Reinhart Niesten is a 23 year old wheelchair user living in Hasselt in Belgium. In April 2011, he moved out of his Parents home to a small apartment to live independently. After completing his studies he started working as a policy officer for VFG, a disabled people’s organization in their office in Brussels.
Reinhart is a bright and ambitious young man who wants to have an active, meaningful life and to contribute to society. Reinhart needs assistance to undertake the tasks and activities that he does daily on a basis such a cleaning, grocery shopping, cooking and administrative tasks. He applied for a Personal Assistance Budget (PAB) in 2008.
Reinhart does not want to be dependent on his parents or the goodwill of his friends to be able to organize and live his daily life. Many times he has been forced to adapt his plans or to drop certain activities because there was no volunteer support to him or there was a lack of money to pay for a personal assistant. He realizes he is lucky with having a supportive family and understanding colleagues. Without this he would not be able to live by himself and to work at all. On the other hand he is frustrated that his relationships with his family and friends is burdened by his continuous need for help. His biggest expenditure is paying for household help and transport services and he is worried about the sustainability of this in terms of his financial situation and quality of life.
Since 2008 when Reinhart first applied for a Personal Assistance Budget, he has been on a waiting list. He was assessed and even appointed a certain budget category. But until now this is only a theoretical right. Every year Reinhart receives a letter from the Flemish agency for people with disabilities (the government administration) to re-confirm that he is still on the waiting list and that due to a limited macro budget for Personal Assistance budgets he still will not receive any budget at all.
In Flanders over 6,000 disabled people are in the same position as Reinhart as they too are on the Personal Assistance Budget waiting list, most of them for many years without any hope of receiving their budget soon. People with rapidly progressive life threatening disabilities or people who end up in really inhumane, dangerous and degrading living conditions get priority to receive a budget. Others stay for indefinite time on the waiting list. Currently only 2,200 Flemish disabled persons receive a Personal Assistance Budget. In Wallonia and Brussels the situation is even worse.
This in in sharp contrast with Article 19 of the UN CRPD that explicitly states that disabled persons have the right on living independently in the community and that the state needs to provide for personal assistance to guarantee that right. Yet another example of the wide gap disabled Europeans face between their theoretical rights and every day reality, even if they live in one of the wealthier regions like Flanders, where the UN CRPD is ratified.