People with disabilities discuss accessibility with civil servants

15 Oct 2013

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People with disabilities, local governments, and local government engineers and experts from the Split-Dalmatia and the Dubrovnik-Neretva counties participated in a discussion regarding the necessary adjustments of existing and future buildings to ensure accessibility to people with disabilities.

A conference was held regarding the role of technical education in the accessibility of facilities for people with disabilities, called The Importance and Role of Technical Education in Securing and Implementing Accessibility/Disability Rights. People with disabilities explained to technical experts the difficulties associated with environmental inaccessibility in everyday situations, which prevents participation in activities with people devoid of disabilities. The symposium was organized by the ombudswoman for people with disabilities, Anka Slonjšak, in cooperation with the United Nations Development Programme in Croatia (UNDP) and the Association of Persons with Disabilities in Croatia (SOIH).

Slonjšak emphasized how the accessibility does not refer only to the physical obstacles, but to the entire building process in which it is necessary to take into consideration the needs of all citizens, regardless of their physical, sensory, cognitive and/or psychological characteristics or age. “There are frequent examples in which employees tell the guests that the building is adjusted because it has an entry ramp, but the person cannot enter the elevator due to narrow doors, or cannot move about freely in the wheelchair inside of a room or use the bathroom” said Slonjšak. “During the period of construction and designing, the needs of people with disabilities should be taken into account. It is enough to build slopes at the entrance with or instead of stairs, or simply doors which are large enough. Such principles of universal design do not require additional costs, simply an awareness of different needs.”

To better understand the challenges in practice, participants formed mixed groups to assess the accessibility of the venue in which the workshop was held, the Franciscan clergy building (Franjevački klerikat) in Split.

“Setting appropriate legal standards is arguably the easiest part of this effort. To ensure that these standards guarantee equal access in reality, engineers and technical specialists need to understand better the challenges that people with disabilities face in daily life,” stated Louisa Vinton, UN Resident Representative and UNDP Coordinator in Croatia. “Today's symposium gives a chance to technical experts to 'walk in the shoes' of people with disabilities and also allows people with disabilities to actively participate in the development of the solutions which will serve its purpose.”

During the symposium, a successful model from the city of Vinkovac was presented showing cooperation between people with disabilities and the Administrative Department of Physical Planning and Construction, which appointed a disabled person to the Commission for the Inspection of Buildings. If a building is not accessible for people with disabilities, a building permit will not be issued until it becomes accessible.

An annual operating plan for the alteration of existing buildings in 2012 was developed in 13 counties and the City of Zagreb. Among these 13 counties is also Dubrovnik-Neretva County, which has set aside 100.000kn for the revamping of buildings lacking accessibility for disabled persons. In 2012, Split-Dalmatia County did not plan any financial measures for the modification of their buildings, despite complaints filed by people with disabilities that many spaces for public and commercial purposes are inaccessible. Buildings that needed remodeling were recorded and planned for 2013.

Together with architects, experts, and civil engineers, the symposium was also attended by the representatives of administrative departments for planning and construction in cities and municipalities in Split-Dalmatia County and Dubrovnik-Neretva County, as well as representatives of the conservation departments, Ministry of Construction and Physical Planning and people with disabilities. The aim of the symposium was to encourage technical professionals to be more involved in the implementation of the legislation.