Delayed reform and implementation of rights of persons with disabilities in Bulgaria

The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee has sent its alternative report on the rights of persons with disabilities to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Bulgaria has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in January 2012. The first review of the implementation of the convention in Bulgaria is due in 2017-2018 by the special body set up to control the national implementation – UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Although the Bulgarian government planed review and amendments of legislation to comply with the Convention, the initial 2013-2014 plan was not implemented and the next plan only extended the deadlines to 2020 thus postponing the legislative regulation and practical implementation of the rights of persons with disabilities in Bulgaria for unknown period.

The BHC’s 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. 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 reliable and disaggregated data about persons with disabilities is not collected and processed some estimates show that persons with disabilities are about 500,000 persons, 26,000 of whom are children.

The main shortcomings discussed in the report are:

  • Bulgarian disability legislation is still far frоm the philosophy of the UN Convention as it mainly considers persons with disabilities as non-able and object of social assistance schemes/benefits. Far more radical and holistic approach needs to be applied in the field of personal and social assisstance, 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.
  • 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. 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.
  • 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 recoginsed as “persons” before the law. They do not receive any support for decision making and are not allowed to enter into legal commitments. 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.
  • 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. 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.

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.