"Independent Living and proposed Slovak social reforms."

Lydia Brichtová speaks about the changes adopted in social/disability legislation since 1989. Internet publication URL: www.independentliving.org/docs1/hr8.html.

"Legislation for Human Rights"
Stockholm, Sweden, 24 August 1998

Lydia Brichtová, Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Family of the Slovak Republic

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

First of all I would like to tell you how happy I am to be able to come here to join you in the discussion about different national approaches for the protection of human and civil rights of people with disabilities.

As I want to speak about the most important changes adopted in our social legislation since 1989, let me start with a question, which is very relevant to our current situation: Have you ever personally experienced revolution? Certainly yes, at least your own personal revolutions which we all have to go through every day when we want to achieve a change.

In Central and Eastern Europe we have experienced a great social revolution as a long term process which started in 1989. The vision of democracy has affected also the lives of people with disabilities. Maybe for the first time in our history, their views and desires for real civil involvement and participation have been heard in public. The ideas of equal opportunities, integration, self-determination and quality of life have spread all over the country quite rapidly and have been discussed among people with disabilities, professionals and different social institutions. Due to this process they have been reflected in certain way in our Constitution and other government policy documents.

It is easy to promise, but very difficult to create conditions leading to their fulfilment, especially in a situation when you are confronted with budgetary problems and the total reconstruction of the national legislative system.

The questions for us were how to make, under these conditions, our social security system work for people with disabilities; how to support the inclusion process; which policy tools to use for allowing equal opportunities and self-determination ideas to grow; how to achieve balance between the old concepts of protection and caring for people on one side and the new concepts of rights for self-determination on the other side without endangering the lives of people with disabilities.

The answer was: better and more progressive legislation comprising more alternative services for people with disabilities according to their needs.

The answer was: direct payments for personal assistance and for transportation two projects funded by the European Union PHARE programme. The projects were "Personal Assistance" and "Integrated accessible taxi transportation". These pilot projects were carried out during 1997 by the Independent Living Institute under the leadership of Dr. Ratzka. Thanks to these projects, the concept of personal assistance was tested and adopted in Slovakia, and people with disabilities have now the possibility to use regular taxis (at this point in the capital city of Bratislava only) for their transportation needs. The new integrated taxi solution has spread all over Slovakia. In a few days, following the example of the pilot project in the city of Bratislava, integrated accessible taxi transportation will be started up in the town of Kosice.

We are just at the beginning, but this integrated taxi scheme (from November 1997) has shown us that accessible taxis can replace traditional special driving services which are unsatisfactory and not suitable for users who want to live normal lives. The advantage of regular taxis is that the taxi-vehicles can be used for all customers whether they are wheelchair users or not - at any time. The cars are equipped with foldable and portable ramps. The middle seat can be quickly removed to make room for a wheelchair user who does not have to leave the wheelchair during the ride. The payment scheme designed by Dr. Ratzka uses vouchers as means of subsidization of disabled taxi customers who otherwise would have to spend a large part of their income on transportation.

The success of these projects - their simple and elegant design and their relatively low costs - convinced not only disabled citizens, but also professionals and politicians of the advantages of the direct payment scheme. These projects together with the many study visits abroad undertaken by our staff influenced the country’s new Social Assistance Act. Our new Social Assistance Act includes:

  • direct payments for personal assistance
  • direct payments for the purchase of assistive devices
  • an allowance for the repair of assistive devices
  • an allowance for the purchase of a car
  • direct payments for transportation, for example, taxi rides
  • grants for the adaptation of one’s apartment, house or garage
  • an allowance as compensation for the extra costs of living due to a disability.

These direct payments can be combined with social services such as home help services, special transportation, meals on wheels, care in social institutions with day, week, or whole-year stays.

Even though we know that the above-mentioned allowances and services are nothing new for many countries, in our country they are viewed as very progressive for citizens with disabilities.

In the case of assistance, the user can decide whether he/she hires a personal assistant or asks for a home helper who will be chosen and sent by the state administration or whether he/she wants to receive care in a residential facility.

Several months before the new Social Assistance Act was adopted, we launched a big media campaign on Personal Assistance and integrated accessible taxi transportation on TV, radio and in the press in Slovakia. I am convinced that this was also one of the reasons why it was impossible to refuse personal assistance to be included in the Act.

I will try to explain in brief the conditions for direct payments for personal assistance and for mobility in Slovakia.

The Act entitles every citizen with extensive disabilities to receive a monthly payment for personal assistance from the state administration. With this money users can hire assistants themselves or join an organization of users, for example, a user cooperative.

The citizen with disabilities makes a contract with his or her personal assistants (in compliance with our Civil Code). The contract contains:

  • the kind of activities to be performed,
  • the place of performance and the period of performed activities,
  • the obligations and rights of the personal assistant.

Those were the ideas on which our new Social Assistance Act is based. In introducing direct payments for personal assistance to our legislation we have been inspired by the experience in other democratic countries, especially in Sweden. In this context, I would like to express our gratitude to Dr. Ratzka who has provided important information and technical assistance to our country.

The aim of providing direct payments is to make people with disabilities more independent in their every day life and to enable them to become productive citizens. The most effective argument in convincing professionals and politicians of direct payment was that they are more cost effective than traditional social services. Thus, they do not increase the total cost of the state budget. In many cases, we found traditional services are more expensive.

Anyone over 18 years can work as assistant. Parents of children with disabilities aged from 7 to 18 years may not work as a personal assistant for their own child.

The amount of the monthly allowance is based on the number of hours of assistance the user needs. The number of hours is assessed for the period of one year. The maximum is 24 hours a day. The amount of the allowance is dependent on the income of the person.

Mobility allowance is paid monthly to citizens with extensive disabilities who can not use public transport services (buses, trams, trains) but only individual public transport services - accessible taxis. The maximum rate of this allowance is set by the Social Assistance Act. It is up to the disabled person, if she or he will use up the whole amount during the month or save it.

The advantages of the new Social Assistance Act are:

  • assistance is provided according to the person's needs
  • the citizen with disabilities has an active role
  • the consumer can choose either direct payments or services provided by the government.

The disadvantages of the new Social Assistance Act are:

  • direct payments are income tested
  • amounts are not high enough to cover all expenses
  • direct payments for personal assistance do not include administrative costs (e.g. for an agency managing personal assistance)

The Social Assistance Act was enacted in May 1998 and will come in force in January 1999. We are aware of the fact that this act does not cover all spheres of life where citizens with disabilities are or might be discriminated against. In order to combat discrimination we would need either a whole series of individual laws or one comprehensive piece of anti-discrimination legislation. There is no consensus about these options in our country.

But we know that preparation of single law that would cover all areas of discrimination would take a long time and would need a strong political will to be adopted. In order to come up with an interim solution until we have such a comprehensive law in place, the Ministry has elaborated a draft for a so-called Accessibility Fund Establishment Act which is aimed at

  • penalising violations of our accessibility regulations
  • building up financial resources to remove environmental barriers.

Slovakia is preparing for general elections in September. From the point of view of adopting laws that would make discrimination on the basis of disability unlawful, we are experiencing a very interesting situation now. We can see that all political parties, including the presently ruling party and the opposition, are trying to win vote from the ranks of citizens with disabilities. The parties are using the media, they are organising meetings with representatives of organizations of disabled people to discuss their daily problems and are pledging that they will solve the problems of citizens with disabilities through ant-discrimination legislation and they are placing this issue in their election programmes. What do you think, can we believe them?

Thank you for your attention.

Lydia Brichtová
Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Family of the Slovak Republic

 

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