Establishment of the Association for the Independent Living of People with Disabilities
The idea of independent living spread throughout Western Europe in the 1980s. Hungary joined the movement in the 1990s. In June 1995, 12 people established the Association for the Independent Living of People with Disabilities at the Marczibányi Square State Institute for the Disabled.
The founders already had significant experience in terms of independent living. They were guided by the intention to change and to help people in similar situation. Their mission was based on the following ideas:
- On one hand, they intended to change society’s attitudes towards disabled people. This means removing obstacles within people’s minds and in their physical environment (creating a wheelchair accessible environment by removing stairs, narrow doors and establishing elevators, accessible public transportation and restrooms).
- On the other hand, they intended to raise awareness about disabilities within society.
Currently, the Association has over 80 members, mostly wheelchair users. However, anybody who is willing to actively work for the idea of independent living is warmly welcome in our team. Most of our members live on their own or with their families, some of us live in social institutions and in the State Institute for the Disabled in Marczibányi Square. Many of our members took part in higher education and work outside of the Association.
Our main activities are the following:
- peer counseling service in rehabilitation institutes,
- awareness-raising school lectures,
- participation in making Budapest a more accessible city,
- spreading the idea of independent living in rural communities.
One of our most important goals has been to make Budapest wheelchair accessible by the beginning of the 2000s.
Budapest is one of the European capitals with the least access to public buildings and transportation. Therefore, it’s crucial that as many organizations as possible work together towards full accessibility.
As a first step, we contacted the municipalities and offered partnership. With support from the Soros Foundation, we installed a mobile ramp at 7 important public buildings, such as Matthias Church, a bank, a stationery shop, etc.
Together with the National Association of Disabled People’s Associations and other organizations, we cooperated in the drafting and adoption of the new Building Act and the Equal Opportunities Act. In 1998, on the occasion of the European Day of Equal Opportunities on 5 May, we personally visited the ministers and all the mayors of the districts of Budapest. We articulated the importance of an accessible environment. In March 1999, we organized a one-day forum to these leaders.
The Building Act entered into force in December 1997 and the Equal Opportunities Act in March 1998. Based on these regulations, all associations involved in this project should work together for a more accessible Budapest.
We know that it is a long way to go, however, there are already significant changes, such as accessible vehicles within the public transportation. Each year more and more public buildings are made accessible, facilitating the daily life of the disabled, letting them live a full, independent life.
The members of our association regularly visit various schools to share their stories and raise awareness of teachers and students about life situations and problems that people with disabilities face every day. The most important goal is to promote tolerance, respect and openness towards disabled people and to support integration. Approximately, we visit 40 schools a year and meet over 4000 children during our classes.
Based on our experience, children between the age of 4 and 10 are the most open to people who might be a little different from them. It’s crucial that these children have personal positive experiences with disabled people in order for them to widen their perspective.
These activities should be part of regular school education in order for these children to be able to properly manage potential conflicts arising from accepting disabilities.
The principals and teachers of the schools we usually visit are really welcoming. Apart from one class and their head teacher, usually more teachers participate in our activities and lessons. Usually they express how surprised they have been by the positive attitude and the willingness of disabled people.
- The honest interest of children is always a great experience. Younger children usually actively ask questions, the others find it harder to open up. Apart from sharing our personal stories, we draw their attention to potential accidents, like falling from a tree, jumping into shallow water or traffic accidents. It’s usually shocking for them when they realize that many of us are forced to use a wheelchair due to an accident. It’s also our goal to teach them responsibility towards themselves and other people around them.
- In addition, we share the difficulties of learning, working, doing sports, running a household, raising children, choosing a partner. We also share our experience about the problems of the connection between healthy and injured people.
We usually play situational games. Children may sit in a wheelchair and think about how their life would change if they had to use it for real. This is the point where they spontaneously realize that they wouldn’t be able to go to the bathroom, they couldn’t reach he kitchen cabinet or the window handle. They usually ask what happens if there is no elevator. They realize the public buildings or transportation are mostly completely inaccessible.
We also ask them what they think might be the harder thing for us. It’s usually amazing how emotionally receptive these children are at that age. They usually clearly state that it would be a terrible feeling for them not to be seen as equals by other people.
In addition, we draw attention to the fact that they really should pay attention when they want to help anyone sitting in a wheelchair. Every injured person or wheelchair user is different, but we encourage them to offer help.
Children usually ask whether it’s uncomfortable to us to speak about ourselves. Moreover, they start thinking about whether a person can be happy in a wheelchair. These questions are really important, because we can express that happiness does not depend on two legs or four wheels, but it’s carried within by everyone. We always intend to make children understand that despite injuries, accidents or illnesses, life should always have a purpose.
Our Association is of the view that raising awareness and spreading knowledge is crucial, as we would like to cooperate with people. We do not want to enforce our independence against anyone.