From September 24th to September 28th, a series of events took place in Brussels, the motto of which was “Independent Living – A Voice for All”. The reason for the gathering of disabled people and their followers from all over Europe was the Freedom Drive.
It takes place every two years and is organized by the European Network for Independent Living. The Freedom Drive brought together around 300 people with and without disabilities, of different ages and nationalities.
The first day of the program started with some very interesting training sessions: how to create an Independent Living Center; How to make a National Youth Network; Monitoring of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; How to be proud disabled people. They have taught us what it takes to create a local organization that fights for the rights of people with disabilities, and that it takes a lot of desire, a little experience and a lot of change to make a youth organization for people with disabilities. And before we start doing anything, it is a good idea to look for the answers of three very important questions: Why do we want to create an organization; What do we want to achieve; Who will be its members?
The second day was even more important because we had the opportunity to meet some of the Bulgarian MEPs. The meeting was attended by Sergei Stanishev, Emil Radev, Angel Dzhambazki, Svetoslav Malinov, Peter Kurumbashev and Vladimir Uruchev. One of the main topics of discussion was the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the adaptation of Bulgarian legislation to it. We explained to them what the status of the deinstitutionalization process in Bulgaria was, and because of that moving people with disabilities from the large home to the small one is not real inclusion in the community, we stated that we are currently preparing a petition regarding the deinstitutionalization. On their part, we received a pledge of assistance, because the money that is spent for DI comes from the European Union. The deputies took to heart the lack of free access to the subway and promised to contact the subway owners and raise the issue of how a disabled person can move from point A to point B without a problem. We look forward to fulfilling their promises soon and will inform you as soon as possible of the progress of the commitments made.
If we have to rank the days by importance, then the third was the most important. In fact, it was as important as emotional it was. It was the day of the Freedom Drive. The participants were about 300 people with and without disabilities, people of all ages; people with different degree and kinds of disability; people who moved their wheelchair by the help of only one tube. But the most important thing was that we all had one common goal – we wanted our voices to be heard by everyone and to say that we would fight for and defend our rights, both on local and European level.
After the drive, there was a conference – “Independent living – voice for all”. A major topic that addressed the rights of children and young people with disabilities. Their voice must also be heard when talking about independent living and the rights of people with disabilities.
The conference ended with the annual meeting of the European Network for Independent Living, where Ms. Kapka Panayotova was re-elected for an Executive Director of ENIL. We wish her success and great strength so that she continues to fight both locally and nationally for the right to an independent living.
After we returned from Brussels, the organizers sent us a survey to evaluate the events. One of the questions was: Would you recommend to your friend to visit the Freedom Hike. Our answer is yes because it is an event that needs to be experienced in first-person.