We are really pleased to report on the work of advocates and activists with intellectual disabilities. Very often this group is denied a chance to articulate their own concerns. We turn today to Serbia, where the first self-advocacy group of people with intellectual disabilities is gaining political ground in advancing the right to act for people with disabilities.
The first self-advocacy group of persons with intellectual disabilities in Serbia was formed in 2008 as part of the Serbian Association for Promoting Inclusion (SAPI). Members of this group were clients of one big residential institution, but when, ten years ago, SAPI started a service of supported living for persons with disabilities, they moved to a flat in Belgrade. Today, they live independently, go to work, have income, engage in sports, spend their free time meaningfully, and make their own decisions. Everyday life now has a meaning for self-advocates. Frequently, they make comparisons to the way of life they had in institution “where there was a fence which you couldn’t cross.”
Self-advocacy means that we speak for ourselves and other people. I can freely say that I have a right to free movement, employment and income, and a right to normal life. I advocate for equality among people and for living together. (Z, self-advocate)
Today, there are 16 members of self-advocacy group of persons with intellectual and other types of disabilities. Throughout support, learning and constant work, self-advocates gained important advocacy skills. The group organized elections for its president and other organizational bodies and majority of members voted for the first time in their life. They have an assistant, who provides support in decision-making, information about human rights, empowerment for participation in improving quality of life, information about realizing basic needs, development of personal responsibility, but also support in basic self-advocacy skills (e.g. conducting discussions, organizing public events, etc). The group meets once a week and organizes workshops on different topics, such as right to community living, right to employment, right to vote. Workshop participants learned how to have a positive impression about themselves, make decisions, and have choices, but they are also informed about their civil rights and equal participation in the community.
I feel useful and as if I’ve never been in an institution. I learned many smart things and I would never give up self-advocacy.” (E. G. self-advocate)
The group has organized different public actions, including distributing leaflets, organizing roundtable conferences and discussions, but also concrete actions directed at decision-makers in Serbia. In May 2015, the group organized a big conference on self-advocacy as part of the project they implement to widen the network of self-advocacy group to another five cities in Serbia. One of the important achievements is that members of the Group for self-advocacy are members of the Team for deinstitutionalization organized and run by the Ombudsman of the Republic of Serbia.
We are group of self-advocates. Self-advocacy means that we fight for and speak about our rights. No one else speaks about our rights instead of us. We fight for our right to live in the local community. As other people, persons with intellectual disabilities have a right to live in the community, work, be responsible at job, move where we want, speak about our rights. (D, self-advocate)
Self-advocacy group and Serbian Association for Promoting Inclusion have signed the Declaration and they are actively supporting PERSON campaign Right to Act. Because, legal capacity is crucial for realization of human rights and self-advocates are crucial for reaching that goal.
This document has been produced with the financial assistance of the European Union. The contents of this document are the sole responsibility of PERSON (Partnership to Ensure Reforms of Supports in Other Nations) and can under no circumstances be regarded as reflecting the position of the European Union.