Lyudmila is a 39-years-old person of short stature from Bulgaria. She lived with her family until she was three years old. Since then she’s been living in different institutions, including Mogilino – an institution that was featured on a documentary for the BCC due to the conditions there. She’s gone through many difficult moments but is one of the exceptional cases. Currently she is a librarian with a Masters Degree and is among the most active Independent Living advocates in her country. She has participated in many conferences, initiatives, trainings, marches – all associated with the philosophy of Independent Living. Recently she was in New York where she participated in a High-Level Meeting on Disability and Development, at the United Nation’s headquarters. One of her greatest interests is in the topic of deinstitutionalisation. With her personal experience, inexhaustible energy and motivation she contributes to the better understanding of the process.
What is your personal experience of disability?
I’ve been disabled all my life, I was born with a disability. Because of the disability I’ve gone through lots of mocking and difficulties, but also lots of funny moments, like for example showing that when your fingers are in a fist they look the same length. That’s the way things are in a relationship too – it doesn’t matter if you’re short or tall, in bed you don’t notice the difference – to say it figuratively! : )
How did you discover the Independent Living movement?
I first heard about Independent Living from a newsletter by CIL-Sofia which I came across. I started reading and became interested. There were articles in which I found things which rose my hot temper and brought out my rebellious and stubborn character. Afterwards, I found and met the people who had issued this newsletter. Then I contributed with articles I wrote to the Independent Living magazine.
Is there an area of Independent Living that you are especially interested in?
Yes, I am crazy about the issues of ACCESSIBILITY and INSTITUTIONS. The issues in these area’s drive me mad. In a nutshell – they are all violations of human rights.
Who has influenced you the most, and how?
Well, in general, Penka Zhekova (who is not among us anymore), other greatly valuable friends and my boss – Slava Draganova. And if we speak about the Independent Living movement, I am very grateful to people like Kapka Panayotova (my guiding star, hope she won’t be cross that I share this, but I couldn’t resist), Mitko Nikolov, Koko (also not among us), Vanya Pandieva and now Nina from CIL-Sofia as well. Altogether they influenced my life in a positive way. If I hadn’t met them, I would not be who I am today. I received and keep on receiving their support and always feel their closeness whenever I fight, think and even breathe.
What personal achievement are you most proud of?
Well, a personal achievement was to climb up the Rila mountain (in Bulgaria) together with a friend. As well as having my paintings in some exhibitions (I have not painted for a while). Apart from that, another achievement of mine, but this time as part of a team – to participate in the assessment process in the personal assistance service for disabled people in Bulgaria. I worked with wonderful people and I’m glad I was part of this. My eyes saw the beauties and differences of foreign countries and this fills me with craving for new experiences. In a nutshell – it is an achievement to see and do beautiful and meaningful things.
Do you have a favourite saying or proverb?
Don’t be scared by the distance between dreams and reality.
What motivates you to get up in the morning?
The thought that every day you can make something new and good, contribute to the world and to others around you.
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
I like having fun with my friends. I like watching movies, munching popcorn, taking pictures of various objects with the aim of snapshotting inaccessible places. I like browsing internet pages where I think I would find valuable information or news. I like playing backgammon – for fun and also for money (men usually underestimate women and it becomes easy! :)). I like ‘riding’ my scooter or bike and to move around the town. I love travelling.
If you could invite anyone to a dinner party, who would be your ideal guests?
Hm, dinner party… Everybody with whom I’d feel good – laughing, chatting and having fun.
What advice would you give to young adults with a disability?
My advice would be not to waste their time, and not to rely solely on mum and dad; to stand up for their rights because one day when they look around they’ll be 40 and will be depressed by the fact that they haven’t achieved anything, even for themselves, just because they had been waiting for someone else to do their job. To be bolder and assert the right their voice to be heard.