Poland earmarks EUR 5.5 bln to help disabled "break down barriers"

Disabled people must have help in breaking down barriers, we have set aside PLN 23 billion (EUR 5.53 billion), Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki stressed on Monday while inaugurating the government's Accessibility Plus programme.

During the ceremonial inauguration, the prime minister signed an "Accessibility Pact" for 2018-2025 along with the heads of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), local governments, schools and colleges, entrepreneurs and other groups. The pact is a declaration by the signatories that they will work to remove barriers to the disabled. It represents an obligation to cooperate towards the goals of the Accessibility Plus programme and binds the signatories to be guided by the principles of accessibility, equal treatment and equal opportunities of access for all citizens to the physical, social, cultural and recreational environment, to leisure, sport, health care, education, work, transport, information and communications.

The pact declares that the removal of barriers is a task for the central government, local government, NGOs, companies, public institutions and the media. "We declare that within the framework of the activities we conduct, we will be guided by the principle of access and equal treatment," the document states.

During the ceremony, the prime minister highlighted that for some disabled people, even the few steps to the entrance of a government office is a challenge. He pointed out that the government had started work on the Accessibility Plus programme several months ago, in collaboration with NGOs.

The Accessibility Plus programme is aimed at facilitating access to public spaces for the disabled, mothers with children and the elderly. The PLN 23 billion will be spent in 2018-2025 and will be funded by Polish, Norwegian, European Economic Area (EEA) and EU money. The problem of limited accessibility affects one quarter of Polish citizens, with the percentage expected to grow to 30 percent in the near future, due to population ageing.

The government will also strive to increase accessibility awareness among people involved in designing public spaces, such as architects, urban planners and engineers. The programme also takes into account investment in existing infrastructure, in order to adapt it to the needs of the disabled.

The prime minister pointed out that Poland is one of only a few EU countries that do not have uniform standards for the planning of public space in such a way as to ensure that public infrastructure serves the whole of society. "And it is our duty that those various different groups of our countrymen, our citizens, our sisters, our brothers, be not only noticed, but that they simply be appreciated in a normal way, so that they can work with us, be with us, rest with us, that they can go to the cinema, that they can simply function within Polish society," the prime minister underscored. "We want year after year to systematically improve the fate of people with disabilities, with the most varied disabilities, so that we can really say with full awareness that Poland is one, and that is my obligation, that is the obligation of our government."

The PM went on to state that the government is considering the introduction of a new position - an assistant to a disabled person. Such a person would be available in various circumstances to help the disabled, in order to "increase the area of freedom for disabled people."

He admitted, however, that many needs of the disabled have yet to be met. "There have been years of neglect that cannot be made up for quickly," he said, adding that within a year the government would increase social benefits by over PLN 100 (EUR 23.8).