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First 100 days of the Ombudswoman: care for people with disabilities and availability of legal aid

07.06.2013 10:49
Category: work and news


Ljubljana, 3 June 2013 (VČP) – After one hundred days as the Ombudswoman, Vlasta Nussdorfer held a press conference, together with her deputies Jernej Rovšek and Kornelija Marzel, MSc, and her Adviser Brigita Urh, where she spoke about the problems of people with disabilities and the difficulties in acquiring free legal aid.

The Ombudswoman was the sponsor of the Photography and Human Rights Festival, which ended a few days ago, where the winner in the multimedia section was Luka Dakskobler’s film about a girl called Barbara, who has severe cerebral palsy and can communicate with the world around only with her eyes. As the winning film was the introduction to a week dedicated to people with disabilities, the Ombudswoman presented it in the presence of the director.

She further described her conclusions about care for people with disabilities, where too many issues remain unresolved. To read more, click on this link (PDF).

On 21 March 2013, a month after being appointed, the Ombudswoman accepted the invitation of Borut Pahor, the President of the Republic of Slovenia, and of some associations and individuals caring for people with Down syndrome. It was concluded that a memorandum was to be signed in May which would provide these and other children with normal development, primarily inclusive forms of education, schooling, more opportunities, supportive and integrative employment, and programmes for elder people with Down syndrome and intellectual disabilities. The memorandum will be signed on Thursday, 6 June 2013.

The Ombudswoman was also alerted to the inadequate translation of the term ‘disabilities’ in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Therefore, she urged the Minister, Dr Anja Kopač Mrak, to do everything in her power to find a more suitable translation, since the present term for disability (invalidnost) limits the inclusion of all persons with disabilities. The English term comprises a wider range of people, including those with Down syndrome, autism and the like. The solution to the problem would be to correct the disputed term. The Secretary-General of the United Nations pointed this out on World Down Syndrome Day.

In the course of her work outside the registered office, the Ombudswoman also visited the Dr Ljudevit Pivk Primary School and was appalled at the conditions in which children with disabilities were cared for. The school Principal, Dragica Emeršič, informed her that the building permit acquired for the construction of the school will have expired by the end of this year, yet there were no funds for construction. As the unbearable situation has persisted for a number of years, the Ombudswoman, as the honorary sponsor, decided to invite anyone who could do anything to find the funds required. She spoke to the Mayor of Ptuj, and alerted the Minister of Education, Science and Sport, Jernej Pikalo, whom she is meeting tomorrow, on 4 June 2013, to this problem, and invited mobile operators to launch a campaign to raise money for people with disabilities.  

Three mobile operators (Telekom, Simobil and Tuš Mobil) opened the 1919 telephone number today, where anyone who may send the key word 'ptički' (birds) and contribute EUR 1 to the construction of the school. The campaign will continue for the whole week.

The Ombudswoman is convinced that awareness of rights and manners makes it possible to ensure respect for rights; for this reason, she would like some of the funds collected to be used for an autumn update of the pamphlet Vodnik po pravicah otrok s posebnimi potrebami (A Guide to the Rights of Children with Disabilities), by Dr Jasna Murgel.   

The Ombudswoman also said at the press conference that she would invite a girl with Down syndrome to do summer work practice at her office after 24 June. This would be the first such case in the history of the institution, and the Ombudswoman is certain that this could be one of the steps towards including people with disabilities in society. Tanja Fajon, a Member of the European Parliament, has also been included in the activity, and will include a girl with Down syndrome among her assistants.

Legal aid for those who need it

“We can observe every day that people are quite weak regarding free legal aid (FLA)," said the Ombudswoman in the introduction to the second part of the press conference. It is obtainable for people through courts, but too frequently they do not receive it due to their social status, which exceeds the census by a few euros. As some individuals have improved their position and have been deprived of the equal availability of FLA due to their social status, the Ombudswoman and her colleagues are striving to find other forms.

They have written to municipalities throughout Slovenia to establish how their legal aid offices operate and how they provide legal advice to people when required. The responses of a fifth of the municipalities were unsatisfactory, and indicate how local community authorities handle the issue. According to the Ombudswoman, she will continue to collect information on the issue and encourage local communities to follow the examples of good practice regarding getting closer to people also by means of legal aid.  

Later, the Ombudswoman informed the people present that, on Tuesday, 28 May 2013, her Deputy, Ivan Šelih, had attended a round table as one of the speakers at the presentation of a free legal aid project of the Slovenian Association of Friends of Youth Ljubljana–Moste Polje entitled Ker je prav (Because It’s Right), and took the opportunity to express support for the project and pointed out all the Ombudswoman’s warnings issued in her annual reports to the Government and National Assembly, and other authorities.

In the light of the efforts to make legal aid accessible to citizens, the Ombudswoman and her Deputy, Ivan Šelih, will meet the Director of the Legal Information Centre of NGOs (PIC), Katarina Bervar Strnad, on Thursday, 6 June 2013. On the same day, the Ombudswoman will discuss the issue with the President of the Bar Association, Roman Završek.

 


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