‘Not accepting your disability is a disability’

The interview with Traian below was written in 2014 and just a snapshot. I have no idea how he is doing now.
Traian Stanciu was born with a cerebral palsy in 1980. It was discovered when it turned out he could not stand straight after several months. It was the communist period in Romania and doctors were reluctant to treat him. As a little child he went to an institution to get medical help and at the age of 10/11, after the revolution, he spent a lot of time in hospitals to get operated. At the age of 34, Traian has difficulty with walking concerning both legs and with using his both hands. But, he lives a full life, almost independently.
His parents have played an important role in this. In those communist years, many disabled children were placed out of home. His parents to the contrary decided to raise their son themselves. In 1990 his mother even was one of the people who took the initiative to establish the Association of Support for Disabled Children, the A.S.C.H.F. (www.aschfr.ro), which aims to let children and adolescents with a disability exploiting their potential and becoming a full member of society. His mother now works for another NGO that focuses on human rights and the fight against discrimination.
Traian has certainly been influenced by his mother’s example. He worked as a volunteer for the A.S.C.H.F. as well from 1999 until 2003, after which followed work for other NGO’s which focus on disability or human rights matters. Right now, he gives trainings for several NGO’s when he’s asked to. Those could be about disability matters, but also about the discrimination of the Roma. Besides all his volunteer work, Traian used to work for his own small advertising agency. Unfortunately, he had to stop his agency due to the financial crisis. He uses the current situation of not working to take a break. ‘I’m finally able to watch my movie collection. I have 3,000 movies.’
Accessibility difficulties in Bucharest
Despite his mobility problems, Traian is able to get around in Bucharest on his own. He therefore doesn’t face many difficulties as far as accessibility is concerned. ‘I can go wherever I want. I guess it’s more difficult to move around in Bucharest for wheelchair users or blind people. In some way, the public transport has been adjusted to them. There are elevators in the metro. Buses have a sign saying they are suited for wheelchair users. Public institutions have also been adjusted, more or less. What is difficult is walking on the pavement. Cars are being parked on the sidewalk, which still has a too high curb as well. Bucharest was never meant to become such a big city as it is today. With so many people, it is now a matter of who has the loudest voice: the car drivers or the disabled people. Nonetheless, there has been a positive change in people’s attitude towards the disabled. The non-disabled are more helpful these days. They don’t turn their heads like ten/fifteen years ago. They have become more used to see disabled people on the streets. I don’t know whether it is because of the work of the NGO’s to make people aware about disabilities or it is because of the media. Social life has become more open. Disabled people can be seen on television. You can find information on the internet.’
Financial situation of the Romanian disabled
Romanians with a disability are entitled to financial support by the state. Traian also gets this aid. ‘The sum one gets depends on the degree of the disability. I get a sum for myself and a sum with which I can pay my personal assistant. In total, it’s around 100 euro. Of course, that’s not enough. In a way, I think that’s good. It encourages people to try to get a job. Which is not easy to find. Companies do not put much effort in adjusting their workplaces for disabled people. On the other hand, there are also people in the target group who stick to the thought that society is marginalizing them and who do not try enough themselves to be part of society. They often have been raised in very protective families.’
Do you receive your money on time? There’s said to be a lot of corruption in Romania.
‘The fluctuation of money is indeed a great problem in Romania. The flow of money doesn’t always go the legal way, as to speak. I don’t have problems with receiving my money on time.
‘With regard to the personal assistance: until recently, it was my mother who helped me. I can practically do everything myself, but dressing takes a lot of time. She helped me with that, just like with doing the washing. I never looked for another personal assistant, although I believe one can hire them. I have been living with my girlfriend for a year, so I don’t depend on my mother’s help anymore.’    
Accepting his disability
Traian has accepted his disability from the start. ‘Not accepting your disability is a disability. I know some people who haven’t. I always try to empower other disabled people to find good examples in life. I get sad when I hear about disabled youngsters who are still depending on their elders. Everyone should have a little bit of success in life in what he does. One mustn’t sit still. I know I’m lazy myself as well. I like to be helped. That’s something I must try to overcome. I mustn’t ignore that.
‘I like to travel. I’ve already been to different countries. I love the idea of dying in New York. I want to be an active part of society, to connect people in Bucharest. Disabled and non-disabled. That’s why I still give trainings. It’s important for me as well to continue this. If I would have a child one day, I would certainly encourage it to work for a NGO too. You learn things by it you won’t learn elsewhere. Being active in civil society is very important.
‘I have the impression Romanians are getting more involved into voluntary work than at the time I was 20. They take part in little projects to improve their life in Romania. The Romanian membership of the EU is an important factor in this. Romanians have always looked at the West, already during communism. The media have increased the interest of the youngsters in how people live in Western-Europe. With tv, internet etc. they enjoy a large information flow these days. What should change in Romania, is the way the country is being ruled. The current politicians are too old to change society in a modern one, but youngsters are not enthusiastic to become a politician. Myself included. At least, not now. Maybe within a couple of years.’
Besides watching movies, listening to music is another favorite occupation of Traian. Depeche Mode is his favorite band. Therefore at his request: Depeche Mode with ‘World in my eyes’.     
Copyright: Johan Peters, May 26th 2014 - …