January 29, 2024 | Monday

Inclusive Kosovo

By Dukagjin Kelmendi, HANDIKOS

Implemented by HANDIKOS and its partners throughout a period of five years, the EU-funded project “Inclusive Kosovo”, intervened in various areas with the goal of improving the conditions and rights of persons with disabilities in Kosovo. In the blog below, Dukagjin Kelmendi from HANDIKOS highlights some of the main achievements of the project that strengthened the position of persons with disabilities in Kosovo by means of advocacy interventions in local and central institutions, education and direct peer-to-peer support for persons with disabilities in Kosovo.

For many years in Kosovo, little progress has been made on the advancement of the rights of persons with disabilities. Limited support, inadequate health services, and poor accessibility to existing services has made social integration for these people a real challenge. An inadequate implementation of the existing legislation and policies, as well as lack of accurate legal framework protecting the rights of persons with disabilities are putting a halt to inclusive planning and budgeting for appropriate interventions and service delivery. 

The EU-funded project “Inclusive Kosovo” was firmly grounded in the human rights-based approach aimed at raising awareness that persons with disabilities should not be seen as objects of charity, recipients of social welfare or as persons reduced to their disability, but as active and equal members of the society with their own legitimate rights. In this regard, core public institutions, as the duty bearers whose responsibility is to promote and protect the rights of persons with disabilities were targeted throughout the project implementation.

Aiming to promote an all-inclusive society in which persons with disabilities realize their full potential and live dignified lives as equal citizens, on 1 January 2019, HANDIKOS in partnership with Kosovo Association of the Deaf (KAD), Kosovo Association of the Blind (KAB), Disability Partnership Finland (DPF), Threshold Association from Finland, and affiliated entity – the Kosovo Disability Forum (KDF), started the implementation of the EU-funded project “Inclusive Kosovo” / Kosova Gjithëpërfshirëse / Uključivo Kosovo

While the role of HANDIKOS and other Kosovo project partners as strong actors in the Kosovo civil society was to strengthen capacities of the disability sector, advocating for mainstreaming disability and promoting the rights of persons with disabilities, the role of the Finnish Partners was to provide technical advice, expertise and peer support to the Kosovo organizations for persons with disabilities in organizational democracy, advocacy work and accessibility.

The project aimed to have an impact on the disability issues in Kosovo with the main goal of promoting and cultivating an inclusive society. In order to achieve this result, among other things, it was important to ensure the availability of data on disability issues, which would be useful for public institutions and Organizations of Persons with Disabilities (OPDs) to utilize for planning, monitoring and the inclusion of disability-specific initiatives. 

Through the five years of implementation, the project worked on three main areas: mapping the situation of the persons with disabilities in Kosovo; advocacy activities with relevant public stakeholders, and peer-to-peer activities working directly with persons with disabilities. 

Research Report “Where does Kosovo stand?”

Drawing from the lack of reliable and updated data on the current legislation that promotes and protects the rights of persons with disabilities in Kosovo, the project’s first action was to implement a research study looking at where Kosovo stands in relation to the international standards on disability issues, the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the acquis communautaire of the European Union, in the respective fields. 

The research study looked into the international disability standards codified in relevant conventions and legal acts through the following categories: 1. Right to life and Justice, 2. Independence, privacy, family and life in community, 3. Accessibility, 4. Education, 5. Freedom, protection from torture, integrity and mobility, 6. Equality, non-discrimination (women and children), 7. Health, 8. Employment and social care, 9. Public participation, 10. Statistics and international cooperation.

The findings of the research showed that less than one third (30.72%) of the assessed international disability obligations (standards) are fully translated into Kosovo’s legislation. The remaining of the obligations were partially addressed (50.00%) and missing standard (19.28%) assessment categories. Accessibility remains the most challenging category, with only 6.77% of the standards fully included in the legislation. Public participation, statistics and international cooperation were found missing a standard of level 60% to 100%.  It should be duly noted that overall, most of the obligations (standards) are assessed as “Partially addressed” (50%). This means that half of the assessed standards, although they are part of the Kosovo legislation, fail to fully translate the respective standards, thus preventing people with disabilities from fully enjoying and exercising the respective rights. 

With the goal to advocate for urgent intervention, published under the title “Where does Kosovo stand?” research findings were presented to the Kosovo Government and other relevant stakeholders in the annual Conference organized on 3 December 2019. The findings of the research were used throughout the project implementation to advocate for better conditions for persons with disabilities in Kosovo. 

Council of Persons with Disabilities established

Following the advocacy work of the representatives of Organizations of Persons with Disabilities and close coordination with the Office for Good Governance within the Prime Minister’s Office at the Kosovo Government,  on 22 June 2021, the Prime Minister signed the decision to establish the Council of Persons with Disabilities, the most important body for disability sector that will monitor the implementation of the National Strategy and Action Plan on the rights of persons with disabilities and cooperate with government structures in promoting the rights of persons with disabilities. Ever since its foundation – chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister and consisting of deputy ministers from line ministries and representatives of organizations of people with disabilities on a state level – the council meets twice yearly.  

The 2020 resolution of the Kosovo Assembly

For the first time in its history, on 3 December 2020, he International Day of Persons with Disabilities, the Kosovo Assembly held a session to discuss the rights of persons with disabilities, and it unanimously approved the resolution stating: (1) [The Kosovo Assembly states] its commitment to improve the constitutional and legislative framework that will guarantee and protect rights of People with Disabilities in Kosovo; (2) Authorized institutions are encouraged to propose constitutional amendment for inclusion of the Convention for Human Rights of People with Disabilities in the article 22 of the Kosovo Constitution; (3) 2022 is announced The Year of Persons with Disabilities in Kosovo.  

2022 – The Year of Persons with Disabilities & Calendar of Activities 

Following the resolution of the Kosovo Assembly and the signing of the Government’s decision to designate 2022 as The Year of Persons with Disabilities in Kosovo, the calendar of activities for 2022 was drafted with the close contribution of the organizations of persons with disabilities (HANDIKOS, Kosovo Association of the Deaf, Kosovo Down Syndrome Autism; and Kosovo Disability Forum) and representatives of relevant ministries. Through the project, seven one-day workshops were organized that ensured an inclusive calendar of activities by including representatives of ODPs and government officials. Activities were designed and implemented in four areas: education; employment; health, and youth, culture and sports.

 To mark the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, on Friday 2 December 2022, all public schools in Kosovo dedicated the first class of the day to the rights of persons with disabilities. Furthermore, during 2022, 86 assistants were employed in the public schools of Kosovo to assist teachers working with children with disabilities; three sign language assistants and one sign language interpreter were employed at the Nënë Tereza school in Prizren, with the goal to improve the quality of education for deaf children. Vocal Synthesis – the IT Program designed to assist blind people to communicate with IT devices, was also launched that year. Teachers and school staff of 25 public schools of secondary education were trained on providing better access to education for children with disabilities. 

In terms of employment, following the Kosovo Government’s decision requesting from all public institutions to implement the law on employment for persons with disabilities, the ministries reported to have fulfilled the quota. Although the number of employed persons with disabilities has increased, there is no accurate data about the precise number of employees. In the area of health, TV monitors were installed in twenty health care centers, providing information and health instructions in sign language for deaf people. Lastly, in the field of culture, youth and sports, the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports has funded over twenty projects that supported sports and cultural activities of persons with disabilities. 

Drafting the 2024-2029 National Strategy and Action Plan on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

The National Strategy 2024-2029 and the Action Plan 2024-2029 is the most important policy document for persons with disabilities in Kosovo. Through the project, renowned experts from the EU technical assistance facility SOCIEUX+ were hired to support the drafting of this document. The process was implemented in three phases, the first one consisting of workshops facilitated by international experts, aiming to evaluate the previous National Strategy and Action Plan 2021-2023, organized by OGG with representatives of OPDs and the relevant ministries. The process continued with the second phase consisting of workshops with the same stakeholders to work on the first draft of the Strategy and Action Plan. The third phase consists of establishing mechanisms for monitoring and evaluation of the Strategy and Action Plan implementation. 

United Nation Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD) 

As a result of numerous advocacy meetings and workshops organized by HANDIKOS in cooperation with the project partners and OGG, on 13 December 2022, the Kosovo Government signed the decision to incorporate the UN CRPD (Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities) in the Kosovo Constitution, to match the requirements from the Convention, a milestone in ensuring that the rights of persons with disabilities in Kosovo are cultivated and respected. 

Capacity Building

During the five-years period, the Project enabled representatives of 12 Organizations of Persons with Disabilities from local and national level to further strengthen their capacities by providing trainings on: fundraising; research skills; logical framework; advocacy skills; management of human resources, financial and assets management; strategic planning; writing project proposals;  monitoring and evaluation; managing websites and social media networks; using media in the advocacy work. 

Even though many capacity building trainings and workshops were organized within the framework of the project, the training on accessibility audit of the built environment remains the most important and successful one, considering the challenges and difficulties persons with disabilities in Kosovo face in regards to accessibility. Fifty OPDs representatives on a national level took part in the two phases of this training, whereas seventy local and public governance officials were also trained in the two last phases. Participants were trained to use the forms and tools for auditing accessibility in the built environment, which is very important for monitoring the implementation of the Administrative Instruction 33/2007 on Technical Conditions of Buildings for the Access of Persons with Disabilities (the legislation act exists but is not implemented).

Raising awareness of the society in general about the rights of persons with disabilities was an important part during the whole process of implementing the project, starting from the public presence through social media, but also by producing and publishing videos on specific topics such as Women with Disabilities and Employment and Free Access for All.

Although the EU-funded project “Inclusive Kosovo” achieved significant results, the situation of persons with disabilities remains difficult especially regarding accessibility, health, education and employment. Under the slogan “Nothing about us without us”, organizations of persons with disabilities, now with significantly better capacities, provided from the project activities, must continue to advocate and provide their expertise for mainstreaming disability in the legislation and government policies aiming to achieve their long term goal for an all-inclusive society, in which persons with disabilities realize their full potential and live dignified lives as equal citizens.      

For more, visit HANDIKOS