Round Table Discussion on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities at the Novi Sad City Assembly

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Representatives of …IZ KRUGA – VOJVODINA attended a round table discussion on the rights of persons with disabilities (PWDs) at the Novi Sad City Assembly today. The event entitled From a Patient to a Citizen, organized by the Provincial Protector of Citizens – Ombudsman, brought together over 50 representatives of Novi Sad and Vojvodina PWDs’ organizations, relevant local self-government and provincial authorities and their services for PWDs, as well as local ombudspersons.

The opening address on behalf of the organizer was that of Zoran Pavlović, PhD, Provincial Protector of Citizens – Ombudsman. He said that the aim of the event was to strive for changing of the social paradigm perceiving PWDs primarily through the medical prism of their disability, instead of approaching them from their human rights exercise and protection standpoint. Reiterating that public space belongs to PWDs as much as anybody else, Ombudsman Pavlović concluded that disability should not condemn anybody to a lower quality of life.

Damjan Tatić, PhD, a member of the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and an expert with the Council of Europe, UNDP, UNICEF and ILO, reminded the audience that PDWs are still a discriminated social group, despite indivisibility and universality of human rights. For comprehending rights of PWDs, as well as those of most socially vulnerable groups, it is important to understand that they are protected globally, by proscribing standards to be achieved, yet they are implemented locally, where problems with their exercise arise. Upon its adoption, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was one of those almost instantly ratified by nearly all UN member states. However, implementing its provisions in practice is still a challenge even for developed countries. Mechanisms for monitoring its implementation are various. General Comments to it, adopted by the relevant UN Committee, are just one of those mechanisms, while the Comments written so far include those on women and girls with disabilities and on anti-discrimination. Currently, a Comment concerning organizations of PWDs and independent bodies protecting their rights is being finalized. Future priority topics will be protecting women with disabilities from violence, the issue of the so-called civil death (i.e. someone’s deprivation of legal capacity), as well as deinstitutionalization of general and specialized support services used by PWDs. Reflecting on Pavlović’s remark that a precise number of PWDs in Serbia is unknown, Tatić confirmed that situation worldwide is not much better. The estimates are that PWDs make around 10 percent of the general population globally, whereas the criterion for including someone in this group of citizens should be the barriers PWDs are facing while exercising their rights, rather than the diagnosis determining the kind and degree of their disability.

Possibilities and mechanisms of implementation of the rights of PWDs in the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina and the City of Novi Sad, as well as the services available to them, have been presented by Milka Budakov, MD, PhD, Deputy Provincial Secretary for Social Policy, Demographics and Gender Equality, Vera Grkavac, Head of the Welfare and Childcare Department of the City of Novi Sad, and Slavica Marković from the Novi Sad Milan Petrovic Primary and High School. Josip Vlček, President of the Coordination Board of Organizations of PWDs of the City of Novi Sad, and Julijana Čatalinec from the PWDs’ Independent Living Center from Sombor, presented the experience of their organizations. Čatalinec shared her own experience of a woman with a disability living in a small local community, advocating for deinstitutionalization of services for PWDs. She talked about the necessity to raise public awareness of the PWDs’ potentials to contribute to their own communities and society in general, just like any other citizens, by virtue of their personal qualities. Denouncing categorically the claim that living costs of a PWD using personal assistance is more costly that her or his institutionalization for life, Čatalinec pointed to the necessity to change public perception of disability also by using contemporary, non-discriminatory terminology in this field.

After Marija Parnjicki from the Novi Sad Ecumenical Humanitarian Organization presented a good practice of this organization’s project supporting four women with disabilities in their efforts to open their own non-profit company in order to ensure their own sustainable income, the event ended in a discussion focusing mostly on listing issues and problems faced by PWDs and their organizations.

Prepared by: Ankica Dragin

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