Different kinds of disabilities, different kinds of problems
The interview below was written in 2015 and just a snapshot. I have no idea how the interviewees are doing now.
People with a disability sometimes experience the same problems, no matter the kind of disability. But, other problems are typically related to the specific disability. In Budapest, I spoke with three persons. Each one has a different kind of disability. Judit Karsai has a physical disability and moves around in her electric wheelchair. Andrea Jambor has a hearing impairment and Zsolt Pal a visual impairment. In a group discussion they tell about their daily life in Budapest with their own disability.
Standing: Zsolt Pal, Andrea Jambor, me. Wheelchair: Judit Karsai
I started with the general question how accessible Budapest is for people with a disability. Judit thinks the accessibility of the public transport is okay. Some 60% of it is accessible to people with a physical disability, although she thinks it is not enough. Also the shops and restaurants do have provisions for people like her. A bigger problem is the fact that she can’t go anywhere spontaneously. 'I do not have a driving license. I need help to get somewhere. The most ideal way would be if I had a family member with an adjusted car. I do not lead an independent life now.'
Andrea makes use of sign interpreters when she has to go to the hospital or some authority. The interpreter can be there either in person or Andrea communicates with him/her through the use of a tablet. Most people are willing to be of help, she thinks, but not everybody does know how to do it in the correct way. When there is no sign interpreter around, Andrea practices lip reading. Then it is important people look at her and articulate clearly. She also has a hearing aid. What is difficult for people with hearing problems, is travelling with public transport. There are screens which tell you what is the next stop. But, when a driver announces something special, Andrea doesn't hear it. In Hungary there are some 1 million people with hearing problems. The cause of those problems is mostly related to age.
Zsolt has noticed the accessibility in Budapest has improved since he came to live here 13 years ago. He is able to find his way in public transport, but needs help in case he has to go to a concrete spot. Navigation appliances turn out not to be always correct. I ask him whether he uses a guide dog. 'No, I do not. There are only 1,000 guide dogs in the whole country. Dogs do have problems with escalators and a guide dog is not a taxi. The dog goes to where you go to. You have to find the destination yourself.'
Financial support not for everyone
There are several benefits Hungarians with a disability can call upon. Not every person with a disability will get them all. There are strict conditions attached to some of them and the level of disability plays a role as well. First of all there is the disability allowance. Anyone with a disability of a certain level can get it. It is not enough to live from. People with a disability who are able to get back to work are entitled to a rehabilitation benefit too.
Andrea, who is a mother of three children, gets no benefit at all. 'I speak well enough, I understand people and the other way around. I do get financial support from the government for my hearing aid. It is not compensated totally, only 70%. Such an aid lasts four or five years, while the compensation is given only every six years. If I have to buy a new one myself, I do not get any money back. I have heard people in Norway get money for three hearing devices. When my baby is crying in the night, I can notice it thanks to a special device. It starts to shine when the baby cries. It isn't cheap to buy and again: the government only pays part of the sum.'
Working with a disability in Hungary
In Western-Europe it is sometimes hard for people with a disability to find a job. How is that in Hungary? Judit works for the Budapest Association of Persons with a Physical Disability. Her main task is to translate texts from English to Hungarian. Andrea has a pharmacy education, but is now staying at home with the kids. She is a member of the board of SINOSZ, the interest organization for people with a hearing impairment. SINOSZ has 14,000 members.
Zsolt is a political scientist, but mainly works as a coach. That can be a life coach or coaching about leadership, development and strategy. According to Zsolt, lack of good education is the biggest issue for people with a disability. 'Many disabled can’t find a job, because they are not enough qualified. Some 40% only has got elementary education. Among non-disabled this percentage is less than 25%. Judit jumps in. 'I do have an university degree, but people think I have a low education when they see my disability. Employers are not enthusiastic about people with a disability.' Zsolt: 'Companies are looking for qualified people with a disability. They are hard to find.' According to Andrea the problem lies for the greater part in the fact that a disability is regarded as a disease, something not normal.
This brings me to my next topic. How do Hungarians look at people with a disability in general?
Non-disabled do not understand daily problems of the disabled
Judit, Zsolt and Andrea all have the opinion that non-disabled Hungarians do not get the specific difficulties which people with a disability face daily. Sometimes it is lack of knowledge, but at other times they just do not seem to wish to anticipate. Andrea often has difficulty in understanding what a person is telling her, because he/she is sitting too far away what makes Andrea can’t practice lip reading. If she does not explain this explicitly, people think she is stupid. An induction loop at authority locations should solve a lot. Although it is obliged by law, not many authority offices do have one.
Zsolt is more positive. 'People help me when I ask them, as long as I use my white cane. Without it, they look strangely at me. A walking cane, a wheelchair are the first things through which non-disabled recognize you do have a disability. Of course, also without the walking cane, I would like to get the assistance needed directly. There is a lot of sensibilisation needed. For instance among bank employees, those who work at the post office. Not to forget the health care, the fire department ...’
Judit jumps in again: 'The people in the medical sector know nothing about how to get along with people with a disability. That goes for doctors, dentists. Some disabled don't get a treatment with the dentist, because he/she doesn't know how to cope with such a person.' Zsolt also mentions autistic people as an example, since they can’t always express themselves well enough.
Andrea ends this topic with a personal annoyance. 'When I am sitting in a waiting room and people are called to come in I just wait and wait while everybody else goes before me.' Zsolt has the same experience the other way around. 'I am waiting to hear my name or number while it only appears on the display ...'
Still a lot to improve
To end this little group discussion I asked all participants what they find the most difficult about living with a disability in Budapest. Judit is the least positive: 'Everything in Budapest is difficult. To me, organizing my independent life comes first. If you don't have an accessible apartment, you need help. I do manage my own things at home, but if I want to go somewhere I need help. Someone must check the accessibility of that place for me. Many hotels do not realize what it means to be accessible or not. What is important is to have a positive personal attitude. One must not only see the problem.'
For Andrea, getting the right information is the biggest problem. 'At school, I could not always understand what the teacher was telling. I already gave you the example of the bus. When people talk too soft or with closed mouth, I do have a problem understanding them. There are some rules to communicate well with a person with a hearing impairment. My doctor for instance learned how to do it in the right way.'
Also Zsolt has most difficulties with simple daily things. Buying the right clothes and shoes. Finding places or house numbers. For one problem, he has a practical aid. 'When I have to put my signature on a document, I use a special card. It has holes in it, a small one and a big one. The card must be put on the place where I have to sign.'
Accessible tram in Budapest
Let's end with a positive development Zsolt mentioned. Last year, Budapest won the accessibility award concerning public transport. The metro, the trams (although still not all of them) are adjusted to people with a disability. Budapest also uses modern technology in becoming more accessible, like touch screens for the blind. However, what is practical for one, is not the case for another. Some people with a physical disability are not able to use those touch screens.
This makes the circle round again. Each person with a disability, wherever he/she may be, faces his/her own specific problems. It is the same in Budapest.
Copyright text and pic: Johan Peters, May 27th 2015 - ...