The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC) has sent its alternative report to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Bulgaria ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (the Convention) in January 2012 and the first review of its implementation is expected in 2017-2018. Although the Bulgarian government has planned revisions and amendments to the legislation to comply with the Convention, the initial plan for 2013-2014 was not implemented, and the next one only prolonged the deadlines by 2020, postponing the legislative regulation and the practical application of the rights of people with disabilities in Bulgaria for an unknown period.
This comprehensive report makes a detailed and critical analysis of the Bulgarian legislation and practice concerning persons with disabilities and their compliance with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, ratified by Bulgaria in January 2012. The report mainly covers the period 2012-2016 but also reflects some tendencies in policy making and implementation of existing policies from earlier period (2005-2012) when some of the major changes in social, educational and labour spheres took place.
Although some efforts had been made the Bulgarian disability legislation is still far from the philosophy of the UN Convention as it mainly considers persons with disabilities as nonable and object of social assistance schemes/benefits. Far more radical and holistic approach needs to be applied in elaboration of legislation and policies especially in the field of personal and social assistance, independent living, support in decision making, education, and employment of persons with disabilities.
The medical model in assessment of disabilities is leading and is a basis for all rights and benefits in practice. Social assessment of the needs and capacities of the persons with disabilities is done in a formal and bureaucratic way. Individually tailored services, assistance and allowances do not exist. The legislation does not contain any unified definitions of “a child with a disability” or “a person with a disability” and different institutions use different methods for data collection and data processing about persons with disabilities. As a result only “persons with permanent disabilities” assessed under the medical model with 50 and over 50 % reduced working capacity are mentioned in policy and legislation acts and are entitled to some disability specific rights.
Public environment is largely inaccessible for persons with different kinds of disabilities. Universal design is not adopted as a notion/definition and measures for its potential implementation are taken on EU funded projects basis sporadically.
For persons with disabilities in Bulgaria, the right to independent living is not respected. The majority of them live with their families and cannot choose where and with whom to live. Those who have no families or who cannot live with them are moved to social care institutions or residential community-based services where they are placed either involuntarily or without any right to choose. Some of them were abandoned as children or as adults by their families. A slowly growing tendency is for persons with disabilities to live in “protected homes” or “family-type accommodation centres” (small group homes that are meant to be an alternative to large institutions) in the community, which do not provide more opportunities for independent living in practice. Access to community-based services is not guaranteed to all potential users and the quality of care provided in them is generally low, with a few exceptions. Users’ opinions are not being sought and taken into account while the services are being developed, while they are functioning and when their quality is being evaluated.
People with disabilities living in institutions/residential services cannot exercise their rights to privacy, to have relationships, to choose and organise their daily activities, to marry or to 4 have children. They are medically treated involuntarily, often at risk to their health and lives. The practice of unlawful seclusion and restraint of some residents (with intellectual disabilities or psycho-social problems) of institutions continues (both children and adults). Death cases and abuse cases in both institutions and residential community-based services are not investigated and prosecuted.
People with intellectual disabilities and psycho-social problems are often deprived of their legal capacity and placed under guardianship. This automatically deprives them of the right to be recognised as “persons” before the law. They do not receive any support for decision making and are not allowed to enter into legal commitments. Some people have been placed under guardianship but have not had a guardian appointed for years. A significant and positive step towards implementation of Art.12 of the CRPD is the elaboration of the draft Natural Persons and Support Measures Act which was adopted by the Council of Ministers in 2016 and was introduced for voting in the Parliament.
People with disabilities (especially those with intellectual disabilities and psycho-social problems) living in institutions have no access to any mechanisms of complaint before the courts, within the institutions where they live or before human rights institutions or organisations. The only access to justice they benefit from so far is ensured by one NGO in Bulgaria which performs project-based monitoring for people in these two groups living in institutions or with their families.
Social assistance is available only for very poor persons and families, only to those with permanent disabilities and is extremely insufficient to meet even their basic needs. Disability allowances are also extremely low and are received only by persons with permanent disabilities. A positive development in 2017 is the substantial increase of disability allowances for children with permanent disabilities irrespective of the income of the families. Day care and consultation/rehabilitation services are provided in special centres and are not available for all persons with disabilities.
Although the number of children with disabilities in special schools has significantly decreased over the last ten years and over 14,000 such children are enrolled in mainstream schools every year, children with disabilities still cannot benefit of quality education as schools still lack expertise, accessibility, sufficient and qualified staff and funding to be adapted to their needs. Some children with complex needs, severe forms of disability or living in residential community-based services do not attend school at all. Vocational high school training for children with disabilities is not developed and is largely unavailable. A positive step towards inclusive education was the enforcement of the new Preschool and School Education Act as well as a Council of Ministers’ Ordinance for Inclusive Education in 2016. Outcomes of their implementation in practice should be closely monitored and publicly discussed. Persons with disabilities (especially those with intellectual and psycho-social disabilities) are not provided with real opportunities for vocational training or employment on the open labour market. State funding and attention are mainly focused on specialized enterprises and the promotion employment measures (subsidized employment) on the open labour market which do not prove to be effective.