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Access to employment for disabled people: the Velenje example

The Slovenian city of Velenje has a very unique way in the development of cultural tourism: It relies on services for disabled and disadvantaged people and has thus found a unique selling point, new target groups and a great variety for job opportunities. 

Velenje goes back to the medieval foundation of a castle, but today's image of the city with about 34,000 inhabitants in the northeast of the country and 60 km northeast of the capital Ljubljana is by no means that of a small, historic town. After the Second World War Velenje was developed as an industrial and mining city, and the architecture of the sixties still dominates the cityscape with skyscrapers and multiple dwelling units. With mining it is foreseeable to get to an end, and so Velenje is on the way to reinvent itself to remain attractive to its residents and investors alike. 

Cultural tourism as a factor 

Two key issues are shaping the city’s future concept: culture and disabled-friendliness. With over 1,000 (!) cultural events each year the urban "Festival Velenje” coordinates the extraordinarily diverse cultural program. Director Barbara Pokorny characterizes her vision as "culture of citizens for citizens", and she and her team can be proud of approximately 206,000 cultural visitors annually. As success factors she calls the strong backing of the city administration and civic participation. 

The active youth culture scene has a very unique profile and meanwhile attracts guests from all over Slovenia. Young people of the youth centre even produced an own cultural guide for young people. The fresh design and English language should appeal to far more audiences. It was the principle of the youth center to let young people make as much as possible themselves, not least in order to perform close to labor market conditions, explains director Marko Priržnik 

Disabled people as museum guides 

Disabled-friendliness is visible everywhere in the city: information on public buildings of the city are basically in Slovenian and English – and even Braille, in order to help blind and visually impaired persons. The castle museum goes one step further: For visually impaired people own guided tours are available including a space, where replicas of the most important exhibits can be touched. Also on offer are tours in sign language in the museum. Museum guides are also disabled people who communicate in an entirely unique way the history of the city. Several of the guides were trained by Integra, a specialized institution which focuses on finding individual solutions for disabled and disadvantaged persons for working market inclusion.  "We are only at the beginning," says director Marija Ževart.  She and Sonja Bercko, managing director of Integra, point out that the social dimension is equally important as access to employment market.

 

For Urška Gaberšek, the head of Velenje tourism agency, the integration of culture and disability friendliness is, of course, and not least a unique selling point.  Groups of disabled persons from all over Slovenia are welcome guests. Her latest project: guided tours to the socialist past, especially the urban architecture of the sixties - even here in the first place designed with and for disabled persons and under inclusion of disabled persons. Consequently, even the urban souvenirs express this self-understanding: In a sheltered workshop espresso cups from the socialist era are recycled to small candles - everyday culture of the past as an original souvenir.

(text written by Karin Drda-Kühn)