement.

Finally, there is TwinCare mode, intended for individuals who have full use of one leg but not the other. In this case, the exoskeleton enhances the movement of the affected leg to match that of the healthy leg. In all three modes, a physiotherapist or the user themselves can adjust walking parameters, such as step length/type and walking speed, using a wirelessly connected Android tablet.

According to its designers, two things that make Twin stand out from similar exoskeletons are the fact that it is made from lightweight materials – aluminum alloy instead of steel, for example – and that it features an articulated design allowing for the removal of components for transport or upgrade.