Poor accessibility for the disabled still a problem in the Czech Republic

Inaccessibility to public places, the lack of barrier-free public transport, and discrimination at work and schools: these are some of the most frequent problems for disabled people living in the Czech Republic. These results follow from a survey recently commissioned by the National Council for the Disabled.

The latest survey was carried out among people with disabilities to find out how often they encounter discrimination and to define problems they face in everyday life. One of the most alarming findings was the inaccessibility of public places. Vaclav Krasa is the chairman of the National Council for the Disabled.

“More than 50% of public buildings have certain barriers, but they can be overcome. However, more than 30% have insurmountable barriers. There are only 10% of institutions which have completely barrier-free access.”

Although a law was passed in 1995, requiring that all public buildings be accessible to the disabled, the bill only applies to newly built or renovated sites. As a result, vast majority of public areas still remain hard to access or remain fully inaccessible. Jarmila Onderkova of the Prague Organization of Wheelchair Users confirms lack of access remains an all-too common problem:

“Even nowadays you sometimes cannot get to a cinema, a theatre or a gallery because they are not accessible. The same thing happens in shops. But the most common problem is stairs. It’s true that nowadays people are willing to help but that’s not a solution.”

Mrs Onderkova, who has travelled across the whole of Europe, says the Czech Republic is still lagging behind, especially when it comes to the public transport system:

“When I compare this country to Norway or other European countries, there are still problems, especially with transport. In other countries, people in wheelchairs are not dependant on their cars, because the public transport is easily accessible. Here in Prague there are some barrier-free lines that go to certain localities, but they don’t run at weekends and they are limited to certain times. If you want to get a job, the workplace has to be located on these barrier-free lines.”

Although the situation in the country is far from ideal, there are some positive signs: The Prague Organization of Wheelchair Users began cooperating with students of architecture to help them understand – and address - the needs of the disabled. Also, the National Council for the Disabled has launched a project to remove some of the most serious barriers:

“We are now preparing a major project financed from the EU funds. We want to do a so-called barrier audit of the Czech Republic to find out which institutions are not accessible to the disabled. According to the results, regional authorities can use their operational programmes to eliminate these barriers.”