At the beginning of October, Access Living welcomed two partners who are involved in disability organizations overseas. Stoyan Pavlov resides in Bulgaria and Anett Csordàs resides in Hungary. They are both at Access Living to learn about different disability organizations here in the states as part of the Professional Fellows program. The program gives participants the opportunity to “examine the relationship between civil society and government in the United States and how respective agencies and organizations work to strengthen citizen participation, transparency, and accountability.”
Anett’s work in Hungary with “Steps for Steps”
Anett Csordàs is the president of a civil organization in Hungary called “Steps for their Steps.” The mission of the organization is to allow parents and children with disability to live a life without barriers. The organization has three main focuses: to raise awareness, to educate people about disability and to advocate for those with disabilities. Anett’s son Eric has cerebral palsy.
The organization has raised awareness a few different ways regarding families living with disabilities. “Steps for their Steps” and other organizations participated in a march in October 2014 as a bigger movement to bring attention to the fact that people with disabilities deserve fair treatment like everyone else. In addition, to honor World Disability Day which happens annually on December 3rd, they partnered with a store in Hungary which featured mannequins with disabilities in their store windows. The organization also takes steps to educate people about disability.
As part of the organization’s goal to educate people about disability, in January 2015, the association hosted a CP (cerebral palsy) day. This event brought together leaders, parents and experts to share ideas and knowledge. The event was attended by people all across Hungary, and because of popular demand there was a second event a few months later. In April 2015, Anett and her team had another event where they were able to come together to share different ideas and information regarding disabilities. But this time, there was also training for parents who were interested in forming parental communities in their cities, towns or villages. The training focused on tips for parents and caregivers on how to care of their client/child with disabilities. The hope is that communities created as a result of this event are a place where parents can come together for support and encouragement for their daily lives.
The final goal of “Steps for their steps” is advocacy for people with disabilities. The organization is actively involved in lobbying for a better solution for the support of people with disabilities in Hungary. There was a round table discussion in January of 2015 that brought together parents, leaders and experts to talk about care allowance. The allowance is for parents who are caring for their children or someone who is caring for their close relative receives only about $180 a month. The average cost for a family with a disabled family member is about $250 a month. Therefore, the pay is not nearly enough to cover the necessary living expenses for two people. This leads to the impoverishment of these families. Anett and her team are continuing to make improvements for children in Hungary and they hope next year to open an inclusive school for disabled and non-disabled children.
Stoyan’s work in Bulgaria
Stoyan Pavlov works in Bulgaria with the National Association of Resource Teachers. The mission of the association is to continue to improve the quality of education and social services for the inclusion of all children in Bulgaria. The association was formed in 2011 and Pavlov is the secretary of the board.
The main objective of the association is to fight for children with disabilities to go to mainstream schools. They also try to change the laws in Bulgaria related to inclusion in the schools for children with disabilities. The organization is striving for standards that allow students to be included in all parts of the classroom with their peers.
One of the ways that they have done this is that the government has started to allow teaching assistants in classrooms where there is a student with disabilities. Previously, the student with disabilities would have to go to a separate classroom and be with a resource teacher. But now they are able to remain in the main stream classroom with the other students and get the support they need from their aide.
In addition, the group has also started to check the assessments that schools are giving the students with disabilities. If the assessments pass the inspection of Pavlov and his team, they tell government and that a particular school needs a teaching assistant for a student or money for their school.
Pavlov said that his interest to help people with disabilities was sparked after he helped care for a boy that he met in an orphanage who had disabilities. He went on to college to study special education. Eventually, he landed his current position with the National Association of Resource Teachers. Pavlov said that the association is in the process of trying to close institutions in Bulgaria for people with disabilities and get them out and living in the community.
Anett and Stoyan’s Chicago Experience
During their month long stay in Chicago, Anett and Stoyan have been able to get a taste of the disability community in Chicago. Anett had the opportunity to attend a protest in the city related to special education. In addition, Stoyan and Anett have had the opportunity to visit schools and different groups related to disability. For example, Anett and Stoyan visited the Namaste Charter School in Chicago and participate in a meeting regarding how to modify school wide restorative justice practices for students with disabilities. In addition, they toured and visited ICRE-Roosevelt in Chicago which is a transitional program for young adults who have physical and psychiatric disabilities. Both Stoyan and Anett have really enjoyed their time here and all of the different experiences that they have gotten to take part in.
Insights from the Director of Advocacy
The director of advocacy for Access Living, Amber Smock, was in charge of putting together the schedule for Anett and Stoyan during their stay. She said that putting together their schedule provided her with a specific challenge. “I wanted to help provide an experience for our visitors that demonstrated the many layers of disability advocacy in Chicago,” she said. According to Amber, the one-on-ones with staff and community partners was one of the best parts. “They have both asked very good and thought provoking questions about why we do the work we do,” she said.
In addition, Smock mentioned the importance of Access Living being involved in future exchange programs like the Professional Fellows program.
“It’s important for advocates to know that progress moves at different rates in different countries,” Amber went on to say. “Access and disability rights are not universal. Unless we participate in international exchanges, we cannot appreciate the real depth of success and failure that human society has made regarding people with disabilities. International exchange helps us see our own power more clearly.”
Access Living hopes to continue to make connections with other disability related organizations around the world. Therefore, the hope is that in the years to come, Access Living can not only continue to make an impact in the local community here in Chicago but they can also begin to reach out on a global scale and continue to make partners around the world.
This blog post by Jessica Ebersole, a public relations intern with Access Living