Opening Opportunities for People with Disabilities
Living with a disability in Serbia has often meant being poor and unemployed. Over 70% of people with disabilities lived in poverty; only 13% had access to employment. Limited social support systems and stigma, among other factors, have entrenched their marginalization.
In 2003, Serbia's national poverty strategy for the first time recognized that people with disabilities—comprising about 10% of the entire population—were a vulnerable group requiring extra assistance.
At the time, UNDP was already involved in assisting national efforts to combat poverty and improve social inclusion. With UNDP support, the Government adopted national laws to define and uphold the rights of people with disabilities, and extended new systems of support, including for health, education and employment. In. 2006, it established the National Strategy for Improving the Position of Persons with Disabilities along with an action plan. The same year, Serbia became the first country in South-East Europe with a law to prevent discrimination—fewer than 50 countries in the world have a similar statute specific to disabilities.
Soon, reforms were underway to assist children with disabilities in attending school, to dismantle some of the large institutions that tend to warehouse people with disabilities away from mainstream society, and to provide more readily accessible social services in smaller communities.
UNDP’s engagement in Improving the Position of Persons with Disabilities in Serbia included a variety of activities under three pillars:
- Adoption of the Strategy for Improving the Position of Persons with Disabilities
- Adoption of the Law on Prevention of Discrimination of Persons with Disabilities
- Ratification of UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
- Adoption of the Law on Professional Rehabilitation and Employment of Persons with Disabilities
1) Policy advice –development of key human rights and employment laws which introduced innovative mechanisms for improving the position of persons with disabilities. At the same time, UNDP published the Guide on Accessibility and Guide for Employment of Persons with Disabilities.
2) Cooperation with disabled persons’ organizations – support was provided for watchdog and advocacy activities, public hearings in the Parliament, and social services at the local level.
3) Direct support for employment of persons with disabilities. UNDP supported the reform of 34 sheltered workshops which employed over 1,000 persons with disabilities, by making them more market-oriented while preserving their social role. Under this pillar, the Programme was providing subsidies, work placements, vocational training, start-up and accessibility grants through the Youth Employment Fund in 40 municipalities in Serbia.
Today, the previous notion of medical and humanitarian assistance to PWD is giving way to a more social approach, ensuring that all persons have access to daily services on an equal basis. UNDP supported the process of harmonizing Serbia’s legislation with provisions of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the ratification of the Convention in 2009 and UNDP supported the development of capacities for monitoring and follow-up. UNDP supported the introduction of innovative measures such as the employment quota system in the Law on Professional Rehabilitation and Employment of Persons with Disabilities. As a result of these efforts, over 3,000 persons with disabilities found employment in 2010, compared to 400-600 in previous years. In addition, the fines charged to companies that do not employ a sufficient number of persons with disabilities are used as a resource for new support programmes in this area.
Jelena Petrovic once faced obstacles to finding a job, including the prejudice of prospective employers against hiring someone with a hearing impairment. Now she works as an administrative assistant, and her employer is training her in accounting. A joint UN programme, the Youth Employment Fund, provided her with training and placement services to start her new life.
"I'm really happy to be working," she says with a smile. "Other employees have confidence in me. That is really motivating and inspiring."