The question of disability was one of the prominent themes of the 19th European Social Services Conferences in Warsaw. Chairing the EU Presidency, Poland recognises that its laws should be brought in line with the European Disability Strategy 2010-2020.

It has also been a significant area of work for the Polish Lower House of  Parliament and its Social Affairs Committee, chaired by Slawomir Piechota. Speaking to ESN, Piechota (pictured right) highlighted the most important changes and developments that took place in the last five years.

  • A new legislation on guide and assistant dogs was adopted in 2008, ending discrimination faced by persons with visual impairment who, when accompanied by their dog, were turned away from shops, restaurants, offices or GP surgeries. The new law clearly states their right to access all public spaces and facilities.
  • Another act of law introduced during this Parliament’s term extended the same privileges (including special pension rights) available to the Olympic Games’ medalists to all medalists of Paralympics and Deaflympics.
  • A special awareness raising campaign was launched to address the problem of parking space for persons with disabilities, all too frequently occupied by non-disabled drivers. The fine for such parking was increased from 50 PLN (=12 EUR) to 500 PLN (=120 EUR) plus 6 penalty points on the driver’s license.
  • ‘Barrier-free parliament’ project has been completed making the Polish House of Commons (Sejm) fully accessible place for both MPs and visitors. Given its status of a listed site, this has not been an easy process. Other government offices such as Prime Minister’s Chancellery are now following Sejm’s example.
  • Despite the current economic crisis, the rate of employment for persons with disability has increased in the last 5 years. It is expected to rise further next year when the new act on employment of people with disabilities in public sector is due to enter into force. The new law requires all public bodies where the number of disabled staff is below the 6% to give priority to disabled applicants in the process of recruitment. All public employers are obliged to disclose the information whether or not they have reached the level of 6% in any job offer they publish.
  • A long fought-for law on organisation of elections for persons with disabilities was finally adopted in July 2011. This new legislation imposes on local government a duty to ensure that at least 30% of all polling stations are accessible, finally giving some of the Polish 2.5 million voters with disabilities a chance to exercise their civic right. It also introduces voting by post and by proxy for persons with severe and moderate disabilities. People with visual impairments can now register to obtain their voting card in Braille.
  • Pensions and incapacity benefits were regularly valorised during this parliament’s term and rose on average by 35% in the last 5 years.
  • Finally, a comprehensive review of existing law was undertaken to determine to what extent it was consistent with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The review is finalised and Poland can now identify other new legislative and policy measures to be undertaken in order to give effect to the Convention.