Lessons form the crisis: How can the social exclusion od people with disabilities and marginalized groups be stopped

Today a round table named Lessons form the crisis: How can the social exclusion od people with disabilities and marginalized groups be stopped was organized by a NGO Minority and Local Media Development Center. The round table is realized through a project called Manage the Covid with Care, reasOn, Values, unIty, soliDarity that is supported by the Europe for Citizens program of the European Union. The event is a sequel of the 2019 round table called Culture and Communication organized also by MLMDC. The topic then was about the exploration of ways and needs of people with dissabilities for accessible information.

As Natasa Heror, director of the Minority and Local Media Development Center, pointed out, the central theme of the project is that applying European values, care, unity and solidarity is the most effective way to deal with the consequences of the overall crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. “The project Manage the Covid crisis with care, reason, values, unity and solidarity wants to show that there is something good even in the worst situations,” said Heror.

How and to what extent was the media content sufficiently accessible to people with disabilities and members of marginalized groups during the Covid-19 pandemic was the topic of the first panel.

Željko Bajić, a radio journalist from Sarajevo, answering the question on how his editorial office dealt with the topic of the pandemic, emphasized that in the first days of the pandemic, the emphasis was on some other things, while people with disabilities remained in the background. “Global things were thought about, while the specifics of people with disabilities were not thought about. The radio was the best, the fastest, it had the most information that was accessible to blind people, the elderly, while social networks became flooded with everything and everyone. In a way, blind people had an advantage, because they did not have an insight into everything that social networks spread, and they spread a lot of negative content, “said Bajić. He pointed out as a big problem the interruption of all social contacts, which occurred during the pandemic and which mostly affected people with disabilities. As he emphasized, although he is a person with impaired vision, due to his work in the media and a large number of acquaintances, he was not affected by these consequences to the extent that other persons with disabilities were.

Marijana Čanak, a journalist from the “Portal o invalidnosti [eng. Portal on Disability]”, pointed out that the journalists of their portal try not to fall into the traps that the media often fall into during the pandemic, which includes the placement of sensationalist articles. Also, their contents were not about people with disabilities, but they were created together with them.

Vladimira Dorčova Valtnerova, editor-in-chief of the online portal Storyteller, was also a participant in the panel. According to her, the reporting of this portal was based on the reporting of local news, ie. the news from Municipality of Bački Petrovac, bilingually, in Slovak and Serbian. “We have never dealt with the topic of the pandemic from the perspective of people with disabilities. The reason for that was the fear that I would be prone to stereotyping, or I would make victims or heroes, which was not my intention. That is why we covered various topics, not only those related to people with disabilities, because people with disabilities in the context of the pandemic, in the area where I live and work, were not included in this type of information. The first step towards a better way of informing people with disabilities is the a plugin, which allows people with poor eyesight to enlarge the font or to create contrast. That is my first small step. “

Jelena Kotević, senior advisor, head of the complaints department from the office of the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality, pointed out that the measures during the pandemic had negative effects on the most endangered people, including people with disabilities. “During the pandemic, a large number of citizens addressed the Commissioner. In 2020, over 3,000 citizens, in 2021, over 3,200 citizens addressed the commissioner. During 2020, they sent 476 recommendations of measures for achieving equality, in 2021, when the situation stabilized somewhat, 312 recommendations, “said Kotević.

As she said, in the first days of the pandemic, the most common reason the citizens addressed us was the impossibility of exercising the right to the service of a personal assistant, home help service and informal caregiver. “One of the first measures that the Commissioner sent to the Government of Serbia was the proposal to allow personal assistants, personal companions, geronto housewives to move unhindered even during curfew. “

One of the recommendations was sent to the public broadcasting services RTV [Radio and Television of Vojvodina] and RTS [Radio and Television of Serbia], pointing out the obligation to respect both international and domestic regulations related to the information sector. “Through the recommendation of measures, we asked to ensure that all content, especially informational, is accessible to these people.”

“When we talk about the media, we are not aware of what changes have occurred in these two years, in what way we entered the pandemic. The measures that were introduced did not recognize the importance of one large social segment, and that is the data according to the last census, that over 570,000 people in Serbia are people with disabilities. They were not recognized as a group, which needs some relief, and neither the public nor the media reacted to that,” said Stevan Ristić, president of the Board of the Serbian Media Association. As he said, only public media services had a translation into sign language. “Unfortunately, the media were in trouble before, during, and after the pandemic. I see a huge problem because the media that report professionally are pressured by all the other problems and do not pay enough attention to that topic. “

The second panel of the round table was related to the accessibility of cultural content to people with disabilities and marginalized groups.

Prof. Dr. Zoran Pavlović, Provincial Ombudsman, pointed out that the emergency situation in 2014 was not a sufficient lesson for us to wake up and realize that it is time to go a step further in this new reality. “For the last ten years, I have seen a wide range of human rights in all spheres of social life and work, but also the constant inaccessibility of that range in the field of culture, in the field of practicing human rights for all in an accessible way,” said the provincial ombudsman. As he said, we look at various ways to exercise basic rights through the prism of abuse. According to him, architectural barriers, which used to be synonymous with the people with disabilities, are now less and less a kind of obstacle for people with disabilities. It is necessary to observe things, not from our own shoes, but to reach common solutions through dialogue, the Provincial Ombudsman pointed out.

Psychologist Tatjana Stojšić Petković pointed out fear as a problem that is being kept silent.

“You have to have something that gives you the joy of life, if you don’t, that fear will find a way out. Television, newspapers, social networks fuel that fear, “said Stojšić Petković.

Mirko Knežević, a representative of the Deaf community, pointed out that not much has been done in the field of accessibility of cultural content. He believes that the contents are not available to deaf people due to the lack of sign language interpreters, so subtitled theater plays mean nothing to them.

A positive example is the Matica Srpska Gallery, which adapts its contents to people with disabilities. Ivana Rastović, the curator of the Matica Srpska Gallery, believes that museum contents must be available to the general public. “The gallery is visited by a diverse audience, with different interests, and it is important to think about how the content will be created.” Also, according to her, isolation has led us to think more about the elderly people that live in nursing homes, and are not able to visit cultural institutions. “That’s why we plan to visit people who are physically unable to visit our Gallery.”

Marijana Ramić Vulin, from the Novi Sad European Capital of Culture 2022 Foundation, sees two problems: why aren’t people with disabilities in the audience and why aren’t the creators of cultural content? As she said, the Foundation considers this topic extremely important and announced as a contribution that in October it will dedicate itself to the topic of inclusion, through the inclusion of marginalized people in culture.

The panelists agreed that it would be necessary to form crisis management in the media, in order to train journalists to work in emergency situations, ie. the need for accessibility of cultural content to people with disabilities, their involvement in the creation of content, as well as joint action.

Foto: Csilla David