Accessible Dolomites: change is coming

People have a right to experience wonder, which is why the Dolomites World Heritage must become accessible to as many people as possible. The aim is not to fuel mass tourism – active landscape conservation must take precedence – but to allow people with limited mobility to have their eyes opened wide to the geological and environmental beauty of the area. We talked about this with Paralympic champion Oscar De Pellegrin, one of the UNESCO Dolomites Foundation’s principal collaborators in the Accessible Dolomites project which has mapped out 36 routes in the Dolomites, and with Claudia Scarzanella, president of Confartigianato Imprese Belluno which organised a round table attended by Minister for Disabilities Erika Stefani on 17 January 2022 in Belluno.

United for an accessible region

Whether we are talking about sustainability or accessibility, the testing ground can be none other than the Milan Cortina 2026 Olympics. This was discussed on 17 January 2022 in Belluno at a conference organised by Confartigianato Imprese Belluno and attended not only by Minister Stefani, but also by architect Marco Giacomuzzo, Regional Councillor Gianpaolo Bottacin, Assi Onlus President Oscar De Pellegrin, Cortina Deputy Mayor Luigi Alverà, the Director and President of Confartigianato Imprese Belluno, Michele Basso and Claudia Scarzanella, Belluno Mayor Jacopo Massaro and President of the Belluno Provincial Council Roberto Padrin who also spoke as a member of the Board of the UNESCO Dolomites Foundation, which has long been committed to the issue of accessibility to the Dolomites.

“Accessibility concerns everyone and opens up creative spaces”

On the sidelines of the meeting, we talked with Confartigianato Imprese Belluno President Claudia Scarzanella who calls for innovation… first of all in our mentality: “As with the issue of the environment, right now we need to be raising awareness about accessibility, then, little by little, the shift will become structural. This is what emerged from yesterday’s conference as well. We need to understand that accessibility concerns everyone, not just certain categories of people. Whether directly or indirectly, we are all affected by it: from disability, even if only temporary, to aging which limits potential for mobility, right through to children being pushed in a pram. And we can’t forget, as Minister Stefani reminded us, disorders such as those on the autistic spectrum“. The president of the Belluno artisans invites us to think about creativity and the psychological aspect: “At a time when we are increasingly withdrawn, due to the times we are living in, this type of tourism creates communities and offers tremendous room for growth, which also invites the creativity of entrepreneurs and artisans. Interventions for increasing accessibility often prioritise the functional aspect, and adding aesthetic beauty to the mix opens up new scenarios and the possibility of projects involving architects, entrepreneurs, doctors and families. We often hear that everything has already been invented. Well, not everything has been invented in this area yet!”.

“A journey that started from afar with ASSI and the Foundation”

“Assi and the UNESCO Dolomites Foundation began their collaboration on the Accessible Dolomites project before the goal of the Olympics was even on the horizon”, recalls Oscar De Pellegrin. “Today, this perspective provides an extraordinary stimulus, but I like to remember that we put it in motion years ago, for the simple fact that we believe in it; we are happy that the economic sector is rising to meet this challenge”. This challenge, as De Pellegrin has now reminded us several times, also has an important economic implication. “It is not just the number of tourists with disabilities who wish to visit the Dolomites”, De Pellegrin stresses, “but also the quality of tourism which can be characterised by sustainable aspects such as de-seasonalisation and prolonged stays”. In fact, tourism for families of people with disabilities is a very different type of tourism from the here-today-gone-tomorrow model. “We have also involved schools in the province of Belluno in helping the administrations map architectural barriers”, concludes De Pellegrin. “We are working in Cortina, Pieve di Cadore, Belluno and Sedico to identify the critical points.”