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A brighter future for Romania’s most vulnerable

11 May 2015
Posted by James Thornberry

26 years since the fall of communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, has anything really changed for Romania’s most vulnerable citizens?

Ahead of the 16th Deafblind International World Conference at the end of this month, Director of Sense International, James Thornberry, explains why he believes the country is making progress despite its many obstacles.

In 1990, the horror of Romania’s orphanages and state institutions was revealed to the world. Images emerged of emaciated disabled children and orphans living in horrific and overcrowded conditions. According to Government statistics at the time, there were no chhildren with disabilities in Romania.

Sense International started working in Romania in 1999. Many of the children the charity first worked with had spent time in these notorious institutions. At the time, there were no services available in the country for deafblind and multi-sensory impaired people. Many were misdiagnosed as having severe learning disabilities with no effort being made to teach them how to communicate.

Fast forward 26 years and despite becoming a member of the European Union in 2007, Romania struggles with wealth distribution. 14 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line and the government has limited resources to allocate to the estimated deafblind population of around 8,400 people.

However, since we established our presence in Romania, we have seen a new level of support and understanding from the Government.

Thanks to Sense International’s campaigning, a significant milestone was reached in 2006 when deafblindness was legally recognised as a distinct disability. As a result, much-needed services for deafblind people are growing.

At an international level, Romania ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities in 2010 and this too has been an important step forward for the rights of people with disabilities in Romania.

On a practical level, Sense International played a key role in establishing neonatal screening programmes at four maternity units. Since then, over 50,000 babies have had hearing and vision screening. These newborns can now receive help at three Early Intervention Centres.

We have coordinated the development of an Early Intervention Curriculum for the rehabilitation of children with deafblindness, which has recently been approved and endorsed by the Ministry of National Education.

Sense International also successfully convinced the Romanian government that children with deafblindness can be educated; ensuring that education legislation in Romania makes provision for deafblind children. As a result, 42 special education units for children with deafblindness have now been established.

Promoting the rights of Romania’s disabled people, and ensuring people with deafblindness can access the services they need, is an ongoing challenge, however, progress has undoubtedly been made and future for disabled people in Romania continues to improve.

Romania will be hosting the 16th World Conference of Deafblind International in Bucharest, 25-30 May 2015.  

You can find a full schedule and further information and tickets on the Conference website.

James Thornberry is Director of Sense International

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First published: Friday 7 June 2013
Last updated: Thursday 18 September 2014