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Accessibility of legal assistance for persons with disabilities

11/03/2013

The Office for the rights of persons with disabilities on February 28, 2013 held round table “Accessibility of legal assistance for persons with disabilities”. It took place in the frames of information campaign “Accessibility”. Law clinic of Belarusian State Economic University became our partner in this initiative.

Representatives of law clinics, NGOs of persons with disabilities, lawyers’ society took part in the round table. The main problems at the agenda were – accessibility of legal assistance and improvement of the quality of legal assistance for persons with disabilities. The director of the Office for the rights of persons with disabilities Enira Bronitskaya took the word: “This is the first meeting on topic of accessibility of legal assistance for persons with disabilities and the cooperation in the sphere of rendering such assistance, initiated by us for special organizations which render such kind of assistance. But I am sure that the cooperation in this sphere will give us good results and promote our work to a new level”.

Olga Triputen the Office’s lawyer told the participants about the Office’s activities: “In our Office we work on making persons with disabilities equal members of our society, included into all the spheres of life. We stand for joining and ratification by the Republic of Belarus of the Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities. The Office protects persons with disabilities and promotes understanding of disability as the problem of human rights observance. In our activities we are guided by the values and regulations of the Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities. One of our main activities is rendering free legal assistance for persons with disabilities. Our legal consultation has been working for 2 years already. Last year we presented the monitoring of our activities in 2011-2012. During this time about 1400 persons applied for legal assistance. It shows the need for such service in the society. The problems, persons with disabilities apply with, are very different. We can state problems almost in every sphere of life of persons with disabilities: provision of reasonable level and quality of life, right for rehabilitation, labour, independent way of life, education, information”.

Julia Khvatik, the head of BSEU’s legal clinic, took the word. In her presentation “Legal clinics and rendering informational and legal assistance for persons with disabilities”, Julia told the participants about the peculiarities of legal clinics’ work: “Legal clinics are organizations created under higher educational establishments or NGOs in which students-consultants under the supervision and guidance of teachers render free legal assistance for socially unprotected citizens. By doing this they get practical experience of work with citizens, ethics of communication with clients, learn to fill in the necessary papers. Persons with disabilities are among our clients. In different clinics we have different experience of rendering such kind of assistance. For example, student from legal clinic of GSU Skarinu situated in Gomel city hospital № 3 spent several trainings for groups of persons with disabilities. After each training they held legal consultation. Laboratory of legal informing under VSU Masherova has chosen another type of rendering assistance. Since April 2012 till November 2012 they had been realizing the project of cooperation with Vitebsk boarding house for elderly and disabled. They held one legal consultation every week and during the period of time 41 client with disability got legal assistance. The experience shows that persons with disabilities apply to us rather rare. May be it is connected with the condition that they have to apply in person. And sometimes it is difficult for a person with disability to get to a clinic. But in any case we are ready to cooperate with NGOs and lawyers”.

Tamara Sidorenko, a representative of “Center for legal transformation” told the participants about the Law on advocacy concerning persons with disabilities: “Law on advocacy is not very loyal to persons with disabilities. The privileges for free consultations are very limited. Besides, there is such a problem as the absence of barrier-free environment in the majority of buildings where legal consultations have their offices. It means that in respect of persons with disabilities legal accessibility is not observed and even elementary architectural accessibility isn’t observed”.

Sergei Drozdovskiy, the coordinator of the Office for the rights of persons with disabilities, presented the topic: “Development of legal assistance for persons with disabilities – near-term perspectives”: “The strategy of development of the community of organizations rendering assistance for persons with disabilities has several main factors. Firstly, it is necessary to provide accessibility of legal assistance to persons who are in need of it. It means that legal assistance should be accessible at the level of local communities. It is necessary to take into account the peculiarities of clients’ possibilities, to develop the channels of interaction with them, to teach lawyers. Secondly, it is necessary to develop the infrastructure and the system of providers of legal assistance for persons with disabilities. Thirdly, there should be competent legal education: we should distribute information about legal assistance, widen the types and to improve the quality of educational products. Fourthly, we should use advocacy of legal assistance: to initiate the necessary researches, monitoring in order to finds out the interests of the society and to include these types of assistance to the common processes of legal assistance by state, NGO and HR defence participants. And we shouldn’t forget about lobbying. But in order to do it, first of all, we have to coordinate our common positions and strategies and then to plan concrete activities”. We have to work together, finding common interests and acting in one direction. It is early to speak about a coalition, but the Office for the rights of persons with disabilities stands for such coalitional approach in such a case” – summed up Sergei Drozdovskiy.”

Office for the rights of persons with disabilities offered to prepare and sign multiparty agreements about cooperation with the participant of the community of organizations rendering legal assistance in order to develop legal assistance for persons with disabilities. It is obvious that this step can become a new stage in development of legal assistance but at the same time a challenge to organizations. The participant of the round table stated their positive attitude to the possibility of continuing the negotiations about entering contractual relations.