Gatis Caunitis is a young person with disability from Latvia and he is not satisfied with the current Latvian legislation for personal assistance. The legislation came into effect on the first of January 2013. People with disabilities can apply for a personal assistance service, which is funded through the national government and administrated through the local municipalities. The service is to support a person with disability when they move from the home to go to a place of learning, to work and/or to services such as a day care center, clinics etc. The groups eligible for the service of personal assistance are adults with I -blind and visual impairment, mobility impairment or mental/learning impairment, II -severe mental impairment, III – Children with impairment from 5 – 18 year of age.
One of the main problems with the legislation is that the number of hours provided is insufficient. The maximum amount of hours per week is 40. Only blind persons who study can access the 40 hours that can be used during the whole day. Other regulated situations allow for different levels of the service. For example, persons who are employed can use the personal assistance service up to 15 hours per week but only to travel to the place of employment. Persons, who attend school or regularly attend day care centers or other social rehabilitation institutions, or who regularly engage in various activities such as active work in non-governmental organizations, participate in sports or in amateur art groups or after-school activities for children can apply for personal assistance for up to 10 hours per week for the transport. Persons who regularly (at least once a week) receive treatment or rehabilitation and need assistance to access the treatment can use personal assistance for up to 20 hours per week but again only to travel to the place of treatment. The various needs for the service can be combined but the maximum number of hours will be 40 hours per week.
Another complication is that the municipality is the employer of the personal assistants. There is no possibility for the user, him/herself to be the employer. This Gatis finds can influence the relationship between the Personal Assistant and the user. The Personal Assistant can possibly lack respect for the user, as he/she does not see him/her as the employer but just the object of the employment.
Gatis also finds the law too detailed and bureaucratic. It does not allow for personal integrity or respect for the private person. One has to give too much detail regarding each task of the Personal Assistant. The law requires a need of verification meaning one has to have proof that he/she has gone for example to the pharmacy or store. But if one does not buy anything there is no proof through a receipt and then would the person have to ask the employees of the store to sign a paper that one has been there?
Another limitation is that there is no access to the service when abroad. This means users have to find family, friends or volunteers when wanting to do something abroad such as an internship, a vacation or study.
The number of personal assistants is limited to one per person. This is problematic, as some disabled people need two persons to be moved for example from the bed to the wheelchair.
There are ongoing negotiations between non-govermental organizations and the Ministry of Welfare concerning changes in the law. Service users find the current law on the services of personal assistance as Gatis does to be too bureaucratic. They feel that sometimes the municipalities ask absurd things. In some regions there is a lack of responsiblity on the part of the personal assistant for the person in need of the service. This discourages parents to use the service for their children. Many users do not understand how this law could be approved when it is incomplete. Considering it took relatively long time until the legislation was approved with the work starting in 2006 one does wonder how long it will take to have satisfactory legislation?
The Latvian personal assistant Law is only partially consistent with the priciples of the ENIL – European Network on Independent Living and the philosophy of Independent Living as well as with the United Nations Convention on the Rights for People with disabilities (UN CRPD) and Article 19 on Independent Living. The current Law is limited and does not allow for full participation of disabled people. Latvia ratified the UN CRPD on January 3, 2010 and the convention entered into force March 31, 2010. Latvia also ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention, giving people with disabilities the right to submit an application to the UN Committee in case of violations of the rights of persons with disabilities. Taking into consideration the Convention and Article 19 on Independent Living, Latvia needs to provide more services to allow disabled people to truly live lives with full participation.