Aug 152011

Disabled People against Cuts (DPAC) were shocked to learn of the events of 28th July in Sofia, Bulgaria in which members of the Sofia Centre for Independent Living (CIL) were abused by another group of disabled people while protesting against  reductions in the PA scheme for disabled people. Disabled people in Sofia were told by the government that it was ‘not fair’ to allow the same disabled people use the limited funds for employing personal assistants to live independently.

Provision for Personal Assistance Reduced

Unfortunately the system of Personal Assistance (P.A.) Provision in Sofia is not promoting independent living and a better quality of life. An inquiry among PA users proved that most of them ‘improved their social contacts’, ‘INCREASED THE FAMILY INCOME’ and only 3. 7% found a job. In Sofia the PA salaries are most likely to go to family members while the situation of disabled people remains unchanged. The PA scheme budget has doubled over the last 4 years whereas the number of users has grown by a factor of four.  As a result people are receiving fewer and fewer hours to allow for more users.

Disabled people get their PAs for one year and have to be assessed on yearly basis regardless of their situation. The new assessment system involves two stages: a) points based on the individual situation, which determine access to funds; and b) transfer of points into hours (by a panel of experts who will not see the applicant at all), which determine the size of individual funding.

Reductions in PA lead to Confrontation

The issue of reduced support for disabled people to live independently is, sadly, no longer news: it is something that is happening all over Europe. It is no surprise that there have been protests all over Europe by disabled people. What is a surprise is when those protesting for their rights are confronted and mistreated by another disabled peoples’ group.

In this case CIL – Sofia, an organisation highly respected throughout the European Independent Living Movement were confronted by other disabled people from the National Disability Council: an umbrella organisation of well subsidised Disabled Peoples’ Groups.

On one of the hottest days of the year supporters of CIL – Sofia were left reeling from the opposition demonstrated by the National Disability Council (NDC) members against them.

In addition, Sofia CIL were left waiting outside the government building from 9:00am to 5:00pm in intense heat while the NCD were invited inside by the local government officials to see the results of the Metropolitan Council voting.

Kapka Panayotova, the founder and CEO of CIL – Sofia, said

“Police officers who were providing the security measures for our protest were shocked… They couldn’t believe it was happening!”

NCD supported the key notion of the local politicians in Sofia: each year different disabled people should enjoy PA support; access to the scheme with the number of hours awarded dependent on the employment/schooling status of the applicant for PA not on the daily needs alone. In fact, the PA scheme in Sofia will become a tool for employment, not for better quality of life or independent living.

A couple of weeks before the action a monitoring report on the performance of the National Council on the Integration of Disabled People (NCIDP) dominated by national Groups was made public. It was conducted by a consortium of advocacy NGOs – Institute for Modern Politics (IMP), Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC) and Bulgarian Centre for Non-Profit Law (BCNL), it showed that:

(1)  The NCIDP does not operate in line with the ‘good governance’ principles;

(2)  Six out of its nine functions are not performed at all; the remaining 3 are partially performed;

(3)  The NCIDP and its member groups are being subsidised in a non-transparent and unaccountable way, which takes them away from the status of ‘independent’ organisations;

(4)  Despite the consultative process between the government and NCIDP, Bulgarian policies are not inclusive and far behind European human rights standards.

NDC the umbrella of the impairment based Groups and the European Disability Forum

This is not the kind of group most would want representing their interests. It seems that they may not be representing the interests of disabled people at all, but those of the government in agreeing with cuts in return for continued subsidies.

What is even more shocking is that NDC are the spokespeople for Bulgaria at the European Disability Forum (EDF): a large organisation set up to be ‘The Representative Organisation of Persons with Disabilities in Europe’ and ‘the frontrunners for Disability Rights’. We are not sure if EDF are aware of the behaviour of their member organisation or their activities, but would like to draw it to their attention and ask them if they agree with it.

DPAC condemns all cuts to funds to help disabled people live independently according to the framework of the European Convention of Human Rights and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

DPAC also condemns disabled peoples’ groups that abuse other disabled people fighting for independent living and disabled peoples’ rights.

We welcome comments from both NDC and the EDF on this issue. We urge all to help them and Sofia Metropolitan Council understand that independent living rights extend beyond education and employment to day to day living as recognised by article 19 in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Call for Action

Contact the Sofia Metropolitan Council on why the PA scheme should be used as a tool for independent living rather than exclusively supporting employment and study and on their behaviour towards Sofia CIL (Bulgarian only) or

Contact EDF to register your thoughts on the actions of the Bulgarian NDC at

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——-Debbie Jolly