2003 has been designated as the European Year of People with Disabilities. Although there have been a number of campaigns this year to bring awareness to the every day problems faced by people with disabilities, organisations around the country still point to a certain lack of tolerance in Czech society. One such organisation is Prosaz. Since 1999, it has been providing legal, medical, and social assistance to people in wheelchairs with the main objective to integrate them into society. Together with Czech Radio's Radiozurnal, it has thought up a new plan that will bring the every day life of the disabled much closer to mainstream society. And, with the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs bearing the responsibility for the well-being of citizens with disabilities in the Czech Republic, Minister Zdenek Skromach was the first to be approached to take part in the project. Dita Asiedu spoke to Filip Vesely from Prosaz:
"The objective of this project was to present to the general public the problems that people on wheelchairs face everyday and to also show the barriers in society. Mr Skromach, the Minister of Labour and Social Affairs accepted the idea and experienced a difficult task of spending a regular day on a wheelchair."
Is there one specific problem that you think the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs needs to deal with right now?
"Yes. The biggest problem is the absence of the law, including the problem of personal assistance in general to people with physical disabilities. These persons have to pay full price and there is no help from the state included in the law. "
And what are the everyday problems that they face?
"The main problems are the traditional ones like their financial situation, their professional problems, etc. The other never-ending problem is the disregard and hate of other people. Unfortunately, the general public still does not know how easy it is to get on a wheelchair, to become a person with a physical disability. Some sources say that there are thirty-three people on wheelchairs to every ten thousand inhabitants."
During his day on a wheelchair, Minister Skromach was accompanied by Czech actor Jan Kaspar who has been disabled for fifteen years. Mr Skromach soon came to realise that there was much work ahead for his ministry if the physically disabled were to lead comfortable lives in the country. In one day he had come across the lack of designated parking spaces and easy-access entrances, far too narrow elevators, and the problem of finding a comfortable wheelchair. The experience prompted Mr Skromach to immediately begin planning changes his ministry needed to push for. "Younger citizens can assistant people with disabilities, solving the problem of high unemployment" he said. Prosaz and Radiozurnal have now called on to the country's celebrities and hope they too will sacrifice one day in their lives to move around in wheelchairs.
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