Disabled People in the Western Balkans
Reforms towards market economies in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe have created new opportunities for citizens. Very often, disabled citizens have been excluded from this process and have been marginalized from the economic benefits available. Wars and displacements of refugees have increased the number of and deepened the difficulties for many disabled people in the region. Their conditions have worsened with the general rise in unemployment, the closing down of sheltered workshops as a result of economic transition and the loss of State benefits.
Although disabled people are now more visible than ten years ago, certain groups are still isolated in closed, overcrowded institutions, denied rights and respect for their human dignity. Many people with disability remain objects of charity. Funding for rehabilitation needs to be increased and the quality of services improved. Further efforts are required to increase access to employment for disabled people. Action must also be taken to bring people out of institutions and to create supported independent living. A huge transformation is now required in these countries in terms of legislation, relations between organisations and public attitudes.
Creating and strengthening local and national cross-disability umbrella bodies in Western Balkans countries is therefore a necessary step to create a new environment in which NGOs can successfully promote the rights and interests of people with disabilities.
For EDF, the respect of disabled people’s Human Rights in these countries must be an unavoidable pre-requisite for their potential accession to the European Union or to receive EU’s financial support.
The aim of the CARDS project, undertaken three years ago by the EDF with the financial support of the European Commission, was to create a unified disability movement in the Western Balkans region (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia, including Kosovo).
In practice, EDF has worked to strengthen the capacity of disabled people’s organisations and to improve cooperation, through the establishment of umbrella organisations of disabled people. In this way, disabled people’s organizations could become more efficient and more present in policy making in the Balkans region, and therefore, to better promote the rights of persons with disabilities.
The project overall objectives are the following: