Vanya Pandieva is in a wheelchair, smiling

Vanya was one of the pioneers of the independent living movement in Bulgaria. She was the coordinator of Bulgaria’s first personal assistance service, organised around the principles of independent living and self-determination – a pilot managed by the Centre for Independent Living-Sofia. Personal assistance was one of Vanya’s big causes. Angry about the way the service was distorted by national and municipal programmes, she tirelessly campaigned and advocated for real personal assistance, allowing disabled people to have choice and control over their support.

Vanya was among the few remaining ‘stubborn’ independent living advocates in Bulgaria, as she described herself in the interview for the International Journal of Disability and Social Justice, conducted by ENIL in August 2022. She never stopped fighting, despite her deteriorating health. She advocated for independent living in numerous media interviews, meetings with policy makers and experts, even in courts. The Sofia metro became more accessible thanks to her determined and persistent fight.

At ENIL’s General Assembly in October last year, Vanya was re-elected to the Nominating Committee, on which she served the previous term. She was much loved and well respected at ENIL, and supported the election of the new leadership.

Last but not least, with her rich knowledge and experience of (in)dependent living, Vanya was an important source of encouragement and support for many people in the disability community and beyond. At the same time, she was herself constantly looking for opportunities to learn from others.

A dreamer, always seeking new roads, interested in people, intolerant toward injustice, and a ‘stubborn’ activist, Vanya will be greatly missed.

Watch the recent interview with Vanya here (recorded on 25 August 2022).