Sunday 21 January 2018 | 09:14

Polish experts: We say “equality” and you say “inclusion”

20.12.2017  |  Society   |  Yauheniya Burshtyn, EuroBelarus,  
Polish experts: We say “equality” and you say “inclusion” Photo by “EuroBelarus” Information Service

Will creation of local agendas be an effective tool in ensuring rights of persons with disabilities in Belarus, just as it was in Poland?

For the past two years, TUS Foundation has been cooperating with the Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities within the framework of “Agenda 50” Campaign on implementation of the Convention’s provisions in Belarusian regions. Last week, during their recent visit in Belarus, representatives of TUS Foundation Małgorzata Peretiatkowicz and Piotr Todys conducted an agenda-drafting training for members of Vałožyn local community. Two days of productive work resulted in the initial version of the document. 

“EuroBelarus” Information Service spoke with the Polish colleagues about the experience of ensuring rights of persons with disabilities in Poland and about their view on the issue in Belarus.

The experts note that two years of work is too short a term for any prognosis. Analyzing the situation and trying to understand specifics of Belarusian realities took them the entire first year.

– The approach we see here is very important to us: persons with disabilities do not want mercy, they demand equality of rights. Still, considering the way your system works, it seems to me that it will take a long time for this approach to reach your central authorities, – notes Małgorzata Peretiatkowicz.

Her colleague finds it really interesting to participate in joint meetings with NGOs that work with the rights of persons with disabilities and to hear their suggestions.

– We know that Belarus ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, but we do not have an insight into the way it is being implemented locally. This situation reminds me of that in Poland: we are still considering what to do with the document, – admits Piotr Todys.

Photo by “EuroBelarus” Information Service

Though the discussions that the Polish experts witnessed involved persons with disabilities, it would be even better if their ratio was greater and reached at least 50%. TUS Foundation often emphasizes the aspect of self-advocacy in projects they implement in Belarus. Talking about the local agendas Piotr and Małgorzata help creating, they state that “everything goes really well, but we would like to see more persons with disabilities participating in the processes”.

– The main point of our concern will come when we will get to know whether the people for whom these agendas are being created actually use them in their lives, – Piotr concludes.

– I think that writing the agendas is something realistic, they will be drafted, – his colleague continues. – Their implementation, however, will require a quick and adaptive approach: implementers will have to know where to find resources and people. While implementing the agendas, people will be delegating responsibilities, looking for opportunities, setting tasks themselves – and this element is very important in terms of local communities’ development.

Foreign experts are reluctant to talk about differences in approaches to the issue of disabilities in Belarus and in Poland. Neither are they willing to suggest how Belarus can use the experience of Poland.

– I do not think that comparison is a good idea. Our states and societies have been developing so differently that it is difficult to compare them. It is like comparing two atmospheric phenomena that exist in their own way, and have a right to be what they are. The countries we live in are absolutely different: even words that sound similarly mean various things in our languages. I can only say that Belarusians are wonderful and I really like them, – says Małgorzata.

– For sure, one can use the experience of others, but I prefer having own experiences, – adds Piotr. – Undoubtedly, though, I find it important to use others’ work when it comes to standards of accessibility. It is crucial to remember that the process of standard-setting is ongoing, we should constantly develop and reconsider the existing standards.

It is important to be able to critically assess the situation in the neighboring countries, to understand what happened there and how things worked. It is equally important to be able to transpose this knowledge onto our own realities and estimate what can work here (and if at all).

– In 1980s-1990s, we often turned to the experience of Germany, because the situation related to persons with disabilities was much more advanced there at the moment. What was a norm to them seemed of sci-fi origin to us. Until now, certain practices applicable in Germany have not been introduced in Poland. Nevertheless, treating their experience as an inspiration, and not merely copying what they had, seemed to be of great value to us. When we organized study visits to Poland, this is exactly what we meant. We never told participants to take our experience and use it in their country, we wanted to motivate them to be very conscious about this work.

Polish colleagues made an important linguistic observation during our conversation.

– We say “equality” in Poland, and you say “inclusion”, – explains Piotr. – At some point in our history we also thought that we needed to include persons with disabilities into society. We seemed to be so kind as to include them into our greater “something”. In the meantime, equality assumes the right of specific individuals to decide and keep up to some points they value. The group that is “being included” has merely rights. But equality brings obligations, too.

Perhaps, this aspect is characteristic of the situation with the rights of persons with disabilities in Belarus and distinguishes it from the Polish experience.

Photo by “EuroBelarus” Information Service

***

This article was created within the framework of “Rights of Persons with Disabilities: Agenda for Belarus (Agenda 50)” international project.

“Agenda 50” campaign is implemented with the support of the European Union and in partnership with TUS Foundation (Poland) and “European House” (Denmark). Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, International Consortium “EuroBelarus” and Centre for European Transformation participate in the implementation of the campaign in Belarus.

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