Situation Czech people with a disability improves slowly
The interview with Jitka below was written in 2013 and just a snapshot. I have no idea how she is doing now.
People with a disability have been looked down at in the Czech Republic for a long time. Since the revolution of 1989 in former Czecho-Slovakia, their position has improved slowly. Nevertheless, every day Jitka Jokelova notices there's still a long way to go before the disabled are fully accepted by and participating in Czech society.
Jitka Jokelova (l) and Lubos Jokel (r)
Jitka got her disability in 1998 when she was hit by a car while riding on a bike, together with her daughter. Jitka was 29 at that time and her daughter ten. She remembers the accident still very well. 'The driver of the car tried to avoid a collision, but didn't succeed. I was able to take care of my daughter. At the same time, I felt something was wrong with my legs. I was lucky to be transported to the best hospital by helicopter. In the hospital it turned out my back bone was broken. Because of that, I can't move my legs anymore from the knee to the ankles. I stayed in the hospital for two months. After that I had rehabilitation. My physical condition has been stable since then, but I must keep on practicing exercises.'
Her daughter wasn't injured by the accident. It of course had an impact on her, because her father had to give all his attention to Jitka while she was in hospital. An impact that didn't have a lasting psychological effect.
Jitka and her husband Lubos Jokel live in a suburb outside Prague in a beautiful environment. Unfortunately, their home isn't adjusted totally to her physical situation. To reach their home on the first floor, one has to climb a stair. I ask her whether she's able to climb that stair. 'I can walk short distances with the aid of my crutches. I use them to go up and down the stair as well. For longer distances, I need my wheelchair. In winter, I don't go outside at all. We got money of the insurance company as a recompense for the accident. It has allowed us to build a new home to which we move this summer. It will be more adjusted. The government only gives little financial support: 400 Czech crowns a month, that is 15 euro, and I have a disability pension of 10,000 crowns a month, 400 euro.
'Before the accident, I was working as an IT-assistant. After the crash, I've tried to get another job through the government agency. They couldn't help me in five years time. There has been one employer who was willing to offer me a job, but he had not enough money to employ me. After five years, I gave up looking for a job. I've been full time housewife since then and since 2008 I've been full time mother again as well. My son was born that year.'
Moving around in Prague city not easy
Prague city has many steep pavements, because it's built on the hills. But there are other obstacles as well for people like Jitka that make moving around in Prague though. 'Only the new subway stations do have elevators to the platforms below. When I'm in the city itself, I always need help. Should I not be able to walk at all, the situation would be even much more difficult. Nevertheless, things are improving slowly. New houses must be built without obstacles and I'm able to visit a theatre or another cultural event. Before the revolution, there were no amenities at all. Most improvements came after the Czech Republic became a member of the European Union. The European laws have improved the living conditions of the Czech disabled. Still, there's a lot to be done. Another accessibility problem are the wheelchair toilets which are often used as a storage room.'
Not only the physical and financial circumstances slowly improve. The general attitude of non-disabled Czech people with regard to their disabled compatriots is shifting too. Jitka tells that before the revolution people with a disability were looked down at. That has changed, but not totally. Lubos often still notices that he's the one other people speak to when he's out with Jitka. 'It's like they find it more easy, more comfortable, to speak to me', he says. The couple has experienced a better attitude towards the disabled in other European countries like Italy, Austria and Germany. When people are willing to help Jitka, they often don't know how to do that correctly. Therefore Jitka thinks the non-disabled should have to be obliged to place themselves into the position of a person with a disability one time. 'Let them experience how it is to sit in a wheelchair. That will change their minds and make them understand what kind of help is needed.'
The importance of support
The lack of social contacts is the largest problem for Jitka with regard to her disability. 'I don't work, I can't go everywhere I want to. I miss many social contacts. Fortunately, my parents are a big support and also my husband's employer helped us. When my son was born, Lubos had to take care of him. His boss agreed that he could work from home. My daughter is temporarily living in another apartment, but she will live with us again as soon as the new home is ready. My son has never known anything else than that I have a disability. At the time he reaches the age to start asking questions about my physical condition, I will tell him openly how it has come this way. I hope he will take care of us when we're old.'
Another big support for Jitka is a local ngo for disabled people she participates in. 'There, I meet other people who are in the same position. Together we try to arrange things for the better. For instance, nowadays there's a lot more of red tape that coincides with being disabled. Because of the financial situation, there is a long waiting list for getting rehabilitation. In earlier days, you only needed a note of your own doctor to be allowed to attend it. Now, one first has to attend all kinds of researches first before one is allowed to get rehabilitation. It looks like the government has not enough knowledge of the problems that are going along with health care for the disabled.'
Jitka didn't give a favourite song. The situation in the Czech Republic with the floods, beginning of June, made she had other things on her mind.
Copyright text: Johan Peters, June 9th 2013 - ...