Eight small buses equipped with wheelchair access hit the roads – National Strategy for Disability coming soon (images)

Eight small buses equipped with wheelchair seating were delivered today, and the National Strategy for Disability will soon be submitted to the Cabinet.

These vehicles, which include provisions for people with disabilities, were given to the “Apostolos Loukas” Special School in Limassol, the “Apostolos Varnavas” Special School in Liopetri, the “Apostolos Pavlos” Private Center for people with intellectual disabilities in Liopetri, the “Evangelismos” Special School in Geri, the Ministry of Education for Secondary Education, and the Social Welfare Services of the Deputy Ministry of Social Welfare.

At the delivery event were the Minister of Transport, Alexis Vafeadis, and the Deputy Minister of Social Welfare, Marilena Evangelou.

Ms. Evangelou noted that, as the responsible Deputy Ministry for the integration of People with Disabilities, the mobility of people with disabilities is a necessary prerequisite for their participation in education, creative employment, independent living, and therefore their social integration.

She also noted that in the coming period, they will investigate additional similar requests to meet other needs. Moreover, she said, they are in dialogue with the directly involved stakeholders to develop a new, modern legislation that will govern all issues related to social integration, inclusion, and support for People with Disabilities.

The revised National Strategy and Action Plan for Disability, which will be in effect until 2028, has been completed and will be submitted to the Cabinet next week. It includes a total of 73 new actions and goals from 8 Ministries and 4 Deputy Ministries. For the first time, the National Strategy and Action Plan is organized into thematic pillars that follow the life of a Person with Disabilities from birth to old age, she said.

Special Education to Undergo Changes in September

The Ministry of Education is ready to delve even deeper into the chapter of Special Education in its effort to implement actions and policies that truly reflect inclusive and unified education in practice.

As “Ph” is informed, from the new school year these issues will take center stage for the responsible Ministry of Education, which has developed a specific plan. Already, some points that have been included in the plans have been recently implemented, according to a responsible source from the Ministry of Education.
 

It concerns the following three important chapters:

>>Preparation of differentiated educational material

>>Preparation for the needs of school assistants and companions for the new school year

>>Teacher training

As we have been informed about the first point, since last March, the preparation of educational material has been completed. This material has been differentiated and adapted to meet the needs of students according to the difficulties they face. The differentiated material has been developed through collaboration with Greece, and as we were informed, clear guidelines and instructions for teaching are now provided in a scientific manner.
 

Regarding the issue of school assistants and companions, information indicates that the Ministry already has a clear understanding of the needs for the new school year. This matter has been a significant concern every year, as the school year begins and children in need of companionship stay at home for days without immediate assistance. What’s different in the process this year is the early collection of clear needs (it’s noted that the number is expected to increase as needs continuously arise, even after the start of the school year). The intention of the Ministry of Education is to record these needs to the fullest extent possible so that they can be addressed promptly to the Ministry of Finance for the necessary budget allocation.
 

It’s worth noting that the issue of companions concerns the Ministry not only in terms of the number of students they will serve for the school year 2024-2025 but also in their employment status. That’s why there is consultation aimed at improving their contracts. It’s recalled that this issue has concerned the Parliamentary Education Committee several times in recent years, in an effort to find solutions to the labor issues that exist with this group of employees.
 
 

Regarding the third point, teacher training is expected to be intensified from the new school year so that educators can fully utilize the differentiated educational material that has been prepared.

Furthermore, a key pillar in the upgrading and modernization efforts in this field is the process of reviewing applications for providing accommodations and companions to students. According to our information, the Ministry is taking steps and actions to expedite the procedures in the relevant Committees that examine each case.
 
 

The CIF proposes systematic checks on health issues through a manifesto.

Based on findings and conclusions reached by stakeholders and interested parties in the health sector, a document was prepared.

The Cyprus Integrity Forum (CIF) proposes systematic checks on healthcare issues to prevent corruption tendencies and ensure full transparency in the healthcare system, as outlined in its manifesto “Transparency and Combating Corruption in the GHS.”
 
 
 

The manifesto was drafted based on findings and conclusions reached by stakeholders and interested parties in the healthcare sector during a roundtable discussion focusing on transparency and combating corruption in the General Healthcare System (GHS).

According to the CIF, during the specific discussion, issues were highlighted that raise concerns about the current management of the General Healthcare System (GHS). These issues need to be addressed immediately and effectively before the system collapses financially and in terms of quality.

According to the CIF, the publication of the Commissioner’s reports would contribute to transparency and to combating and reducing abuses, both on the part of providers and beneficiaries.
 

According to the CIF, the publication of the Commissioner’s reports would contribute to transparency and to combating and reducing abuses, both on the part of providers and beneficiaries.

Also, Dr. Hatzichristofis stated that the inadequate and weak oversight exercised by the Health Insurance Organization (HIO), the insufficient oversight of the HIO by the Ministry of Health, the deficient legislation governing oversight and correction of any distortions that nullify provisions of the law, and the ambiguity in interpreting the philosophy are also factors that contribute to the lack of transparency.

The CIF, through its manifesto, observes a lack of quantitative and qualitative control of services in the GHS, specifically noting that “the administrative control of the HIO by the Audit Office of the Republic of Cyprus showed disappointing results in terms of the percentage of control exercised.”

Additionally, it states in the manifesto that there is no control over the quality of diagnostic equipment or medical devices in diagnostic centers, while adding that there is no control over cases of negligence either.

Regarding the issue of corruption within the GESY, the CIF notes in the manifesto that there is a significant laxity in the implementation of the already inadequate legislation and often a violation of control procedures.

Furthermore, the CIF argues that there is no clear calculation for the amounts spent on healthcare, while also emphasizing the need for systematic performance auditing of professionals and facilities providing medical services (Medical Auditing).

The President of the Cyprus Integrity Forum, Marios Skandalis, stated that the manifesto is the result of the collective effort of the majority of healthcare stakeholders in Cyprus to safeguard the “greatest gift” ever given to Cypriot society, that of the General Healthcare System.
 

“We have identified serious issues that require immediate resolution to ensure the financial sustainability, transparency, and high level of services provided within the institution, which is the greatest achievement of the social policy of the Republic of Cyprus since its independence,” he said.

“In her statement, Dr. Christina Giannaki, Director General of the Ministry of Health, said that the development of mechanisms for effective control in the healthcare sector, both within and outside GESY, is imperative. She noted that the competent Ministry recognizes the need for adopting safeguards to ensure proper supervision and monitoring of the system through quality criteria.”
 

“Dr. Giannaki stated that for the control and supervision of the system’s usage by both providers and beneficiaries, in terms of avoiding abuses and ensuring the quality enhancement of healthcare services provided, the introduction of clinical guidelines is required, along with the gradual development of therapeutic protocols, the establishment of quality criteria and performance indicators, as well as the implementation of more effective organizational and control mechanisms. Additionally, incentives and disincentives should be promoted where there is distortion in the supply-demand relationship.”

Source: KYPE

Parents of children with disabilities: an essential link in the education chain

“OF SIMONI SYMEONIDOU”
 

With the pretext of the biased views expressed in the media regarding the role of parents of children with disabilities in their education, as well as the whispers that have been circulating for years, I feel it necessary to share some of my opinions, which are supported by the literature. Initially, the notion that “parents of children with disabilities do not accept their child’s disability” arises from a faction of professionals who believe that the interests of children with disabilities are not aligned with those advocated by their parents. This position is also connected to another one, that “professionals in the field of public education should have the right to evaluate children they believe have a disability, without the consent of their parents.” The aforementioned positions demonstrate that individuals and organized groups expressing them verbally or in writing have no clue about the rights of children with disabilities and the role of their families in education. In this manner, they construct the concepts of “good parent,” “good professional practice,” and “well-adjusted child” (Goodley, 2014), where a “good parent” is one who “accepts” their child’s disability and consents to their evaluation, “good professional practice” involves the evaluation, and a “well-adjusted child” is one who is evaluated and receives special education without the consent of their parents.

Initially, when we refer to parents of children with disabilities, we should bear in mind that they are a heterogeneous group of individuals with different identities (e.g., gender, ethnicity, mother tongue, religion, disability, etc.), roles (e.g., parent, single parent, spouse, partner, son/daughter, caregiver), and beliefs. We cannot express generalized judgments about this group so easily. The parents of all children may strive for their children’s well-being, or they may be parents who mistreat them. They may be parents who meticulously explore every detail of legislation and pedagogy to decide what is best for their child, or they may be parents who are not interested or lack the skills to search and expect others to guide them. At the same time, we must keep in mind that raising a child with a disability is the same as raising a child without a disability, but it is also different. The experience of parents of children with disabilities differs from that of parents of children without disabilities, as they are confronted with a system of policies and practices, as well as a culture that excludes instead of including, erects barriers instead of removing them, and considers that school is for some children and not for all (Karagianni & Koutsoklenis, 2023; Symeonidou & Mavrou, 2020; Vlachou & Fyssa, 2016).

In any case, when we refer to parents, we should consider how their identities and roles are linked to their beliefs about their child’s education. For example, if we are discussing with a mother who is a victim of domestic violence, she may understand that her child needs assessment, but if she mentions it to her spouse, she may only trigger a new cycle of violence. In another scenario, if parents have consulted with many professionals (special education teachers, psychologists, doctors, etc.) before the school suggests the need for an assessment, they may disagree for reasons they consider important (e.g., they want to avoid labeling their child, withdrawing from the class for support through special education, etc.) and prefer to support it themselves. There is also the case where assessment may be suggested at the wrong time (e.g., in kindergarten, a child does not sit in his chair for half an hour and therefore assessment is suggested to the parents) and in the wrong way (e.g., threat/warning that if the child is not assessed, they will not receive the support they need). Parents are faced with the “dilemma of difference,” according to which if the “difference” is “officially recognized,” then their child may benefit to some extent (perhaps with reasonable adjustments), but they will be stigmatized, whereas if the “difference” is not “officially recognized,” their child may not fully benefit academically but will not be stigmatized (Graham et al., 2020).

Secondly, parents of children with disabilities have all the rights that parents have. Therefore, it is imperative that they give their consent for anything concerning their child, from whether they will be photographed at school to whether they will be evaluated by a team of specialists. Especially regarding the issue of assessment, the current legislation on inclusion, despite its distortions, has ensured that parents give their consent for the assessment process to begin, are informed in advance about when their child will be evaluated, and have the right to attend evaluation meetings and provide information during the assessment process. This is necessary because parents live with the child, so they have a view of their behaviors at home and in other contexts, as well as their knowledge and skills. Thus, their presence during the assessment ensures that they can explain how the child responds, understand which aspects of their behavior are different outside of assessment conditions, and gives the child a sense of security in a process that requires collaboration with professionals they may not always know beforehand.

Instead of making nihilistic judgments that negatively characterize parents and suggesting evaluations without parental consent, if we truly want to support the children, the requests should be as follows:

  • Reduction of the number of children in the classroom
  • Co-teaching by two educators (general and special or two general educators)
  • Modification of the curricula to allow for differentiated teaching and assessment
  • Mandatory differentiation of teaching in the general classroom
  • Institutionalization of procedures that comprehensively support children and their families (at home, at school, in therapies they may need)

All of the above require a change in the roles of general and special educators, their training, redistribution of financial resources, and the way services are provided, as well as long-term strategic planning for change.

Concluding, parents of children with disabilities have the same chances as parents of children without disabilities to know their child very well because they live with them every day, or not to observe their child as much as they should. Also, parents of children with disabilities choose how they will handle the educational system and its representatives, depending on their knowledge and experiences. If after evaluation, the educational system proposes a support package (i.e., special education outside the classroom), parents may choose not to proceed with evaluation. Even if they give their consent for evaluation, they may later demand quality education without segregation and full access to the detailed curriculum, but they may still be considered unreasonable because some believe they have not accepted their child.

It’s a vicious cycle that will only cease to exist if we consider that children with disabilities should be supported in school in the best possible way, just like their families.

References

Goodley, D. (2014). Dis/ability studies. Theorising disablism and ableism. London: Routledge.

Graham, L., Medhurst, M., Tancredi, H., Spandagou, I. & Walton, E. (2020). Fundamental concepts of inclusive education. In L. Graham (Ed.). Inclusive education for the 21st century (27-54). London: Routledge.

Ryan, S., & Runswick-Cole, K. (2008). Repositioning mothers: Mothers, disabled children and disability studies. Disability and Society, 23(3), 199–210.

Symeonidou. S. & Mavrou. K. (2020). Problematising disabling discourses on the assessment and placement of learners with disabilities: can interdependence inform an alternative narrative for inclusion?, European Journal of Special Needs Education, 35(1), 70-84.

Vlachou, A. & Fyssa, A. (2016). ‘Inclusion in Practice’: Programme Practices in Mainstream Preschool Classrooms and Associations with Context and Teacher Characteristics. International Journal of Disability, Development and Education, 63(5), 529-544.

Karagianni, G., & Koutsoklenis, A. (2023). Studies on Disability and Inclusive Pedagogy [Undergraduate Handbook]. Kallipos: Open Academic Editions. http://dx.doi.org/10.57713/kallipos-226
 

*Assistant Professor
 

University of Cyprus

A child lost their vision due to a laser toy burn – The OKYPY advises caution.

Faced with a tragic incident, the Ophthalmology Clinic of the Archbishop Makarios III Hospital stepped in when a case was examined where a child was diagnosed with significant and permanent loss of vision in one eye due to extensive burns, during play.

According to an announcement by the Ophthalmological Society of Cyprus, the said accident was caused by laser pointers purchased online. Children using them ended up directly staring into the lens, causing multiple burns to the retina, the layer at the back of the eye that contains light-sensitive cells, enabling us to see.

In this context, the Ophthalmological Society of Cyprus calls on everyone, especially parents, to control both the suitability and the use of the products their children have in their possession. Specifically, for laser toys, we should never look at them directly in the eyes, aim them at other people, mirrors, or other reflective surfaces. These guidelines, as emphasized by the organization, apply to all laser toys.

Additionally, as stated by the Organization, the public must be particularly cautious because in case of injury, there is not much room for repairing the damage, as the laser beam remains strong even if it is several meters away from its source.

In case anything similar related to children’s eyes and vision is detected, please contact the Accident and Emergency Department of the OKYPY at 112 immediately, or contact the Ophthalmology Clinic of the Archbishop Makarios III Hospital at 22603550.

Ablebook has developed a partnership with the Mall of Cyprus and the Mall of Engomi

The Ablebook app is pleased to announce its new collaboration with the Mall of Cyprus and the Mall of Engomi, incorporating their spaces into its platform. This partnership aims to facilitate access and provide information for people with disabilities and other vulnerable groups.

Ablebook is an innovative app available on Android and iOS devices that aims to improve accessibility and support for people with disabilities and other vulnerable groups by offering information and services that make their daily lives easier.

The Mall of Cyprus and the Mall of Engomi offer a range of accessible facilities, such as designated parking spaces near entrances, ramps, accessible restrooms, and comfortable spaces for wheelchairs. Through this collaboration, Ablebook app users visiting these shopping centers can get information about accessible facilities and request assistance, if needed, from the shopping center’s staff. This ensures that all visitors can enjoy their shopping experience and moments without barriers.

Our collaboration with the Mall of Cyprus and the Mall of Engomi is another step towards a more equitable and open society for all. By offering facilities and services that meet the needs of people with disabilities, these shopping centers positively contribute to social progress and solidarity.

Euro 2024: Germany, football, and volunteering for people with disabilities

“One supports the other.”

The Euro 2024, fifty days before kickoff in Germany, is not just about football but takes volunteering to another level by engaging people with disabilities and their “tandem” companions.

There are almost 10 days left for the Euro 2024, in Germany and football, to be precise, volunteering, gives a way out to people with disabilities, which it actually includes in the organization. In particular, in the context of Euro 2024 which will be held in the summer in Germany, in addition to what concerns football as such, an inclusive volunteering program is also activated, in which 50 disabled people and their companions-partners “Tandem” – from the British term which literally means “one behind the other”, they are ready for action.

Like every major football tournament, Euro 2024 in Germany is a football-themed spectacle where volunteering plays its role, and Germans, in particular, support part of it with individuals with disabilities and their “Tandem” partners.
 

In the service of Euro 2024 in Germany, individuals with disabilities are also included.

“It is something that is particularly interesting and indeed gives a different cultural color to Euro 2024, with Germany showing that beyond football, volunteering is sensitized, bringing people with disabilities to the fore.”
 

UEFA EURO 2024 logo launched!

“Thousands of volunteers across Germany will play a significant role in the success of Euro 2024, but the host city of Cologne has implemented an inclusive program to ensure that the experience is open to everyone. Not to play football, but to contribute through volunteering, including people with disabilities.”
 
 

Euro 2024 recruited 50 people with intellectual disabilities.

Cologne has recruited 50 people with intellectual disabilities to become volunteers for Euro 2024 in Germany. Each of them has appointed a “Tandem” partner to collaborate throughout the tournament and assist with any challenges that may arise.
 

Tandem paragliding with the flying wheelchair for our disabled friends

The program effectively kicked off on Tuesday, April 9, as the 50 volunteers and their Tandem partners met for the first time. This event allowed everyone to get to know their partners, ensuring that they feel comfortable and secure with each other ahead of the volunteerism commencement event on Saturday, April 27.
 

“One of the volunteers expressed, ‘I really like that individuals with intellectual disabilities like myself can participate as volunteers in major events in Cologne. This makes me feel well integrated and excited for Euro 2024.'”
 

“The inspiration for this particular initiative came during the 2023 Special Olympics World Games in Berlin.”
 

New Partnership Between Ablebook App and McDonald’s Restaurants

We are pleased to announce the collaboration between McDonald’s and the Ablebook app, incorporating their 23 restaurants into its platform. This partnership aims to facilitate access and provide information for people with disabilities and other vulnerable groups.

Ablebook is an innovative app available on Android and iOS devices that aims to improve accessibility and support people with disabilities and other vulnerable groups by offering information and services that make their daily lives easier.

McDonald’s restaurants offer a range of accessible facilities, such as designated parking spaces near entrances, ramps, accessible restrooms, and spacious areas for wheelchairs. Through this collaboration, Ablebook app users who visit McDonald’s restaurants can get information about accessible locations and request assistance if needed from the relevant staff. This ensures that all customers can enjoy their meals and moments without obstacles.

Our collaboration with McDonald’s restaurants is another step towards a more equal and open society for everyone. By providing facilities and services that meet the needs of people with disabilities, McDonald’s positively contributes to social progress and solidarity.

“The first National Strategy for Autism has been approved.”

The Cabinet proceeded today with the approval of the first National Strategy and Action Plan for Autism

,

“The Cabinet progressed today with the approval of the first National Strategy and Action Plan for Autism, with Deputy Minister of Social Welfare Marilena Evangelou emphasizing that the implementation of the strategy will allow authorities to have a comprehensive approach and a real image of this disability, which presents increasing trends both internationally and in Cyprus.”

“In statements following the Cabinet meeting, Ms. Evangelou said that action for the implementation of the Strategy is beginning, with one of the first actions involving the creation of a national electronic platform for autism, as well as information programs, training, upgrading, and expansion of the services provided.”

“The establishment of the national strategy and action plan for autism separately from other disabilities was deemed necessary due to the increase in autism diagnoses both in our country and internationally, and because autism spectrum disorder is a developmental disorder characterized by varying degrees of difficulty, with diverse levels and gradations of symptoms and challenges,” explained Ms. Evangelou.

According to Ms. Evangelou, the National Strategy and Action Plan for Autism 2024 – 2028 includes 53 actions under 7 thematic pillars, following the life course of a child, an adult with autism, namely research, early detection and diagnosis, health and therapeutic intervention, early childhood and family intervention, education, social protection and independent living, employment, and participation in leisure, culture, and society.

She further emphasized that the importance of the national strategy lies in its ability to centralize all services related to autism under the umbrella of the national strategy for better coordination of actions and holistic addressing of needs as well as challenges.

“The action now begins,” she continued, “for the implementation of the strategy and Action Plan. Our first priority is to continue the operation of the National Committee, which I will convene very soon, the establishment of permanent subcommittees under the coordination of the Department of Social Integration of Persons with Disabilities of the Ministry of Social Welfare, and the systematic cooperation of all stakeholders, especially the organizations representing individuals with autism themselves.”

As she said, the coordinating body of the National Strategy is the Ministry of Social Welfare, and other ministries participate in it, such as the Ministries of Labor, Health, Education, Transportation, and Finance.

“We want to have a complete picture in Cyprus.”

Asked about autism cases in Cyprus, Ms. Evaggelou stated that according to data from the World Health Organization, 1 in 100 children or adults worldwide are diagnosed with autism, while in Cyprus, the recorded data from the Department of Social Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities reports about 2,000 cases.

She noted, however, that “one of the reasons for the need for this national strategy is to capture the true picture of the situation in the country because clearly the Department of Social Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities of the Ministry has the data of individuals who apply to the Department for the benefits or services it provides.”

So, she said, one of the goals of the national strategy is to have a true picture of the number and not only in terms of numbers but also what is provided to these individuals in terms of services, how they live, what treatment they follow, how their integration and activation in society are.

Ms. Evaggelou further explained that there is a wide spectrum of autism with different symptoms, needs, and challenges. “Therefore, there may be individuals who do not feel that they need support or services. However, we need to know the real picture that exists,” she added.

“I personally believe that there are more (people with autism), how many more and why they have not turned to the Department of Social Integration with Disabilities remains to be proven along the way,” she added.

At this point, Ms. Evaggelou also mentioned that “we are not starting from scratch,” as there are programs targeting people with autism. She referred to the “Aktida” program for preschool-aged children with autism, which intervenes immediately after diagnosis, offering psycho-social and educational support both to the individuals with autism and to their families.

She cited as an example that through the national strategy, there will be continuous training based on all new scientific data for professionals such as doctors, pediatricians, educators, and kindergarten teachers in schools and wherever there are children for the early diagnosis of autism. “Because early diagnosis and intervention matter,” she emphasized.

Ms. Evaggelou stated that as part of the Strategy, the organization of a national conference on autism is also planned for this coming autumn, which will be established annually.

Source: CNA

“Access Denied: Websites of European Political Parties Inaccessible to People with Disabilities”

The serious deficiencies in the accessibility of the websites of major European political parties make it very difficult for people with disabilities to be informed about the European Elections.

“People with disabilities were almost completely ignored by political parties on their websites in view of the EU elections, according to a report compiled by the European Disability Forum (EDF) and the independent non-profit Foundation Funka.”
“The main conclusion is that citizens with disabilities struggle to access the content and, therefore, are not adequately informed to exercise direct democracy.”

“The report analyzed the websites of the seven main European political families – the European People’s Party, the Party of European Socialists, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, the European Conservatives and Reformists, the European Greens, the European Left, and Identity and Democracy.”

“The main conclusion is that citizens with disabilities struggle to access the content and, therefore, are not adequately informed to exercise direct democracy.”

“According to the study, European political parties neglect their obligation to provide information to all voters, whether they have specific accessibility needs or not. In doing so, they create a barrier not only for people with disabilities but also for the democratic process itself. Our democratic systems and political procedures rely on citizens being informed when they vote. However, as this report shows, political parties seeking the votes of over 100 million Europeans with disabilities largely fail in their duty to provide accessible and reliable political information.”

“The results are very disappointing, but not surprising – they reflect the widespread lack of attention to information accessibility in the political world,” said Ioannis Vardakastanis, President of the EDF and the ESAmeA, to Euronews.”

“These findings at the European level may also indicate that national political parties face similar challenges, according to the central body representing the rights of 100 million people with disabilities in the EU, the EDF.”

“Political parties must ensure that their communication is accessible to every voter – including voters with disabilities,” added Mr. Vardakastanis.

“The party with the worst performance was the far-right Identity and Democracy, passing only four out of the seven criteria used for evaluating the websites. All the tested websites passed the test for automatic subtitles for deaf or hard of hearing users.”

“The EDF calls on the political parties of the EU and all political actors:”

  • “Website administrators need to be trained in the basic skills for accessible digital information.”
  • “They should use the European standard for accessible ICT (EN301549) in the procurement, design, and development of digital interfaces. The standard is free.”
  • “Users with disabilities should participate in the design, development, and testing of digital interfaces to ensure they work for everyone.”

“Finally, they encourage all political actors to actively involve organizations of people with disabilities in accordance with the updated motto of the disability movement: ‘Nothing About Us Without Us.'”