The money will see ORT launch the Initiative’s third phase in July, aimed at enabling its five local disabled people’s partner organisations to expand the range of services they offer to vulnerable clients. And, with USAID due to end its presence in Montenegro next year, ORT is determined to ensure the long-term operational and financial sustainability of its partners by providing them with training, technical assistance and mentoring.
“USAID is so pleased with our first two years’ results that they want us to continue. It’s a wonderful opportunity for ORT to be able to continue to provide services for this often neglected group,” said the Director of ORT IC’s Washington bureau, Celeste Angus. “It’s been the norm in this part of Europe for families to hide away their disabled members and not even send disabled children to school. We’ve been able to help them integrate into society.”
For eight years ORT helped to develop disabled and other civil society organisations through its Montenegro Advocacy Programme (also supported by USAID), enabling such groups to be recognised as valuable partners in the country’s transition to an open democracy. That work, combined with the direct, tangible services provided through the Persons with Disabilities Initiative, has helped to change social attitudes towards disability in the country, said the Chief of Party at ORT Montenegro’s USAID/ORT Persons with Disabilities Initiative, Claire Vukcevic.
“You can see a lot more disabled children in regular education now,” Ms Vukcevic said. “There are more people in wheelchairs out in the streets and more buildings adapted to the needs of wheelchair users. Before ORT there was nothing in the education laws about making schools adaptable to children in wheelchairs, or in the labour laws to incentivise companies to employ disabled people. It’s incredibly rewarding to see the tremendous impact our work has had on the lives of disabled people, especially the young.”
Among the notable successes achieved over the past two years has been the creation of the country’s first labour exchange database between employers and people with disabilities which has helped 33 people get full-time jobs so far.
“That may sound like a small number until you realise that in the 15 years preceding this project only 10 disabled people had been employed in this country of 660,000 citizens,” said Ms Vukcevic.
Other achievements include the construction of a 25-bed therapeutic riding centre for the disabled and a series of seminars which have introduced more than 300 primary school teachers to the teaching of Braille.
New services and programmes planned for Phase 3 of the Persons with Disabilities Initiative will directly benefit 87 disabled people and nearly 500 members of their families but, indirectly, there is the potential to reach more than 46,000 disabled people, including 1,000 blind people, up to 20,000 partially-sighted people and up to 20,000 dyslexics.
They include the scanning of up to 50,000 pages of academic texts into computer software that will create an audio library in public libraries and universities; the building and staffing of a hydrotherapy room, and establishing a volunteer programme in which young, able-bodied people will work with autistic teenagers to help them integrate into society.
“I am very grateful that USAID is continuing to support this Initiative and I know that the disability organisations and, of course, the disabled people themselves, are very grateful,” said Irish-born Ms Vukcevic, who has been living in Montenegro for a decade. “I am part of the community and that’s a large part of why I do this work – I am helping my community.”