On the occasion of White Cane Safety Day on 15 October, the Human Rights Ombudsman Peter Svetina stressed that it is our responsibility to help vulnerable groups, including blind and partially sighted persons, to live in dignity and inclusively. "We can always contribute to the best of our abilities so that each and every one of us feels respected and finds a safe haven in our midst. Every day and again and again, there are opportunities to raise our voices for all of those who are unable to do so for themselves," Svetina emphasised.
If we notice barriers, we can call on the decision-makers to have them removed. If we encounter discrimination against blind and partially sighted persons, let us make sure that those who can and must take action do so. "Let’s tug at their sleeves to include our fellow citizens in society by means of systemic and consistent measures. Let’s remind them that they exist. The larger our number, the louder our voice, and that will eventually result in change," the Ombudsman pointed out.
Blind and partially sighted persons must have the same opportunities and conditions to realise their potentials. The accessibility of medical devices and adjustment of the environment are only two of the conditions that may contribute to a high-quality and comprehensive integration into society. "The ground floor of the building and premises where the institution of the Human Rights Ombudsman is located were adapted to blind and partially sighted persons in 2021, and we encouraged all other institutions or companies operating in the building at 56 Dunajska cesta road to do the same. By doing so, we set a clear example of how it is possible to make steps towards the inclusion of citizens who are blind or partially sighted with good will and some funds," Ombudsman Svetina explained.
In 2021, the Human Rights Ombudsman discussed the lack of response by the building inspection service to complaints about architectural barriers in regard to equality before the law and prohibition of discrimination. Systemic irregularities were determined in the Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities Act (ZIMI). "It was revealed that the building inspection service only has control over buildings under construction and not over already built facilities, and the ZIMI does not define an authority that would supervise the accessibility of the already built facilities in public use with regard to disabled persons. We have already submitted a proposal for amending the Act," the Ombudsman stressed.
"I also point out that the minister responsible for disability protection is more than ten years overdue with the issue of an implementing regulation defining minimum requirements for the accessibility of goods and services to persons with disabilities. It is unacceptable that 11 years after the passing of the Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities Act, disabled persons still find themselves facing insurmountable barriers, such as steps, entries to public schools, social work centres, pharmacies or other public institutions. I expect the state to provide sufficient infrastructure that will enable equal treatment of all persons in society or their social inclusion," Ombudsman Svetina repeated his demands.
He also highlighted that it is necessary to be aware that limitations must be exceeded, and human rights respected every single day. A prerequisite for realising the needs of a fellow human being is that we get to know them. "A removal of taboos and stigmas is possible with inclusive educational programmes and a human approach. Many of you are already doing this and I thank you for that," the Ombudsman pointed out, adding that we are all limited in our perception of the world and the white cane represents a step towards freedom and independence, and eliminates narrow-mindedness. "Let education be our white cane, enabling us to overcome barriers and help those who still suffer from discrimination and are not yet fully enjoying all of their rights," the Ombudsman urged.