CREATION: A welcome message from the founder

I was born in 1964 as the third son of Emiel Vanassche, a veterinary and honorary municipal councilor, and Wivinne Decaestecker, a pharmacist. On the day of my birth, my parents could not have guessed that I would be hospitalized barely two weeks later and that this hospitalisation would determine the rest of my life. Not only would I have to learn how to live with physical disabilities, my school studies did not go the way my parents had hoped for either, as I had to switch to the special needs education for a while.
With my first-hand experience, I have always tried, acting both on my own initiative and in collaboration with other persons, to draw the attention of the broader society to the different aspects in the life of disabled people. I chose for instance to complete my studies in the ‘Social School’ with a thesis titled ‘Proof of profiling of the least remunerative people in the sheltered workshop’.
This was only a start.
After completing my education, I became a member of the Program Committee of the King Baudouin Foundation where I helped prepare the European forum for integration of disabled persons. In 2011, I graduated from the KUL (Catholic University Leuven), with a thesis entitled ‘How can local investment in accessibility be an investment in the future? I wrote my postgraduate studies in 'diversity management'.
For these reasons, I would venture to say that the idea of the TolBo project did not result from daydreaming. It evolved from the practice of people (both disabled and non-disabled) who wanted to contribute in concrete terms to integration; people who just wanted to be part of society and share their undertakings with each other.
To us, to integrate is a real verb, a word that implies work and a duty everyone should take up on a daily basis. Indeed, as with any other citizen, the quality of life of the disabled strongly depends on the measure of their participation in society. For example, comfortable housing, the possibility to work, meaningful leisure options, easy transportation, sufficient income, and so on. Taking into consideration that every one of us has talents and limitations, we must strive towards a situation wherein we maximize the use of talents of disabled persons and minimize their limitations. We could, for instance, instate handicap compensation measures or make sure the statute of the disabled person is automatically registered at the start of any building project or any event organisation.

We believe that local and broader authorities both have an important role in these changes. Sometimes, it is a matter of addressing the current high barriers (in the literal sense of the word) and besides, for people with disabilities, it is not easy to find an adequate answer to the many existing questions.

It may seem obvious that local administrations that pride themselves on the improvement of accessibility pay attention to and/or make good use of the wide variety of help they can obtain from the higher authorities. However, reality is often different. Numerous are the local administrations that start using these supports if civil society sufficiently increases pressure, if policy makers themselves are concerned about and/or closely confronted with the situation and if the financial incentives outweigh the effort that was asked for.
Indeed, for the majority of Western society, local policy makers included, the concept of ‘accessibility’ often only evokes physical accessibility for people in wheelchairs or with visual impairments. However, taking into consideration the way UN treaties define the concept of accessibility, every one of us is (potentially) concerned.
Despite the wide variety of diversity plans, the participation in society of impaired people seems to be rather limited as they still lack accessibility in a lot of domains. In order to help improve this situation, the TolBo association was recently created.
By creating a frame of reference and giving good examples of inclusive and accessible governance, we hope we will all start to understand that taking care of an accessible society is a duty everyone should take up.
Text: Mark Van Assche