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Access all Areas: the Disabled Villa, Varna

In the UK, the Rights of Access legislation passed in 2006 means that shops, clubs, restaurants and any other public premises had to modernise their establishments to accommodate disabled people. Bulgaria on the other hand, lags well behind the rest of the European Union in terms of facilities for the disabled yet this is about to change as new legislation to improve accessibility rights particularly at public monuments.

 

The Agency of People with Disabilities has already started to change things with wheelchair ramps at Sofia’s most famous landmark, Alexander Nevski Cathedral and the Architectural Accessibility Campaign sponsored by the government aims to spread this across all cultural monuments in the country. Additionally, other Non Government Organisations are working in conjunction with the Bulgarian government to effect positive changes to the lives of disabled children growing up in state institutions. In April this year, Sofia's deputy mayor announced a programme called “Assistance for independent life” aimed at integrating disabled people into a wide variety of social activities. The charity, Tulip Foundation is also raising hundreds of thousands of Leva to invest in major social projects for the disabled including better transport facilities.

The Mooney Family's Vision

All of these ongoing projects are welcome news to the Mooney family from Abbey Hey, Manchester and in particular to 17-year-old Sean Mooney who is registered blind and suffers from cerebral palsy. Five years ago when the family first visited Bulgaria there were very few facilities to cope with Sean’s disability but despite this the family fell in love with the country particularly the beautiful landscape and friendly people and this spawned the idea of building their own villa in a disability-friendly manner. By operating the villa as a hotel not only Sean could enjoy his holidays in Bulgaria, but other disabled people would be able to do the same. Trevor Mooney explains how his plans came about, ‘We loved Bulgaria, but if we were to continue visiting we had to find better ways to accommodate Sean. We decided to take on the challenge of being the first ever parents or company to construct a 21st century villa specifically designed to cater for all people with special needs who want to visit Bulgaria.’

Trevor and his wife Liz purchased a piece of land in a suburb called Borovec, 25 minutes away from Varna Airport and 15 minutes from the historical city of Varna. The area offers a combination of peace and quiet and some excellent facilities in the way of bars, restaurants, shops and two secluded beaches. As the Mooney’s embarked on what was going to be the largest project they had ever undertaken they marveled over what they would achieve for the disabled world and as they watched the early morning sun rise over the plot of land they had just bought this spectacular sight generated the name they gave to their new project; The Rising Sun.

Disabled - Friendly

The Mooney’s practical knowledge and innovative thinking has created a villa, which not only sleeps eight people but provides a perfect and comfortable environment for the disabled. The villa has full air-conditioning, satellite television, a balcony, a barbeque area and a family-sized pool. There are four, large double bedrooms, a spacious open plan living and dining area and a fully fitted kitchen. In addition to these features, the doors are large enough to accommodate wheelchairs and ramps have been installed to enable easy access from outside areas. Three of the bedrooms are on the ground floor with door handles low enough to allow a person in a wheelchair to access them without stretching. All bathrooms incorporate a wet room, and they all have grab rails for security. The 1.5 meter pool has tactile areas around it, enabling blind or partially sighted holiday makers to identify areas of danger. It will also include a hoist for easier access. Inside, the house will be decked out with modern appliances to aid visually impaired people, including a talking microwave, scales and clocks, and Braille markers all around. The garden has been designed to stimulate all five senses and includes a water fountain and wind chime to make ambient sounds. Plants growing there have been selected for their aromatic qualities, for example, mint and lavender. Surfaces in the garden have tactile finishes, like pebbles, tree bark and smooth stones to stimulate touch. The stair lift for the villa will be provided by the world’s largest supplier of stair lifts, Stannah. The company has been run by a British family for over 140 years, and now supplies private individuals and professional organisations across all continents.

Involving The Experts

Planning and preparing the construction of the villa involved an intrepid team of experts. Emilia Tomova, a solicitor, was the backbone to the project. She told QBG; ‘I was introduced to Mr. Mooney over four years ago.


At that time he required legal assistance with regards to purchasing an empty plot of land in the area of Borovec, which was completed in September 2004. The following year he told me about his plans to have a villa with extra facilities for disabled people constructed on the land.’ The next step was for Emilia to contact an architect, so she arranged a meeting with Julia Jelezova who helped Emilia’s father with plans for his hotel in Golden Sands. After discussing requirements, plans were drawn up, and then submitted. Over two years elapsed before the Construction Permits were granted by the mayor, but this gave everyone more than sufficient time to seek, negotiate and contract a building firm named Deniz. The project was a great challenge for Emilia, who commented, ‘I am thrilled to be involved in this project, because there is hardly a villa in Varna or even in Bulgaria that is meant to be used thoroughly by disabled people. I am also aware that the Mooney’s have many handicapped friends so they will do their best to create a comfortable environment for all people with special needs.’

Julia Jelezova from architects, Fribul Ltd was passionate about starting such a modern construction; ‘In Bulgaria most of the new public buildings are integrating disabled friendly facilities, however in the private sector, constructors are deciding on the basis of their moral considerations whether to integrate those facilities or not. For us, the disabled villa was such a special project to work on.’

As ever finding a reliable builder is no small job, but the Mooney’s managed to engage the services of Emil Stoyanov of Demo Engineering Ltd. Trevor recalls, “Emil is the only builder
that we ever found in Bulgaria who was sympathetic towards people’s special needs and requirements. He is well versed in what people with special needs require and is familiar with where to go to find the products, which will improve their life at the villa as well as making their vacation enjoyable.”

Opening Soon


The villa is scheduled to open at the end of October 2008 and Sean, who now studies French, Music and Food Technology at the St. Vincent’s School for the Blind in Liverpool, will be the first disabled visitor. He has many disabled friends and is looking forward to the freedom that will come from this unique holiday villa. ‘I always like traveling abroad, especially to Bulgaria,’ says Sean, ‘but I find it difficult to have the same level of independence as an able bodied person. This villa that my Mum and Dad are constructing will give me the ability to enjoy my summer holidays, and I hope that some of my friends from the school will be able to join me on my future holidays in Bulgaria.’

Trevor and Liz have found that the response to their project has been phenomenal and they are already taking bookings for the summer season 2009. The Mooney’s experience has left them with hope for the future ‘We hope that there will be some Bulgarian entrepreneur out there who will see the benefits of what we have achieved and build on our strengths to create more 21st century accommodation for disabled people,’ says Trevor.

The villa is expected to be completed by the end of October 2008, and you can chart the progress at www.bulgariadisabled.com