Ability Park Roots in Photocopy Hell

First published in the Budapest Times, November, 2004, revised August 2011

A map of parties to the Convention on the Righ...
A map of parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Image via Wikipedia

“The people we look for are those who refuse to take NO for an answer, they are the people who set the pace, and to them the impossible is simply another challenge. someone who will not be put off by disappointment, failure, negative thinking, conventional thinking. I was looking for people who will not only have business ideas, but will put them into effect….”  Robin Dunseath, founder of World Young Business Achievers

Alison Boston

34-year-old Géza Nagy embodies those qualities. In 1996 Nagy was a university student frustrated by the poor services available to students in higher education–photocopying at the top of his list.  Today he manages Ability Park, a type of amusement park that simulates what it is to live with disabilities.

Back in 1996, in trying to improve services for students, he teamed up with nine friends to found the Student Services Association.  Realizing they would need to tell the worst story possible to make their voices heard, they looked to the group of students in the worst situation: those with sensory and physical disabilities–blind, deaf, or in wheelchairs.

Nagy spent time getting to know these people and quickly realized his frustrations were small compared with theirs.  These sensory and physically challenged people became the focus of the Student Services Association, and led Nagy to what is becoming his life’s work: making things easier for the disabled by raising public awareness.  That was eight years ago.  Nagy tells me the services for able-bodied students in higher education have improved dramatically, but things for the sensory and physically challenged still have a long way to go.

2003 was the European Year of the Disabled.  For Nagy, who is president of the Student Services Association, this meant more conferences, meeting the same people, hearing the same problems, and the same ideas.  Essentially talking with, and to, the converted, resulting in no change.

He got angry.  Very, very angry.  That anger was the seed for Ability Park, a project that went on to win Nagy the 2003 Young Business Achievers Award for Hungary, and the 2003 Award of Excellence in Corporate Social Responsibility at the World Young Business Achievers Awards in Istanbul last December.

Exchange rate Euro - Hungarian Forint
Exchange rate Euro - Hungarian Forint, Image via Wikipedia

Ability Park started in 2003 with one wheel-chair labyrinth, about 30 small games and two government grants: HUF 5 million from the Ministry of Information, and HUF 6 million from the Ministry of Youth, Sport, and Children.  Since then, over 60,000 people have experienced its challenges at events throughout Hungary–Sport Sziget at Nepstadion, The Children’s Island Festival, and the Music Sziget Festival are its key events.

This year Nagy wanted to take Ability Park further, and planned a budget of HUF 27 million.  The Ministry of Employment gave him HUF 3.5 million, while the Ministry of Equal Opportunities promised HUF 17 million, but due to the change in government in July, they only delivered HUF 7 million.

Nagy was not deterred.  He continued building his dream, and managed to get the services and things he needed–in trust–to build the more complete version of Ability Park now open for patrons at Millenaris.

His expanded Ability Park includes a giant whale that houses a ‘blind flat’ where people are challenged to do simple, day-to-day tasks in pitch-black.  A ‘blind closet’ lets you choose clothes from a collection of theatre costumes, then get dressed in the dark.

This is the internationally recognized symbol ...
Image via Wikipedia

Two Wheelchair Labyrinths invite the visitor to try out a wheelchair and experience the difference between a world designed to be wheelchair accessible and one, which is not.

Magic Town is an area constructed from the ideas, descriptions and requests of the mentally and sensory disabled: the deaf, or those with Down’s syndrome or autism. Its gate is guarded and–based on rules established by those who designed it–when someone new enters, everybody occupying the space must be silent.  The silence is a way of acknowledging the new arrival.

Once inside, the players move through a space divided and organized by large, clear glass bottles filled with different colored paper.  There is a silent disco, where people dance to the music in their heads rather than the music played by a deejay.  That way nobody is ever out of step, or doing it wrong!

Magic Town also houses a post office–a place for games using Easy Language which, Nagy explains, is the language used by the mentally and sensory challenged.  He shows me a long and complex Hungarian text which he then translates into Easy Language.  Even I can understand it, and my Hungarian is minimal, at best!

On a smaller scale, there are about 30 games, all designed to teach about life with disabilities. You can take a walk along a marked path, escorted by a seeing-eye dog; play matching games, where the player pairs smells and textures; or try out a Braille typewriter and read Braille newspapers from the seventies.

Hearing impairment
Image via Wikipedia

A specially designed pair of headphones demonstrates what you hear at three different levels of hearing impairment.  At level one, you cannot hear the television in front of you, but you can hear background noise–on this day, children playing nearby.  At level two, the background noise becomes fainter, yet the pounding of a hammer in the adjacent area is like being hit on top of the head.  At level three, everything is a muffled blur.

A memory game played with wooden blocks–sign language painted on one side, words on the reverse–introduces the players to signing.

For families with children too young to explore the challenging world of Ability Park there is an area for small children, equipped with soft, stuffed toys, including a giant octopus, made by the disabled.

Besides offering education and entertainment, during peak periods Ability Park employs up to 37 people, more than half of who live and work with some sort of disability. These people are facilitators and guides, interpreting the park for visitors.

Nagy especially wants school children, teachers, and architects to visit Ability Park.  He believes these people are key to shaping a better world for people with disabilities.  English schools are welcome.  If you think language is a barrier, try out some of the challenges at Ability Park.  You’ll come away a changed person. 

Ability Park is set up at Millenaris (024 Budapest, Fény u. 20-22) until December 5, open 7 days a week, 10:00-6:00 weekdays, 10:00-8:00 weekends.

Ticket prices: Families HUF 900, Individuals HUF 400,

Groups of over ten persons, HUF 250 each person.  Groups must book in advance by calling the Millenaris ticket office.  Phone: +36 1 438 5312 • telefax: +36 1 438 5320

The World Young Business Achiever Award traces its roots to the Northern Ireland Business Achievement Award Trust Program.  Robin Dunseath created the program several years ago, to recognize business excellence and help chosen charities through its fund-raising program.

In 1995 the program was expanded to an international scale.  That year, His Royal Highness the Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, presented the first international World Young Business Achiever award in a gala ceremony at Buckingham Palace.  A reception for the finalists – hosted by British Prime Minister John Major at his official home at 10 Downing St. in London – preceded the presentation.”

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