The Access to Education of Children with Disabilities

17.03.2016 / 12:00 / Access to Justice

untitled-62A.S. is the mother of a child with multiple disabilities, Cătălin, living in Cluj county. Every day, A.S. together with her boy, wake up at 5.45 AM, in order to get to school, in the city of Cluj-Napoca. The two get back home, at 9 pm in the evening, very tired, after having changed several means of transportation. In fact, several times, Cătălin arrived at the Emergency Hospital, getting ill for standing too much time, waiting for the local bus. Cătălin needs daily transportation from home to school, a daily allowance to cover the basic costs for his necessities, as well as an adequate educational program and equal treatment with the other children. Other 13 parents from Cluj who are in a similar situation and are part of the Association Voices Unheard have contacted the Pro Bono Network for Human Righs in seek of pro bono legal assistance.

Through this non profit clearinghouse, ACTEDO matches vulnerable individual people and groups, whose rights have been violated with lawyers, willing to offer their legal expertise, voluntarily. The project, thus, offers an opportunity for lawyers who are willing to help but do not have the time for research. Two lawyers from Cluj-Napoca, Sămăreanu Liliana-Mioara and Marton Kerestez Emoke have dedicated their time to this collective action and represent the children rights to education, in court.

The parents claim that they had previously taken every possible course of action to solve their problem, but have instead been threatened by the school and passed over from one institution to another, without anyone taking responsibility.

“We have followed all legal steps: we have contacted the school, we have discussed our issues at parents meetings, we have formally addressed the school, then the superior public authorities, we have taken every step from bottoms up, but it has been in vain.” (Mirela Crișan, President of the Association Voices Unheard).

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16 public authorities have been summed to court, from which 12 schools and demanded to ensure free public transportation from home to school and the provision of the daily allowance, retroactively, for 3 years.

“The Pro Bono Network for Human Rights aims to overcome these invisible barriers to access to justice, of people with disabilities, which among other vulnerable groups are generally discriminated in the Romanian society. The parents of children with disabilities face huge obstacles when they need to exercise their rights, including their right to education. It is easy to understand – that the following logical step – to claim their rights in court- is a disproportionate effort for these parents. The Pro Bono Network for Human Rights is quintessentially, a community project which helps vulnerable people ease their burden, when it comes to access justice and defend their rights.” (Dana Ududec, Legal Responsible, The Pro Bono Network for Human Rights)

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This is the 12th case we receive within a year, on the topic of disability rights, which shows us that this problem is just the tip of an iceberg. People with disabilities represent a very vulnerable group, taking into consideration their high rate of poverty (over 70% the EU average poverty rate), marginalization and the discrimination they face, on a daily basis. (EU Strategy for people with disabilities, 2010-2020)

In Cluj county there are 24 537 people with disabilities registered and 709 823, in Romania, according to the Ministry of Labor data, from July 2014.
In fact, on the Ministry website you may find data on the number of people with disabilities, the number of institutionalized children with disabilities and how many of them receive social benefits. You will not find, however, data on the number of public institutions who respect the legal standards for accessibility, the number of schools, adequately equipped to the needs of the children with disabilities, the number of children from rural areas enrolled in schools or how many hospitals fully allow access to people with disabilities. These numbers are not counted.

Besides the public sector, we ask ourselves even further, how many new residential buildings apply the minimum standards for accessibility? How many private companies, taxis, banks or coffee shops in Romania, allow people with disabilities to enter and make use of their services? From 2011 to 2012, the National Agency for Payments and Social Inspection has fined 167 public and private companies, with a total amount of 240.000 euros for failure to comply with accessibility legal standards, in accordance with the needs of people with disabilities. (Consiliul Național pentru Combaterea Discriminării și Institutul pentru Politici Publice, Accesabilizarea spațiului public pentru persoanele cu dizablități, București, 2013).

We can only conclude that despite the generous legislation, many measures that allow those with disabilities to effectively participate in society are not applied. The UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities has been ratified by the Romanian Parliament in November 2010 and states clear measures in order to ensure full and equal access to the physical environment, transportation, information, communication and many other services.

A study shows that “the public authorities are rather indifferent to the fate of those who are disabled, ignoring even the legal framework. In Romania, there are still ministries (Ministry of Education) or large city halls (Bistrița, Baia Mare, etc) who don’t even have access ramp. The consequences are far more serious in other institutions (schools, courts,etc.). About sign language interpreters, or web pages tailored to the needs of people with impaired vision or hearing disabilities, we can speak only in terms of the exception, the rule being that they do not exist.”(Consiliul Național pentru Combaterea Discriminării și Institutul pentru Politici Publice, Accesabilizarea spațiului public pentru persoanele cu dizablități, București, 2013).

In this regard, how can we expect for these people to be independent and support themselves, financially, given that the public space isolates them? Obviously, we need more enforcement and monitoring of the legal measures taken in this area, more compulsory programs for human rights education, and also more initiatives to facilitate the access to justice for people with disabilities along with their access to legal information, in order for our laws to be respected. A representative democracy, without the 709 823 people with disabilities is not possible.

Iulia Pascu, Project Coordinator The Pro Bono Network for Human Rights