European conference in the Republic of Macedonia

“Towards community living: current realities – future Challenges”

The Republic Center for Support of Persons with Intellectual Disability – PORAKA was a co-organizer of the European Conference of EASPD, that was held on 7 – 9 October 2010 in Skopje, on the subject: “Towards community living: current realities – future challenges”. The Conference is one of the most important events of this type in the past decade in Republic of Macedonia.

“TOWARDS COMMUNITY LIVING: current realities – future challenges” is the motto under which the European Conference had been held in Skopje on 7 and 8 of October 2010, organized by EASPD, PORAKA, Open the Windows and the Macedonian Scientific Society for Autism. There were more than 200 participants on the conference, representatives from Non-Governmental Organizations, service providers, persons with disabilities and members of their families, governmental and educational institutions from all over Europe.

The aim of the conference was building bridges in knowledge and good practices to improve the social conditions of persons with disabilities, as well as facilitating the full inclusion of persons with disabilities in the society, in the spirit of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The conference program was divided in two parts. The first part were the plenary sessions, which in total, during both days, were six, and the second part were the workshops, which addressed large scale of different topics.
The first working day of the Conference began with the official opening where speeches were held by Vasilka Dimoska MD, Program Manager in PORAKA, who also chaired the opeining. Then, the Minister of Labour and Social Policy of RM, Mr. Xhelal Bajrami, Mr. Jan Jarab, Regional Representative for Europe of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr. Helmut Heinen, Chair of the European Co-ordination Forum for the Council of Europe Disability Action Plan 2006 – 2015, Mr. Gero Stuller, Social-political Attache and plenipotentiary Representative of the Federal Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Consumer Protection at the Austrian Embassies in Zagreb and Skopje, and Mr. Franz Wolfmayr, President of EASPD. The working part of the day was focused on quality systems as a tool to facilitate the development of community-based social services. The first plenary session was about the difficult way from institutions to community-based settings. The second plenary session, chaired by the President of EASPD, opened an interesting debate regarding the quality systems and how these are strengthening the specialized social services for persons with disability.

The afternoon part of the first day was intended for the workshops where the participants had the possibility to exchange experiences and practices from their countries. The first workshop on the subject de-institutionalization reaffirmed that persons with disabilities have equal rights to live in the community, with choices equal to others, but it is necessary to take appropriate measures for them to enjoy their rights for full inclusion in the community. The second workshop was about quality systems. The main thread that was common for all discussions was that the services provided to persons with disabilities should enable them attain and maintain maximum independence, full physical, mental, social and vocational ability and also full inclusion in all aspects of life. The following workshop discussed the training of the professionals that work with persons with disabilities. In the spirit of the UN Convention, the participants agreed that the training of the staff working with persons with disabilities should be promoted regarding the rights these persons have, but also the rights recognized in this Convention, in order to practice them successfully. During the fourth workshop, the discussions were on the topic of the user involvement in the decision making process regarding the policies and the programs that directly concern them. All the participants agreed that these are processes that really need to be applied if we sincerely want to talk about the inclusion of persons with disabilities in the society. The next workshop referred to networking where this process was considered as mutual challenge for service providers for persons with disabilities. It is a key for enabling them to advocate their specific needs and difficulties, in order to reach the capacity for service provision, which is in accordance to the UN Convention. The third plenary session was the last in the first working day of the Conference, where the conclusions of each of the workshops were presented.

The second working day of the Conference referred to reaching the availability of services and accessibility of the society. Therefore, the fourth plenary session looked at the availability of support services for persons with disabilities across Europe. The discussions pointed out that wide range of support services are needed for persons with disabilities to be enabled and empowered in order to gain control over their own lives and that it is of utmost importance to cooperate with all stakeholders in the society. The fifth plenary session provided a debate for achieving accessibility, with special attention to e-accessibility in the society. The workshops followed in the afternoon program of the Conference, and the first of them was referring to accessibility of information and of the society. The participants agreed that persons with disabilities should have access, on an equal basis with others, to physical environment, to transport, to information i.e. to all services open or provided to the public, both in urban and in rural areas. The focus of the second workshop was the education for persons with disabilities. This workshop highlighted that it is necessary to acknowledge the right to education for persons with disabilities in order to achieve the full development of each individual’s potential without discrimination and on the basis of equal opportunities and that inclusive education on all levels should be provided for these persons. The following workshop had the employment of persons with disabilities in its scope. The discussions led towards the understanding that the right to work should be acknowledged to persons with disabilities on an equal basis with others. This includes the right to the opportunity to gain a living by work freely chosen or accepted in a labour market, and a work environment that is open, inclusive and accessible to persons with disabilities. The UN Convention on the rights for persons with disabilities emphasizes the responsibility of States to undertake or promote research and development of universally designed goods, services, equipment and facilities. Therefore, one of the workshops discussed the universal design. During the discussion, the opinion that prevailed was that the universal design requires minimum possible adaptation and the least cost to meet the specific needs of a person with disabilities. The fifth workshop of the second working day was about the e-inclusion to persons with disabilities. The discussions were that persons with disabilities should be granted with the availability and use of new technologies, including information and communications technologies, mobility aids, devices and assistive technologies. The working part of the European Conference ended with the sixth plenary session where the participants had an opportunity for once more to exchange opinions and share experiences in order to create the conclusions from the Conference.

Within the Conference, PORAKA, in cooperation with NDI – National Democratic Institute, organized a working meeting with the executives of EASPD and the representatives of the Council of Europe and the United Nations with Mr. Tome Danevski and Ms. Zumrete Jakupi, members of the Assembly of the Republic of Macedonia and members of the Inter-party Parliamentary Group on the Rights of Persons with Disability. The topic of the meeting was the significance of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Members of the Assembly of the Republic of Macedonia emphasized the efforts, which are being made for ratification of the UN Convention as soon as possible, and promised that it will be realized till 3 December 2010 – The International Day of Persons with Disability.

The conference was sponsored by the PROGRESS Partnership Programme of the European Commission, DG Employment and Social Affairs, and supported by the City of Skopje, then the Council of Europe, the Social-Political Attache in the Austrian Embassy in Zagreb and in Skopje, the Federal Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Consumer Protection of Austria, “Europe for Citizens” Programme of the Education and Culture DG and the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy of the Republic of Macedonia.

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