Safe traffic starts at school thanks through lecturers with a disability

How can one make sure there are less traffic accidents that kill people or make they get seriously disabled, because of the accident? The Union of Paraplegics of Slovenia goes to schools to tell children about what can happen in case one is not driving safely. All the lecturers did have a traffic accident themselves by which they have a disability now. I spoke about this project and other projects of the Union with Barbara Slacek.  
 
The project started when one of the nine member associations of the Union wanted to buy a new van. They went to a Volkswagen dealer and asked whether he would be interested in sponsoring a van for them. He agreed, on the condition that the association would do something back for society. They decided to start the project 'We still drive, but don't walk'. Because of the fact that association did not cover the whole Slovenian territory, a separate association with the name of the project had to be created within to realize the project would get sponsored. Its main sponsors are private companies and the schools the lecturers visit. The government and the Agency for Road Safety in Slovenia both contribute a small sponsor sum. It has become a national project and there are even plans to make it international. In Serbia, a similar project has already been set up. 
 
Realistic lecture 
 
Barbara got a traffic accident herself on the 6th of January 1999. 'I was 19 and sitting in the back of a car. I was not wearing my safety belt. The car was driving too fast and the driver lost control. I broke my spine. Also my lungs, liver and even my heart were injured. During two weeks, I was fighting for my life. In total, I was hospitalized for two months. After that period, my rehabilitation started. There is only one rehabilitation center in Slovenia, in Ljubljana.  It took another six months. I was not shocked or angry after getting the disability. I have always been an energetic and positive person. I was glad I was still alive. My uncle also has a disability. He is married, has got a job and children. I saw the positive side of living with a disability thanks through him.  
 
'I got involved into the project, because I was a member of the board of the Union. I work for eight hours a week at the office. I am a mother. When I do have the possibility outside these obligations I also give a lecture at school once a month. I am a realistic person and do have the opinion one should not lie against children. So, I tell them exactly what happened. With the smallest children I leave out the details. They are always curious and ask a lot of questions. We work with two illustrated books. They tell the story of a lion who gets a disability, because of a fall. The pictures show how he learns to live with the disability and that it is possible.  
 
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‘The older ones (13-18) react shocked to my story. That is my aim! I show them pictures of the accident I got from the police. It is good to notice they are listening, watching, observing. My story helps a lot to make them aware they have to act safely in traffic. They are told to do so by other people as well, but now they see in person what could happen in case they don't. We work with 15 lecturers on this project of whom nine are really active. My own motivation to do this is that I do not want my story to become that of another person as well.’  
 
What is your opinion about traffic safety in Slovenia in general? 
 
'It is very bad. For example, only this morning (Friday May 8th) there were four accidents on one road. In general, Slovenians drive far too fast and do not obey traffic rules. Alcohol in traffic is a serious problem as well, although as good as no alcohol is allowed while driving. For each traffic offence committed one gets a notification behind his/her name that is worth a certain number of points. Depending on the offence. When you have scored 18 points, your driving license is suspended for two years and one has to follow therapy. After those two years, one has to do a new examination. We also work with these offenders.' 
 
Slovenian disabled take care of themselves 
 
The Union of Paraplegics of Slovenia has already existed for 46 years. It was founded, because the government did almost nothing to help people with a disability. This is still the case for the greater part. Barbara: 'We do have a good health insurance system in Slovenia, but that is all. All social programs for people with a physical disability are being operated by the Union. For instance: we employ an architect who helps you adjusting your home. We help people with school, finding a job or with getting a car. We are sponsored by the national lottery. Only the Union of Paraplegics of Slovenia receives two million euro from it each year. In total, there are 18 organizations active for people with all kinds of disability in Slovenia. All these 18 organizations are joined in the National Council for People with a Disability. The Council has contact with the national authorities, just like the separate organizations. Our Union is very well known in Slovenia. We do have 1,050 members and work together with the media a lot. Of our members, 90% is well integrated in society.’ 
 
Although there is almost no financial support from the government for Slovenians with a disability, the practical accessibility for them in daily life is well. The public transport in the cities is accessible. Trains are accessible too. Non-disabled Slovenians don’t look strangely at their compatriots. This acceptance has started ten years ago.  
 
Other activities of the Union 
 
Besides the school project, Barbara works on other projects as well. She just finished one with regard to selling all kinds of medical products people need. Think of cushions for wheelchairs for example. Thanks to European money, the Union now has acquired the insurance license needed to indeed sell these goods. Her next big project is the reconstruction of the Home for Paraplegics in the northern part of the Piran peninsula. At the moment, there are eight fully adjusted double rooms for 16 persons in total. It will be extended with 17 new rooms in the near future. Once realized, 65 guests will then be able to stay there. The installation of a Spa is also on the wish list. Every part of the resort is wheelchair-accessible and wheelchair-user friendly. It offers facilities for rehabilitation, vacation, sports, organized trips and art and culture. The guest is being viewed as a whole. Thus, his/her body, mind, spirit and emotions are taken into account at the same time. The resort is not only open to Slovenians with a disability, but also to foreign tourists.
 
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Barbara is a busy bee, but does find the time to listen to music. She likes all kind of music. From classical to Balkan. Her greatest idol nevertheless is Tina Turner. ‘Rolling on the river’ is Barbara’s most favorite song.   
 
Copyright interview and pics: Johan Peters, May 29th 2015 - ...