At the ceremony held at the Club of Deputies in Belgrade on 16 July 2021, two awards, four commendations and six recognitions were given to local self-government units, which contributed the most to the development of accessibility in the Republic of Serbia in the previous year. The City of Kruševac and the City Municipality of Vračar from Belgrade were awarded as local self-government units that in 2020 contributed the most to the development of all forms of accessibility on their territory, i.e. in their environment.
Awards, commendations and recognitions were presented for the fifth consecutive year by the Protector of Citizens, in cooperation with the Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction Unit of the Government of the Republic of Serbia and the Standing Conference of Towns and Municipalities of Serbia.
The award for the continuous work on improving the accessibility of the urban environment was given to the City of Kruševac for several initiatives related to timely planning and removal of obstacles, planning and construction of accessible facilities, as well as reconstruction and adaptation of facilities for public use.
The City Municipality of Vračar received the award for innovative solutions in the field of improving the accessibility of information and communication, for the initiative which included activities carried out within the inter-municipal cooperation project, as well as activities carried out during the state of emergency caused by the COVID-19 epidemic.
The Deputy Protector of Citizens Jelena Stojanović said that despite certain positive changes, accessibility in the Republic of Serbia was not sufficiently developed. “Very often, competent institutions such as health or social protection institutions, faculties, as well as public transport are not accessible. The competent institutions mainly focus on removing architectural barriers, while information barriers are kept in the background,” Stojanović pointed out. According to her, the pandemic had shown the importance of timely available information, and the Protector of Citizens pointed out to the local self-government units how important it was to make information about protection measures presented on the pages of their official websites available to people with disabilities and members of national minorities. Since the first level at which citizens establish communication with institutions is local, she said that local self-government units should provide complete and understandable information, as well as continuously work on improving communication with citizens.
The manager of the Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction Unit of the Government of the Republic of Serbia, Dragana Jovanović Arias, highlighted that the initiative was important primarily because of the opportunity to exchange examples of good practice. “It is very important to us that we are in constant contact with local self-government units and thus develop cooperation and have a better insight into the actual state of accessibility in the field,” said Jovanović Arias. She pointed out that through this initiative, they could identify the reasons why the regulations, which guarantee the accessibility of public facilities, services providers and services to all citizens, were not respected. “I hope that this will be an opportunity to define recommendations for improving regulations in this area at various levels,” concluded Jovanović Arias.
As Đorđe Staničić, Secretary General of the Standing Conference of Towns and Municipalities said, this initiative was an incentive for all local self-governments to approach the adoption of planning documents in a different way. “The City of Kruševac received an award for the accessibility of the urban environment, but they have been working on urban mobility for years through several different projects. The City Municipality of Vračar responded in an extraordinary way to the challenges related to COVID-19, and great efforts were made in Čajetina, Kragujevac, Sombor,” said Staničić.
As Miodrag Počuč, a member of the Protector of Citizens Council for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, highlighted, there were shortcomings in existing actions related to accessibility, such as abuse of the topic, lack of systemic and planned approach, focusing exclusively on physical accessibility, inconsistency in the application of standards and relatively low quality of finished works. “However, at the same time, it is evident that accessibility is becoming a part of large local projects, more substantial funds are allocated, there is continuity in the activities of individual local self-governments, as well as cooperation with the civil sector, including an increasingly stronger focus on information and communication,” Počuč said.
Vidan Danković, a member of the Protector of Citizens Council for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, presented an instrument that is part of the advocacy initiative of civil society organisations – Study on Accessibility when Planning the Removal of Architectural Barriers, which is an analysis of physical, information and communication accessibility with measures designed to enable the fulfilment of accessibility requirements. “For the Study on Accessibility to achieve its full purpose, it would be best to make it a mandatory document when drafting project documentation for construction, extension and adaptation of public facilities in all forms of ownership financed from the budget,” Danković emphasised.
A total of 12 towns, municipalities and city municipalities applied to the public call for awards. Based on the analysis of the received applications and the accompanying documentation, the Call Commission shortlisted the participants, after which visits to these local self-government units were organised. At the session held on 11 June 2021, the Call Commission, based on the review of the material on the nominated initiatives submitted by the shortlisted municipalities, towns and city municipalities, as well as based on direct insight into the implementation of these initiatives during the visits, made a Decision on the Winners of Awards and Recognitions.
In this way, the Protector of Citizens wants to promote examples of good practice in the field of accessibility at the local level, as well as to achieve better cooperation with local self-government units in the Republic of Serbia, aiming to determine the state of play in the field of accessibility and reasons why regulations guaranteeing the right to the accessibility of public facilities and services for persons with disabilities and movement or communication impairment are not being fully applied. Furthermore, this initiative provides essential information for formulating recommendations and plans to improve accessibility under the competence of towns, municipalities and city municipalities.
Watch the video of the award ceremony for the contribution of local self-governments to the development of all forms of accessibility in 2020: