Exactly five years ago – on January 26, 2012 – the Bulgarian Parliament ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD). All active disabled Bulgarians were hoping that their life was going to change.

Nobody thought it would happen overnight, a month or even a year. Nobody expected that for 5 years the only thing that will happen will be the plans for synchronizing our legislation with the Convention. These were 2 strategies for the disabled people and 3 action plans.. Unfortunately, the measurements of the Territorial Expert Medical Commission (TEMC) are still active and the people with disabilities are seen as someone who needs treatment. This approach seems to justify the total disregard for the needs of every person with disabilities through the prism of a fulfilling life, despite the handicap.

Bulgaria is in the bottom of European countries rankings regarding social indicators of prosperity – income, education levels, decent employment, access to health care, inclusion in the community. When it comes to the rule of law principles, Bulgaria is not high in the ranking either. If the law was implemented properly, the Convention should be working successfully. The Convention defines disability not based on the diagnosis of the people themselves, but based on the barriers in the world – physical, cultural, institutional. Such barriers prevent a disabled’s person normal functioning in the city where they live. A wheelchair alone is not a problem – the problems are when the same wheelchair meets high pavements and many stairs. The absence of personal assistance is not easing the situation. It is about public opinion that people with disabilities are sick and should be in special places.

The fifty articles of the Convention make the countries, which have signed it, assure that their disabled citizens have the same rights as every other person in the country. These include the right of education, working rights, convenient transportation, healthcare, social protection, and political participation. None of these aspects has been changed in Bulgaria. And until things stay this way, our country will not leave the very last place at Europe’s ranking. To do so, we need to fight all types of corruption in the society.  

What Bulgaria is proud of – the deinstitutionalization process, actually offers the same conditions to its inhabitants as the famous Mogilino. The hundreds of ‘protected houses’, ‘transition houses’, ‘family type residential centers’ and more ‘community based services’ in residential facilities, pull Bulgaria decades back when compared to Europe.

If we really want to change the direction of the course, the following measures should be taken into consideration:

  •  Complete removal of TEMC as a tool to measure the working abilities of a person. Instead, an expanded medical reports from a hospital should be introduces, followed by a complex and individual grading of the needs of the person with disability. The goal is social inclusion. The medical reports must have legal value (just as TEMC has now) for providing the necessary support for every person, with the aim of his independence, labor and social realization. A multidisciplinary team should determine the type and the amount of this individual support and include monthly maintenance due to disability, technical aids, personal assistance, peer support, adapted home and car, means for transportation, support at the workplace.
  • Creating a Disability Agency (currently Agency for People with Disabilities). The functions of the existing agency should be changed and a more individual approach should be adopted. Other aspects involve disability assessment and social inclusion policies.

  • Funding organizations of disable people should be made transparent and project-based, making difference between advocacy and human rights organizations and service providers.