Increasing inclusion of people with disabilities by lowering barriers

On the occasion of December 3 – International Day of People with Disabilities, Centre for Civic Education (CCE) reminds on inadequate position of people with disabilities (PWD) in Montenegro, and above all in the exercise of basic rights in education, employment, health care and movement. The CCE calls on the relevant institutions to work together to find modalities for consistent implementation of the legal framework for the protection of people with disabilities in order to strengthen the inclusion of this group in Montenegrin society.

It is concerning that in 2019 we still receive warnings from the EU, but also from other international instances, that the legal framework for the protection of people with disabilities is not adequately implemented which puts significant number of persons with disabilities in the position of second-class citizens. CCE surveys confirm the worrying incidence, as 82% of citizens say that the position of people with disabilities in Montenegro is worse than that of average citizens. PWDs are an important resource, but a resource that is neglected due to prejudice against this group and denial of opportunity while hiding behind financial allocations for disability cash benefits. Therefore, it is necessary to identify the key points at which the position of the PWD can be improved and more strongly advocated for employment and the principle of independent living of the PWD. The European Commission also warns us in its 2019 Montenegro Report on the need to establish adequate and transparent system of spending funds from the Fund for the Professional Rehabilitation and Employment of PWD.

It is good that PWDs themselves in Montenegro are increasingly refusing to be left out and satisfied with remunerations that cannot even be compared to the benefits and opportunities that an employee’s salary can provide. Employment is crucial for independence, since PWDs who do not have adequate employment remain dependent on their parents and guardians or are arbitrarily deinstitutionalized, i.e. declared legally incompetent and transferred to the collective institutional care system.

PWDs seek equal treatment without pity, equal status and dignified life that enables them to live independently. In order to enable PWDs to live the life of equal Montenegrin citizens, it is necessary to implement diligently laws, invest additional efforts and resources to promote the independent life and employment of PWDs, as well as to remove barriers that stand in the way of full inclusion of PWD in our society. Unfortunately, state institutions of Montenegro and standpoint of competent authorities on this issue, contribute to these barriers. These refers to non-transparent spending of PWD funds, neglect of the importance of capacity building that will promote the socio-economic inclusion of PWDs, lack of initiative and pro-activeness of competent institutions to work on raising awareness and informing PWD of the opportunities at their disposal, etc.

Furthermore, the movement of persons with disabilities in Montenegro is not adequately facilitated, as many key institutions that should be role models are not actually accessible to people with difficulty moving or those using wheelchairs, or those who rely on sound and relief signals and similar signposts. Further, even when providing assistance,  in form of personal disability benefits or the provision of necessary supplies, institutions create a group of privileged PWDs, allocating those with significantly higher levels of disability than 90 percent or more to be eligible to receive assistance.

Also, not even nearly enough attention is being paid to the health care of PWDs. Healthcare professionals must be trained to provide health care for people with disabilities in a professional manner, without discrimination and damage to their dignity. People with disabilities in Montenegro are still forced to seek medical aid in the region, especially in the phase of establishing diagnosis, provided that they have financial capacity to do so because the Montenegrin health system does not have adequate diagnostic apparatus. The EU also underlines this problem in terms of health inequality and the need to ensure access to health care services for vulnerable groups, including PWD.

All social structures in Montenegro, competent institutions, organizations for the protection of the human rights of people with disabilities, educational institutions, employers and the PWD themselves must work together to create a barrier-free life in Montenegro – lives with PWDs that will not be excluded and left aside because of their health imperfections. The United Nations message for this year’s International Day for People with Disabilities is: “We will never remove health imperfections, but by overcoming barriers, we will eliminate disabilities.”

The United Nations (UN), dedicated to creating an inclusive, accessible and sustainable society since 1948 and adopting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, declared December 3 as the International Day of Disabled Persons in order to promote the well-being and well-being of persons with disabilities.

Željka Ćetković, Coordinator of Active citizenship programme in the CCE