Access to education children with disabilities

03/15/2016 | 17:03

untitled-62A.S. is the mother of a child with multiple disabilities, Cătălin, living in Cluj county. Every day, A.S. and her boy wake up at 5.45 a.m. in order to get to school on time, in the city of Cluj-Napoca. The two get back home at 9 p.m., very tired after having changed several means of transportation. In fact, once Cătălin was taken to the Emergency Room of the County Hospital due to exhaustion from standing too much waiting for the local bus. Cătălin needs daily transportation from home to school, a daily allowance to cover the basic costs for his necessities, as well as an adequate educational program and equal treatment with the rest of the children. 13 other parents from Cluj in a similar situation, who are part of the Association Unheard Voices (Voci Neauzite), have contacted the Pro Bono Network for Human Righs to seek pro bono legal assistance.

Two lawyers from Cluj-Napoca, Liliana-Mioara Sămăreanu and Emőke Marton Keresztes have dedicated their time to this collective action and are currently representing the children’s right to education in court.

The parents claim that they had previously taken every possible course of action to solve their problem, but had instead been threatened by the school and passed over from one institution to another, without anyone assuming responsibility.

We have followed all legal steps: we have contacted the school, we have discussed our issues at parents’ meetings, we have formally addressed the school, then the superior public authorities, we have taken every step from bottom up, but it has been in vain.”(Mirela Crișan, President of the Unheard Voices Association).

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16 public authorities have been summoned to court, including 12 schools that are demanded to ensure free public transportation from the children’s home to the school, as well as the provision of the daily allowance, retroactively for 3 years. The possibility for children to get to school, regardless of whether they live in the city or at the country side, to have physical access to their schools, as well as to be able to buy study materials are prerequisites for an effective access to education. Without this fundamental right it is impossible to reach the goals regarding people with disabilities presented in the National strategy regarding social inclusion and poverty reducation (2014-2020).

“The Pro Bono Network for Human Rights aims to overcome the invisible barriers to access to justice that people with disabilities face, who are often discriminated in Romania, like other vulnerable groups. The parents of children with disabilities face huge obstacles when they need to exercise their rights, including their right to education. It is easy to understand that the next logical step – to claim their rights in court – is a disproportionate effort for these parents. The Pro Bono Network for Human Rights is quintessentially a community project which helps vulnerable people ease the burden of defending their rights and gaining access to justice.” (Dana Ududec, Legal coordinator The Pro Bono Network for Human Rights)

This is the 12th case we have received in the past year on disability rights, which demonstrates that this is just the tip of the iceberg. People with disabilities represent a very vulnerable group, taking into consideration their high rate of poverty (over 70% the EU average poverty rate), and the marginalization and discrimination they face on a daily basis (according to EU Strategy for people with disabilities, 2010-2020).

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In Cluj county there are 24 537 people with disabilities registered and 709 823, in Romania, according to the Ministry of Labor data, from July 2014. In fact, on the Ministry website you may find data on the number of people with disabilities, the number of institutionalized children with disabilities and how many of them receive social benefits. You will not find, however, data on the number of public institutions who respect the legal standards for accessibility, the number of schools, adequately equipped to the needs of the children with disabilities, the number of children from rural areas enrolled in schools or how many hospitals fully allow access to people with disabilities. These numbers are not counted.

Besides the public sector, we ask ourselves even further, how many new residential buildings apply the minimum standards for accessibility? How many private companies, taxis, banks or coffee shops in Romania, allow people with disabilities to enter and make use of their services? From 2011 to 2012, the National Agency for Payments and Social Inspection has fined 167 public and private companies, with a total amount of 240.000 euros for failure to comply with accessibility legal standards, in accordance with the needs of people with disabilities. (Consiliul Național pentru Combaterea Discriminării și Institutul pentru Politici Publice, Accesabilizarea spațiului public pentru persoanele cu dizablități, București, 2013).

We can only conclude that despite the generous legislation, many measures that allow those with disabilities to effectively participate in society are not applied. The UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities has been ratified by the Romanian Parliament in November 2010 and states clear measures in order to ensure full and equal access to the physical environment, transportation, information, communication and many other services.

A study shows that “the public authorities are rather indifferent to the fate of those who are disabled, ignoring even the legal framework. In Romania, there are still ministries (Ministry of Education) or large city halls (Bistrița, Baia Mare, etc) who don’t even have access ramp. The consequences are far more serious in other institutions (schools, courts,etc.). About sign language interpreters, or web pages tailored to the needs of people with impaired vision or hearing disabilities, we can speak only in terms of the exception, the rule being that they do not exist.”(Consiliul Național pentru Combaterea Discriminării și Institutul pentru Politici Publice, Accesabilizarea spațiului public pentru persoanele cu dizablități, București, 2013).

In this regard, how can we expect for these people to be independent and support themselves, financially, given that the public space isolates them? Obviously, we need more enforcement and monitoring of the legal measures taken in this area, more compulsory programs for human rights education, and also more initiatives to facilitate the access to justice for people with disabilities, along with their access to legal information, in order for our laws to be respected. A representative democracy, without the 709 823 people with disabilities is not possible.

Iulia Pascu, Project Coordinator The Pro Bono Network for Human Rights