Traditionally, Independent Living, Personal Assistance or even De-institutionalisation were not among the priorities of the governments and the “official” disability movement in Greece. Last years, these issues started to be slowly addressed, because of the pressure by Greek and international disabled Independent Living (IL) activists, as well as because of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which was signed and ratified by the country in 2012.

Unfortunately, similarly to what happens in other countries, these terms are often misinterpreted and, therefore, whatever actions are proposed usually take us in the wrong direction. The same happens with the CRPD as a whole, which is often presented as ‘the Bible’’, but it is seen to allow for continued segregation of disabled people in semi-autonomous living centres and group homes. As explained in Article 19 of the CRPD and the General Comment No5 – a document that is almost unknown in Greece  – this is definitely not IL and is clearly against the CRPD.

One of the reasons for this is because disabled people are not really involved in making decisions, or if they are, they are represented by traditional disability organisations. Whether good or not, one organisation cannot represent the whole country and all the experiences of disabled people. We need more voices to be involved, especially from the IL movement, which historically is the one that has campaigned against and taken disabled people out of institutions. Also, the governmental positions related to our issues should be led by disabled people, and not by random social media influencers.

Of course, disabled people need to change their mindsets too, and should be active and demand rights and equal treatment, instead of just disability allowances and other favors. We talk about benefits, instead of asking for inclusion and equal treatment, so it is understandable that the government is taking the same approach. Financial crisis, which hit Greece for most of the last decade, cannot be used as an excuse anymore. Interestingly, disabled people were not among the most affected, which shows that the disability movement is strong; unfortunately, nothing was done to improve people’s access to IL and to close down the institutions.

Now for the first time, there is a plan for a national deinstitutionalization (DI) strategy in Greece, which is very positive. However, for a true and effective DI, where disabled people are given the opportunity to live in the community with choice and control over their lives, centers for semi-autonomous living and group homes cannot be considered a solution; rather, they are easy way to park people and move on. The only true solution is IL, which includes access to Personal Assistance, nothing less. Everyone needs to understand that: the government, the society, the disabled people and their families.

Earlier this month, on 4 February, at the Greek Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, organised a workshop on the National De-institutionalisation Strategy (for children, disabled children [sic], the elderly and the disabled people). The development of the Strategy is supported by the European Commission and is led by the European Association of Service Providers for Persons with Disabilities (EASPD).

The “i-living – Independent Living Organisation of Greece” was there, among many other stakeholders, and did its best to make the case for IL, but it was far from easy. Representatives of “i-living” made their presence clear through their inputs, but also through their constant interventions, in order to make sure that the UN CRPD and the General Comment 5 are taken into account, as numerous positions and proposals by various stakeholders were in support of continued institutionalisation and ran against the Convention. These proposals included, for example, the creation of various protected structures and group homes for the groups covered by the Strategy.

This workshop was only the beginning of a long process. We know that it will not be easy, and there will be pressure to reach a compromise, but we aim to adhere to the Independent Living philosophy and the CRPD. It is a historic opportunity to finally do something in Greece on this important issue of deinstitutionalisation, and we will do what we can to make sure it does not go in the wrong direction.

Kamil Goungor – i-living’s chair, and ENIL’s development officer