ENIL is pleased to introduce Marina Voudouri, our Board member from Italy. Marina is originally from Greece, but has been living in Rome for many years, where she is sitting on one of the district’s governing bodies and is on the forefront of advocacy for independent living.
Q1: Please tell us a little about your background.
I was born in Greece and lived there until I was about 26 or 27. I lived my childhood and adulthood in a small town in the north and then moved to Thessaloniki to study English Language and Literature at the university. At that point, I started having slight motor difficulties, but didn’t know yet about the disability movement and advocating. After I finished my studies, I kept living in Thessaloniki and started working, teaching English to children and adults. I loved it living on my own; I did love independent living even then, although at that time I didn’t know anything yet about the Independent Living (IL) movement.
However, before I moved to Italy, I wandered around Europe a bit. I lived for about one year in Athens, for studies and work, then another year in Manchester in the UK to do a Master’s degree in Special Education. Then back to Greece for a year and off to Cyprus to work, first in a special school and then at a university college. While I was there, I went to Finland to a conference, where I met Puccio, my then boyfriend who was Italian. So, that is how I moved to Italy.
Q2: Were you in Greece when you first heard of the Independent Living movement? How and when did you become involved in the movement?
Well, more or less. I had already moved to Cyprus, but I came to hear about IL movement during one of my visits to my parents in Greece. It was the magazine “Disability Now” that I bumped into. At that time, I already had moderate mobility difficulties. I got in touch with Nikos, the director of the magazine, and became friends. It was on that occasion that I first heard about independent living. Then, step by step, some hints in Cyprus, where however the movement wasn’t well known at that time, and then in Italy, with various associations. I got even more actively involved when my friends Klaudija and Elena from Slovenia told me that they were going to the 2009 Freedom Drive in Strasbourg; it sounded an unusual event and so I decided – at the last moment – to join the Freedom Drive. So this is how I got more involved with IL and with ENIL.
Q3: What is your work in Italy now and at the European level?
Besides being an IL activist, since 2005 I’ve been an activist of the grassroots movement, advocating for politics pointed to citizens’ well-being rather than to politicians’ and big lobbies’ own interests, vigorous ideas of managing common goods, and administering of public properties and services directly by active and consciously involved citizens, rather than by “professional” and “long-career” traditional politicians. This 5-Star MoVement, inspired by the big Italian comedian Beppe Grillo, turned into a strong political force and came into power in the City of Rome last July.
I am an appointed member of the governing body of one of the 15 municipal districts of Rome. My mandate is in the field of social services and inclusion. Among these, support for disabled people is one of the most relevant to district politics as, in the City of Rome, the budget for this support is managed directly by districts. Direct administration of public services by citizens is a concept that is strongly related to the independent living principle of directly managing one’s own life.
I’m still an activist of the independent living movement and a Board Member of the European IL network, ENIL. The 5-Star MoVement’s policies on disability are for independent living for all citizens and IL is present in the election manifesto for the City of Rome (http://www.beppegrillo.it/movimento/virginiaraggisindaco/singola6.html). Availability of funds and several norms and laws at various levels have influence on policies. Putting all this together will lead the policies on disability in the new administration of Rome.
Q4: Do you see any significant progress in terms of Independent Living in Italy since the country’s ratification of the UN CRPD?
I’m afraid not. I dare say that Italy used to be advanced in disability rights, but all these advances were achieved in previous years. I think that since 2000, there have been fewer protests, whereas round tables and negotiations have become more and more frequent. I’m not sure if this is the reason, but the fact is that much less has been achieved. And in some cases, previous achievements have been lost. Take, for example, the fact that income is usually taken into account in order to provide support. Or the recent law, approved this year, providing incentives to “small” institutions, instead of promoting life in the community. All in all, in Italy, there are services to help people live independently, but this depends a lot on where you live. The services are not fully developed, and one’s own finances, and family, are still seen as the main source of support. While Italy used to be a country ahead of others in respecting the rights of disabled people, now everything has slowed down or is even going backwards.
Q5: What is the way forward for the IL movement in Europe, in your opinion?
If we want a Europe with freedom of movement, this needs to be guaranteed to disabled people as well. Personal assistance should be universally recognized and not dependent on the country of residence or on citizenship. Personal assistance should become a matter of human rights, not a social assistance service, and it should be guaranteed in any EU Member State where one wishes to move for a short or long time; that is, personal assistance should follow you, and not vice-versa. Added to this, the usual issue: there should be more funding available to DPOs, and to support the implementation of the CRPD.
Q6: Would you like to send a message to Independent Living activists?
Live your life, not your disability! And don’t let go of your right and opportunity to live a good life!