The International Day of Persons with Disabilities was established in 1992, when the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution calling on countries to mark this date with the intent of raising awareness of the status of persons with disabilities in political, social, economic and cultural life, with the aim of improving their status and creating conditions for equal participation of persons with disabilities in society. This year, it is celebrated under the slogan “Building Back Better: toward a disability-inclusive, accessible and sustainable post COVID-19 World”.
The broadest international legal act dealing with the regulation of the status of persons with disabilities is the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Republic of Serbia ratified it in 2009 through the adoption of the Law confirming the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
A total of 571,780 (8%) citizens that may be considered persons with disabilities live in the Republic of Serbia. According to data from the latest 2011 population census, 58.2% of the total number of persons with disabilities are women. Persons with disabilities in the Republic of Serbia represent one of the most vulnerable groups of the population, facing numerous obstacles in various aspects of life.
Since it was established, the Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction Unit of the Government of the Republic of Serbia (SIPRU) has been providing support to the Government of the Republic of Serbia in the drafting of a strategic and normative framework related to the improvement of the status of persons with disabilities, and through cooperation with all relevant stakeholders it endeavours to contribute to increasing the social inclusion of persons with disabilities.
The Republic of Serbia adopted a National Strategy for Improving the Status of Persons with Disabilities for 2020-2024 in March 2020, drafted by the Ministry of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Affairs, and with support from SIPRU and the UN Human Rights Unit. The aim of the strategy is improving the overall social and economic status of persons with disabilities, and the creation of conditions for the equal participation of persons with disabilities in society.
In accordance with this, a draft Action Plan was prepared for implementing the Strategy for Improving the Status of Persons with Disabilities in the Republic of Serbia for 2021-2022, and the Council for Persons with Disabilities of the Government of the Republic of Serbia was tasked with coordination and reporting on implementation, through the Ministry of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Affairs. This document should soon be published on the Ministry website, and public consultations will be organised in the forthcoming period regarding the draft Action Plan.
Regarding improvement of the social inclusion of persons with disabilities at the local level, SIPRU is implementing the “Programme of local initiatives for social inclusion and poverty reduction – Support for the development of innovative models for social inclusion – LIP 2”, with its aim being a contribution to the social inclusion of vulnerable social groups through improving existing and establishing new/innovative maps/services/programmes in local communities in cooperation with civil society organisations.
In the four local self-governments (Pirot, Užice, Raška and Bela Palanka) that had their projects supported under the second phase of LIP 2, mentorship, counselling and expert support is provided in drafting a Programme for the improvement of the status of persons with disabilities for 2021-2023.
Since accessibility is the main precondition for the inclusion of persons with disabilities in society, SIPRU, the Ombudsman and the Standing Conference of Towns and Municipalities have established an award in 2016 for local self-government units that have contributed most to the development of all forms of accessibility within their territory during the preceding calendar year. The aim is to raise awareness of this topic, promote examples of good practice, and formulate recommendations for improving the situation in this field. A number of trainings were organised under the initiative, on creating an accessible environment for representatives of local self-government units, along with study trips to towns awarded prizes by the European Commission for developing accessibility. Furthermore, brochures were prepared containing information on initiatives awarded in 2017, 2018 and 2019. This year the winner of the Award for contributions to the development of all forms of accessibility within its territory in 2019 is the City Municipality of Vračar from Belgrade.
The Belgrade Ignite “GET INVOLVED online 8” event organised by the SIPRU team and the “Serbia in Motion” citizens’ association, held on 8 June 2020, illuminated various aspects of social inclusion during the COVID-19 pandemic and highlighted the status and challenges of vulnerable groups, including persons with disabilities, in pandemic conditions, through individual examples.
The Centre for Support and Inclusion HelpNet, with support by the Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction Unit of the Government of the Republic of Serbia (SIPRU), has implemented a study on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the status of vulnerable categories of the population, including persons with disabilities.
The study implemented across a sample of 150 respondents from the territories of Belgrade, Novi Sad and Niš – persons with disabilities, showed that due to the COVID-19 pandemic persons with disabilities face more difficult travel to regular therapy, limited provision of personal assistant or gerontological housekeeper services, altered procedures for support service operations, lack of sources of information, and additional expenses arising from the crisis. This study showed that persons with disabilities express additional concert regarding the exercise of the right to healthcare and social welfare under pandemic circumstances, and note increased difficulties in obtaining funds for medicines, regular treatment and required home care.
The recommendations state that it is necessary to envisage funds to support regular treatments for persons with disabilities under emergency circumstances, but also to adopt systemic sustainable measures in coordination with all relevant institutions and entities in this field to ensure they are not discriminatory against persons with disabilities. Primarily, the healthcare system needs to be sensitised to respond to the needs of persons with disabilities during the epidemic in the sense of ensuring the provision of regular medical treatments and interventions, and additional measures of protection for members of this group and their personal assistants. Regarding information on measures of protection and other relevant information in the context of the pandemic, it is necessary for websites and notices to be accessible to all, including blind and deaf persons.