People with disabilities make up 11% of the inhabitants and residents of Podlaskie Voivodeship. In Bielsko, Siemiatycze and Hajnówka poviats, issues relating to people with disabilities are mainly dealt with by social welfare institutions. However, few local institutions have the resources to work on empowerment and independence of persons with disabilities. At the same time, these issues are most often marginalised both by decision-makers and by the local community itself or the media. People with disabilities are rarely asked about their real needs and are rarely given a voice to speak up for their own cause.
The project organised a Self-Advocacy Academy, which trained and prepared 10 people with disabilities and 10 carers for self-advocacy work. The trained individuals took on the role of mentors of several young people with disabilities, jointly preparing 6 local actions with them in schools, the library or in public spaces. At the same time, we worked with support system institutions, NGOs and local leaders on good alliances – 14 people received watchdog training and 18 people took part in a sign language course. A study visit to the Polish Association for Persons with Intellectual Disability branch in Jarosław was also part of the project. The Self-Advocacy Forum included a local discussion on the rights of people with disabilities. Those participating in the project jointly developed the Diversity Equality Charter and the Local Charter on the Rights of People with Disabilities. A community TV station was also launched and self-advocates were involved in the journalistic work. The demands gathered at the Self-Advocacy Forum were presented in the Parliament during a meeting with one of the parliamentary circles.
As a result of the project, several people have been empowered and equipped with competences for self-advocacy work, and the idea of self-advocacy for people with disabilities has entered the consciousness of local institutions dealing with the issues of people with disabilities. Above all, change has taken place in the lives of people with disabilities and their carers who have chosen to become involved in community activities. We are also building support among the local community for the Charter on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, in order to then effectively lead efforts for the adoption of the Charter by local governments.