Mikhail Matskevich. Photo of the "EuroBelarus" information service
To achieve changes, you need to be interested in them and stop pinning all hopes on the state.
For the fourth year in Belarus, the “Agenda 50” campaign has been implemented, the goal of which is to consolidate at the local level the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Belarus signed this international document in 2015 and ratified it in 2016. During the campaign, pilot agendas were written in Stolin, Ščučyn, Valožyn and Stoubtsy, which were based on the local issues and took into account the Convention principles. The signing of the agenda in Babruysk is coming. These are step-by-step plans that all the campaign participants have signed and undertaken to fulfill in order to improve the quality of life of people with disabilities in their cities.
To reformat the dialogue
Now, the experience of writing local agendas is told of in regional cities - with the hope that people there will take up the baton. In an interview with the "EuroBelarus" information service, Deputy Director of the Office on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Mikhail Matskevich spoke about the main challenges that were encountered with during the work on the local agendas’ design.
- In most cases, the communication between public organizations of people with disabilities and local authorities is as follows: the organizations’ representatives come to a local Executive Committee and ask for something. But after the adoption of the Convention, it became clear that the solution of problems related to disability is not the goodwill of the state or a particular official person, but the right of people with disabilities, starting from an accessible environment, ending with accompanied living.
According to Mikhail Matskevich, the form of relations in the “request-alms” style is widespread, with the exception of those rare areas where public councils have been created with the participation of public organizations. Well, often in such collegiate bodies as well, due to association with stakeholders from other areas, representatives of public organizations have practically no voting rights. Moreover, the discussion of problems in such councils is very often chaotic, they lack culture of dialogue, analysis of achievements and failures.
“In our mindset, we don’t have this structured communication when people come together to understand that each interested party can invest in a common cause,” Mikhail Matskevich notes.
As a rule, government programs are formed at the level of ministries, and then process top down - and the local community can no way influence them.
Another difficulty is the lack of necessary competences among representatives of organizations of people with disabilities. For example, a chairman of an organization can be an excellent architect or teacher in the past, but the issues of interaction with the authorities lie, as a rule, in a political field - and these people often have no skills in this area. Thus, you have to either learn social work, or continue to act as you used to.
“You can't act in an old way”
In the near future Belarus is to adopt a law “On the rights of persons with disabilities and their social integration”. It will include some concepts that are new to the Belarusian legislation - for example, terms “discrimination”, “smart devices”, etc will be mentioned there. In addition, the new law provision will state that a disability council should be established in every district.
- This opens up great opportunities, because such councils will be headed by chairmen of executive committees or their deputies. And naturally, chairmen of people with disabilities’ public organizations should become headliners of such a process. The law provides for the possibility of participation of people with disabilities in an individual capacity in such councils, and this is very good, because they can be good sources of feedback and expertise”, explains Mikhail Matskevich.
As the Belarusian practice shows, a public council can be created, but nothing says that it will function systematically. Therefore, they say that “You can't act in an old way” at the seminars that the Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities holds in regional cities. To achieve changes, you need to stop placing expectations on the state and get rid of the illusion that it will solve everything for us, and we only need to point out problems.
The mechanism of how public councils should work can be an example of the local agendas’ work, namely, the “22 steps” methodology, designed by experts from the Polish TUS Foundation. It provides for the preparation of plans for two to three years’ period - after all, the usual five-year plans in the context of the rapid turnover of local government is a lot. By the way, the recommendations below will be useful and relevant while forming local agendas, not only on the topic of disability, but also on any other topic.
Step by step actions
It is necessary to begin work in public councils with diagnosing problems, says Mikhail Matskevich. They need to be divided into those that can be solved at the local level and those which can be solved at the national level. For example, issues of being classified per invalidity degree, rehabilitation, employment, and some others need to be addressed at the national level, since they often require making changes to regulatory documents. And issues regarding a living place and social services that a person needs can be solved on the spot.
After diagnosing problems you need to prioritize them.
“It’s impossible to change everything at once,” notes the Deputy Director of the Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Tasks can be distributed as follows: administrative tasks (those that are solved using simple communication); tasks without additional financial costs (thus allowing to invest in the budget which an Executive Committee has at its disposal); tasks requiring financial investments and other resources (foreign aid, business partners, human resources, etc.).
The “Agenda 50” campaign showed that in different regions of even our small country people identify different problems and have different views on their solution. Moreover, local agendas are not always designed on the problems’ base.
- For example, the chairman of the Support center for young people with disabilities in Stolin, Mikhail Skrebeyko is replicating the Latvian experience, and thanks to this, the creation of an independent living center for people with disabilities was reflected in the Stolin agenda. Therefore, the third point of the plan to identify problems is to discover what you want to do. A local agenda should not only reflect the problems, but also put the interests of different subjects in one piggy bank.
Another important point is the discussion of problems in public councils. Often it turns into a farce and does not bring results. Therefore, any discussion needs a moderator. In addition, the council should strive to “remove shoulder straps” - that is, to come down on the same level with the people, says Mikhail Matskevich.
- When problems are identified, people often make another mistake: they immediately switch to the language of the activities. Now public organizations of people with disabilities and executive committees are creating joint action plans, and this is worth welcoming. These usually include activities, persons responsible for them, dates and funding. But they rarely indicate goals from which to proceed. For example, in the Joint Work Plan for 2019 between the Committee on Labour, Employment and Social Protection and public organizations of Minsk there is an event: holding seminars on teaching blind people Braille language. Well, we can have a workshop, but will that solve the problem? First, you can participate in the workshop, but learn nothing. Secondly, if we solve a problem, we need to conduct a test. Thirdly, if the aim of a training is to facilitate communication with the outside world, then we need to answer the question whether the Braille language is present in the environment of those we want to teach: is it on the buttons of elevators and in the city in general, does literature exist in Braille, and where to take it?
Mikhail Matskevich draws attention to the fact that after identifying problems, it is necessary to formulate quantitative and, most importantly, qualitative indicators for measuring achievements. Returning to the same Braille language, you can find out how many people mastered it and how it helped them.
Involvement is important
One of the principles of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is “nothing for us without us.” You can not make decisions without the participation of those whom they have been developed for. Therefore, it is important to hold public consultations and discuss plans to address the problems of people with disabilities. Our discussions often take place in the form of informing - and this is wrong. It is necessary to ask the opinion of the people themselves, and it is better to conduct polls in different groups, conditionally speaking - people in wheelchairs, visually impaired, hearing impaired, people with limited mobility, etc. And you also need to honestly respond to people, which proposals are accepted and which are not, and why. To do this, you can connect local media and online resources. An important detail: in small cities, when designing local plans, it is important to take into account interpersonal relations of people as these can affect work.
You can not create a local agenda without local authorities’ participation. The coordinators of the Agenda 50 campaign planned that action plans designed in the pilot cities could become decisions of local councils of deputies. But it turned out that local councils of deputies do not have the practice of adopting such documents. Such plans, as a rule, are formed at the regional level. Despite the fact that the agendas created are not regulations, but rather gentlemen's agreements, it is important that the signatories see these documents as personal plans for implementation. Otherwise, there is a danger that they will be forgotten in a month.
And finally: we need to constantly update the agendas and reflect them out. They should be easy to update to meet new challenges.
The material was prepared in the framework of the international project "Rights of People with Disabilities: agenda for Belarus (Agenda 50)".