Disability as 'pathology' of society

Dec 3, 2012

Photo: Inia Herenčić/UNDP

On the occasion of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on December 3, which is being marked this year under the motto: Removing barriers to create an inclusive and accessible society for all, the President of the Republic of Croatia, Ivo Josipović, convened a roundtable focusing on the discussion with representatives of the relevant ministries on problems that persons with disabilities are facing, with the support of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and in cooperation with the Office of the Ombudswoman for Persons With Disabilities. Persons with disabilities wish to access not merely facilities and buildings, but also the educational and health care system, as well as the labor market. The discussion brought together representatives of the relevant institutions and NGOs.
Over a billion people, i.e. approximately 15 percent of the human population, live with some form of disability, According to the most recent data, persons with disabilities constitute 12% of the total population in Croatia, and the majority is in economically active age. Despite many initiatives and legislative changes, persons with disabilities still confront obstacles when entering city transport vehicles, and they also cannot enroll to schools of their choosing, or get a job.
- A just society does not turn away from people who need assistance and support. We were among the first countries in Europe that reached significant strategies on this matter, but the question we need to ask ourselves is whether we can do even more – emphasized President Josipović. – A patronizing kind of attitude towards persons with disabilities would not be a good approach either. If we want to build a democratic society, persons with disabilities must enjoy all the rights enjoyed by other members of the community.
The Minister of Science, Education and Sports, Željko Jovanović, reflected upon the fact that persons with disability constitute "the biggest global minority", which is frequently facing barriers in participation in all aspects of social life. – If we want to create a society in Croatia that provides equal chances for all, then we must ensure equally accessible and high-quality education for all – emphasized MinisterJovanović.
Assistant Minister of Labor and Pension System, Tatjana Dalić, emphasized that employment is the best measure for inclusion. She announced new measures and incentives for employment, as well as the completion of work on the definition of disability, and the creation of a single body for expert assessment of disability. She also announced the strengthening of the capacity of the Fund for Professional Rehabilitation and Employment of Persons with Disabilities, in terms of efficient monitoring of the implementation of the quota system in the public sector, and the introduction of the quota system into the private sector.
Pointing out that the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was the first convention that the European Union ratified as a party, the Ambassador of the EU to Croatia, Paul Vandoren, emphasized that there are 80 million people who live with some form of disability in the EU today. Most of them, however, still face various barriers in their daily lives.
- Persons with disabilities still face discrimination in the labor market, while children with developmental disabilities still face the problem of access to education. The quotas in the employment system in the public sector have not been fulfilled. The implementation of measures from the national plan for the transformation of social care institutions for the period 2011-2016 should be accelerated – Vandorenconcluded, elaborating on the situation in Croatia.
Croatia has undertaken a number of steps in order to turn the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities into reality, so that persons with disabilities could live their lives with full potential, with all other members of society fulfilling their obligations by ensuring access to all rights, and ensuring that the entirety of the potential is used.
- In rich and poor countries alike, persons with disabilities are frequently the last in line when it comes to the respect of their human rights. That is a consequence of a widespread assumption that disability lies in physical impairments that inevitably make a person incapable of attending regular classes, becoming employed, or participating in social life – emphasized UN Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Croatia, Louisa Vinton. – The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities approaches these matters from a completely different angle. According to the Convention's perspective, disability lies not in visible impairments, but in the failure of society to be sufficiently inclusive, so as to accept individual differences. It is precisely societies that need to change, rather than individuals, as the Convention points out.
In the desire to emphasize the dedication of cities aimed at ensuring equal access to all public buildings, as well as services and information for persons with disabilities, the Ministry of Social Policy and Youth, together with UNDP, initiated the Mobility Charter in 2009. The Charter has so far been signed by 113 of 127 cities in Croatia. That is only one step, but an important one, towards ensuring responsibility at the top levels of local authorities, in order to turn the Convention into reality in daily life.
In her remarks, the Ombudswoman for Persons with Disabilities, Anka Slonjšak, reflected upon a revolutionary aspect of the interpretation contained in the Convention. She also pointed out shortcomings and positive examples in the system of ensuring the rights of persons with disabilities. In addition, she also warned that it is necessary to engage in more intense inter-ministerial cooperation, in order to recognize issues relevant for persons with disabilities as issues of human rights.
- The goal of creating a society which enables participation of persons with disabilities is not rendered more difficult because of impairments of such persons, but because of the barriers that they face. Removing such barriers does not always mean expenditure of funds; most of these barriers frequently stem from disrespect of existing regulations, from lack of interest, and from prejudice – Slonjšak said.

In order to additionally raise awareness in society on barriers in the environment, as precisely the factor which turns an impairment of a person into a disability, or into the inability to participate in daily activities in life, the ombudswoman for persons with disabilities organized the possibility of socializing with persons with disabilities who confront various types of impairments. The event has been organized for Members of the Croatian Parliament, in cooperation with UNDP and representatives of persons with disabilities, under the auspices of the President of the Parliament, Josip Leko. In the course of the event, MPs got the opportunity to try to overcome barriers that are faced by persons with disabilities in their daily lives.

Parliamentary representatives have thus been given the chance to "step into shoes" of persons with various types of impairments, by experiencing various obstacles that they face. Various testing sites and podiums, simulating various impairments, have been prepared by persons with disabilities for that purpose. MPs thus got the chance to sit in a wheelchair and try to go through the enter and exit procedure when using a ramp, to overcome a slope in amphitheater hall, and to try to sit at the table in the hall (with the table being too low to accommodate the wheelchair). They also took the role of assistants to persons with disabilities, and saw what it is like to receive assistance while in wheelchair. They also tried to walk with the help of crutches, and use prosthetic orthopedic tools.