Kristina Dudonyte, a 27-year-old independent living activist from Lithuania and a member of the ENIL Youth Network, has recently finished her internship at ENIL and shares her impressions in the article below. Kristina used to work at the Alytus day care centre for disabled people, where she was actively involved in the disability strategy for the city of Alytus (Lithuania). She was also involved in organizing social campaigns, participated in activities of the Alytus disability commission and the Lithuanian Independent Living network.
First, I want thank Jamie Bolling for the wonderful time in Sweden, for her attitude, for the good impressions and the good memories. Then I want to say thank you to my personal assistant because without him I couldn’t do anything. Personal assistance is a tool for independent living!
I visited many places, saw beautiful nature and met many interesting people during my internship that started on 7 August 2016 and finished on 10 September. My locations of internship were Vårdinge By, Järna, Trosa, Salto by, Stockholm, Mora, Härnösand and Gothenburg. My internship started with visits of group homes where not more than 5-6 people can live in one house and sheltered workshops where people with intellectual disability work. During the visit of group homes, I asked the social workers and specialists working there about my brother who is autistic. I got much advice that we put into practice for my brother now. According to some Swedish organizations, such facilities are small institutions as well and disabled people still can’t live independently but compared to the situation in Lithuania this model would still be a better solution than what we have now – many people living in one big institution, not having any opportunity to make their own choices and live independently. During my visits of sheltered workshops, I was surprised to see that people do all kind of activities independently, like growing vegetables, raising animals making things from wood, wool, making candles, etc. I was also surprised that some of the disabled people speak English.
Later I visited Stockholm where I met Jamie Bolling who was my supervisor. I participated in staff meetings and staff trainings on Independent Living issues via skype. During the first meeting we made an action plan for me regarding what I will do, where I will go or what I should visit. I explained what I am interested in and what goals I want to achieve during this internship. My main goal was to bring the gained knowledge about what Independent Living is and how it can be achieved to Lithuania. And this is what I do now! I organized one conference “We can” and plan to organize one more. I am sharing the results in the local social media and write articles for newspapers. While I was in Sweden, I got the idea to create an organization on Independent Living, so now I am in a process of searching for active disabled people with whom to implement this idea.
Further steps of my internship were reading material about Independent Living, law and roots of personal assistance, employment, universal design and seeing how Independent Living is implemented in real life. I met many disabled people who get services of personal assistance, live in adapted homes. I also met and had discussions with directors and moderators of GIL, JAG, and STIL cooperatives and I got knowledge how these organisations work. During my internship I helped with the preparations of a study visit on deinstitutionalisation in Stockholm. The study visit took place over four days and consisted of visits to various national and local government authorities, as well as to the technical equipment company Sodexo, STIL – a Cooperative for Personal Assistance, Bosse – a Support Center for Disabled People and a private adapted apartment. During this event and my internship in general I got knowledge that the Act Concerning Support and Services for Persons with Certain Functional Impairments played a key role in the deinstitutionalization process. It came into effect at the beginning of 1994 and included the legal right to personal assistance. This legislation helped to close long-stay residential institutions and enabled people to live in their own apartments or small homes.
While I was in Sweden I visited many touristic places: adapted bridge near the beach, the High Coast Bridge near which Jamie and I were working, a garden where we were picking berries, accessible fishing place, wonderful waterfall, exhibition of American cars and forest where Jamie and I rode electric vehicles. I also brought to Lithuania examples of accessible places, such as accessible pedestrian crossings with sound system, Jamie’s accessible car, kitchen, bathroom, some type of accessible transportation, ramps near public buildings, accessible bus stations.
As one representative from a national agency said: “Everything is not perfect here and we should do much more”. I want to pass this message to all countries, including Lithuania.