Online Round Table for observing 3 December, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities Transforming the Society: Community for All

The Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, in cooperation with EU Delegation in Skopje, and in co-organization with the Government of the Republic North Macedonia, the national Council of Disability Organizations in Macedonia and the National Coordinative Body for implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, organized an Online Roundtable “Transforming the Society: Community for All”.

The Online Round Table was held on 3rd and 4th of December 2020 and was divided in three session. The first session considered the actual situation and the institutional response to the situation and was moderated by Spase Dodevski from the National Coordinative Body for implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The Prime Minister Zoran Zaev emphasised that the Government, in the past three years, succeeded to achieve the established goal, i.e., to make the institutions of the society, allies of persons with disability, from which they should always expect adequate policies for improving their position.

“Today, I would especially like to announce that starting from 2021, the service for personal assistance will be also available for children with severe and profound physical disability, and for children with total sight impairment. The Ministry of Labour and Social Policy prepared the amendments of the Law on Social Protection, which through the adequate government procedure, will be delivered to the Assembly for their adoption and will provide personal assistants for children at six years of age and above. On families’ requests, we are lowering the age when personal assistance becomes a legal right – from the current eighteen years to six years of age” said the Prime Minister Zaev, emphasising that the funds for personal assistants will be provided by the Budget.

“This year, we observe the International Day of persons with Disabilities with achieved results from the changes that we have brought for implementing the world’s best practices for support and inclusion of persons with disability in their everyday living, then in health and social protection and in education. Considering these changes, we received acknowledgement for being the best in the region”, said Zaev expressing satisfaction that the Government has achieved to create an ambient where all citizens are equal, where advantages are in the forefront and not the disability. The activities for assistance of vulnerable categories and of persons with disabilities are realized in 27 municipalities, including approximately 200 unemployed persons as service providers for more than 1,500 beneficiaries” highlighted the Prime Minister Zaev, underlying that together with the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, the services for support of persons with disability and other vulnerable categories of citizens in situation with COVID-19 pandemic are realized, which will have an influence also in the post-covid period for easier return to the normal everyday living.

The Prime Minister Zaev added that the right to allowance for persons with intellectual disability has been introduced and that the allowance for part0time work has been increased up to 50% from the average salary, all children are resettled from institutions to group homes or foster families, services for personal assistance, help and care at home and respite care are legally provided for the first time, expressing confidence that new legal amendments referring to the employment of persons with disability, the National register for persons with disability  and the Commissions for functional assessment for their ability to work are continuing with the same intensity so that they can be included in the labour market.

The President of the National Council of Disability Organizations in Macedonia, Tomica Stojanovski, conveyed the messages, thoughts and requests from all national disability organizations in our country. Regarding persons with intellectual disability, the president of NSIOM, conveyed the following views of the Republic Centre – PORAKA:

Although there is certain advancemen in decreasing the prejudice towards persons with intellectual disability, unfortunately, we must point out that there is still a high level of prejudice in our society. Continuous actions are needed for raising public awareness and informing the public about the rights and needs f persons with intellectual disability on national and local level.

Regarding the education of persons with intellectual disability, consistent implementation of the new Law on Primary Education is needed, which clearly promotes the inclusive education. The resources should be directed towards adequate support, especially in the transitional process towards inclusive education. Furthermore, qualified training for the teachers and the support staff needs to be provided in order to foster inclusion. To ensure universal accessibility to the educational process by overcoming the architectural barriers, communication barriers and providing quality educational assistants. This priority refers to the educational process for pupils with intellectual disability conducted during the conditions with COVID-19 pandemic.

In conditions with pandemic, it is necessary to provide access to all services in adjusted format, with adapted programmes for the users that are in need.

Regarding the health protection, especially in conditions with COVID-19 pandemic, persons with intellectual disability as a vulnerable group of citizens should be able to enjoy the right to quality care and health protection.

Also, it is necessary to include persons with intellectual disability and their families in state measures to mitigate the consequences from the pandemic crisis.

Persons with disabilities and their organizations must be included in the monitoring of the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, i.e., the independent body within the Office of the Ombudsman, with all necessary resources in order to effectively reach its role in accordance with the UN Convention and the known motto “Nothing about Us – Without Us”.

The Minister of Labour and Social Policy, Jagoda Shahpaska, expressed her sincere belief in the concept “One society for all”, which implies creation of conditions and possibilities for equal opportunities of all citizens for personal and social development.

Taking part in the Online Round Table for observing the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, the Minister of Education and Science, Mila Carovska, pointed out that the Government is committed to establish inclusive education which will allow to reach the maximum potential of every child.

Considering the efforts at the Ministry of Health relating the recommendations for preventive measures, which referred to protection against COVID-19, where persons with disability were exempted, taking into account the characteristics and specifics of their functioning, the Minister Venko Filipche focused on services that are explicitly provided for these persons. He emphasized that in cooperation with the civil associations and with the World Bank project access to health organizations is provided, as well as to specialised Covid-Centres in many towns in the country.

The head of the EU Delegation in the country, David Geer, said that the goal of this day is to increase public awareness and understanding about disability, as well as to promote the rights of the citizens with disability and to highlight the abilities of persons with disability throughout the world. Speaking about the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, he stressed that citizens with disability are treated as active participants in society, not as passive beneficiaries of services. He added that the Convention ensures this category of citizens are able to share their talents and productively contribute to society by providing equal access to all areas of life as all other citizens and to promote their independent living.

“North Macedonia has achieved a lot in the past four years by strengthening the rights and eliminating the barriers for persons with disability, but we need to continue to ensure full rights in accordance with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities”, said Rossana Dudziak, UN Resident Coordinator in North Macedonia. Dudziak added that it is important to continue and keep the reform momentum for improving the life of persons with disability and to provide their full and equal participation in society.

The second session: “Personal testimonies: How de-institutionalisation changed my life” was moderated by Vladimir Lazovski from the Ministry of labour and Social Policy. Fanka Dinova, former resident in the Institute for rehabilitation Banja Bansko and Marica Miloshevska, former resident in the Special Institute – Demir Kapija made comparison between the life in an institution and living in the community. Vancho Gemidziev, parent of a child with disability and former resident in an institution who now lives in the community, talked about the role of the families in the improvement of inclusion for persons living in services for supported living in the community. Aleksandar Miloshevski talked about the experiences of being a neighbour and chairman of a house council in a building where there is a group home. Testimonies were given by Rodna Andonova and Suzana Dimitrovska, supported living assistants and former carers in institutions.

The third part of the Online Round Table referred to new social service providers: the role of local self-governments and civic organizations in the delivery of community-based social services. The moderator of this session was Nafi Saracini from the EU delegation. The first panellist, Sofija Spasovska, Assistant Head of the Social Protection Sector, Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, presented the new social services system according the new Law on Social Protection and the funding opportunities for municipalities and civic organizations for development and provision of social services. The following panelists, Natasha Petrovska, Mayor of Municipality of Bitola and Lazar Petrov, Mayor of Municipality of Demir Kapija spoke about the local needs for and benefits from development of social services at local level. They also presented the Social Plans of both municipalities. Mayor Petrovska presented the transformation of the Home for Newborns and babies in Bitola into community-based service provider, and Mayor Petrov presented the transformation of the Special Institution – Demir Kapija into community-based service provider. During the third session, some of the projects and their activities that are being implemented in the country were presented, which refer to support of the de-institutionalization process.

The two-day round table ended with a brief overview of the two working days, with hope that next year the experiences and achievements in the work of all stakeholders operating in the field of disability will be shared live.

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