People with disabilities seek equal opportunities, not charity

09 Dec 2013

imagePHOTO: INIA HERENCIC

Marking the fifth anniversary of the Ombudsman Institution for People with Disabilities, the only one in Europe led by a disabled person 

ZAGREB, 9 December 2013 –
The fifth anniversary of the Ombudsman Institution for People with Disabilities was celebrated with a roundtable discussion held in Zagreb on the "Protection, monitoring and promotion of the rights and interests of people with disabilities." This event, supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Croatia also marked the International Day of People with Disabilities, celebrated on 3 December, and the International Human Rights Day, 10 December.

By naming Anka Slonjšak as the Ombudswoman for people with disabilities on 1 July 2008, representation was granted for the people with disabilities who are often regarded as the “invisible” citizens.

“People with false disabilities are often subject to discussion as a result of various societal anomalies in the Croatian society, while people with real disabilities encounter psychological, intellectual, and communicational difficulties. Around 6,800 of them are far away from our sights” - warned Slonjšak. “People who live in forgotten rooms, similar to the hospital ones, sometimes without any personal belongings need a voice. For 5 years, together with my colleagues, I try to send a strong message to people with disabilities - to not accept the neglecting our society imposes, rather to fight for their equal opportunities. Despite their difficulties, they could remain active, only in a different way.”

Among the most significant achievements of the Office, is the extension of the right to vote for people with no legal capacity, and the revisions to the system of guardianship that should take effect under the new Family Law. These are the people whose right to full participation is so often and so blithely usurped.

“When we talk about the progress of the society, people often talk about the economical, technical and similar types of progress. However, the only criteria which demonstrates civil progress of a society is the relationship fostered by people who do not have special needs, but regular ones, and are in need of help in order to realize them” - stressed Branko Hrvatin, President of the Supreme Court and the National Electoral Commission. Only when we enable people with disabilities to participate in fundamental activities, when all of us see it as a need and not an obligation, we can realize true progress. To do this, you do not need a lot of money; you just need to be human.”

According to the last census from 2011, over half a million people have asked for all types of help, and not just material. Material aid, in amount of 1.250 kunas is received by around 2200 people with disabilities.

“People with disabilities seek equal opportunities, and not charity”—stands in the message of the President Ivo Josipović who was represented by Vesna Škulić, President’s Commissioner for the Rights of People with Disabilities. “Unfortunately, discrimination is the biggest factor which influences the realization of people’s and children’s rights who have developmental difficulties. It is often not a question of financial resources, rather judgment especially when it comes to education and employment.”

“The right to work is perhaps the right that we see most often violated for persons with disabilities in Croatia, because they are deprived of the tools they need to do their jobs and to act and move about independently in their daily lives“ – said Louisa Vinton, UNDP Resident Representative. „One such tool is personal assistance. This is a form of assistance that still not considered entirely natural in the workplace, but thanks to Anka's example more and more people understand its necessity.

We continue to witness many situations where spatial inaccessibility is an obstacle for people with disabilities to equally participate in society. Thanks to the Ombudswoman and the groups and associations whose efforts she supports, a constant improvement is evident. Entrances to shops, ambulances, pharmacies and schools are being adjusted.

Participants of the round table were addressed by the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of social policy and youth Milanka Opačić, and were joined via video connection by Shuaib Chalklen, the UN Special Rapporteur for Persons with Disabilities.