Blogbox | #IWouldChange

I want to go out freely

By - 16.02.2022

Kosovo’s infrastructure discriminates against people with disabilities.

“I want to go out by myself,” a friend told me one day.

It would have never crossed my mind that going out on your own could be such a big dream for someone, much less that going out alone could be such a great challenge. When I heard this sentence, or rather, this wish from my friend, I stopped and thought about how many activities we take for granted and how many things that we experience as ordinary are inaccessible to others.

My friend wanted to walk the streets alone. My blind friend wanted to walk the streets of Prishtina without an attendant and without fear. This was his wish –– an everyday activity that most of us do without a thought.

People with disabilities face so many difficulties that their desires are sometimes limited to basic ones, like walking freely through the city. The roads are not friendly to them. The sidewalks –– narrow, in disrepair, often blocked by cars –– discriminate. This forces people like my friend to give up on their desires and lose out on their freedom.

Discriminatory sidewalks

This brief conversation motivated me to become more interested in solutions to this problem. One of these potential solutions is tactile sidewalks, which are rarely seen in Prishtina. These sidewalks are made of a special type of pavement that helps people with visual impairments orient themselves, thus making the streets less dangerous and more accessible. It’s a solution that seems small, but for someone like my friend would equal freedom.

Sidewalks also continue to be too narrow and the curbs too high. Every day on my commute, walking the streets is a challenge. I am exposed to the constant danger of tripping or of being hit by a car when I have to step into the road because someone has blocked the sidewalks.

Instead of serving pedestrians, our sidewalks serve as parking lots, spaces for businesses, and who knows what else. They don’t serve their purpose. Imagine what this means for people with disabilities. It is the deprivation of their freedom of movement, a fundamental human right.

Imagine the journey of a visually impaired person or someone in a wheelchair. Sidewalks are just the beginning. Imagine if a person in a wheelchair wanted to do something quite ordinary, like going out and having a coffee with friends. But for them it will not be so ordinary. Apart from sidewalks that seem to get narrower by the day, most likely the cafe will not have a wheelchair ramp. When this person wants to go to work or to the store, or anywhere, these activities can be extremely challenging.

People with disabilities should not be left to rely on help from passers-by. They should have equal access to public space.

How many times have you seen two or three people helping a person in a wheelchair enter spaces like a shop, cafeteria or institution? What happens when those three people are not around? People with disabilities should not be left to rely on help from passers-by. They should have equal access to public space. 

What if a person in a wheelchair needs to go get a document at a public institution? Or if they want to vote? Or what if they simply need to go and ask for information?

If the same person has to seek help in public institutions, most likely they will not be able to enter, because public institutions are not accessible. This is discriminatory. In fact, even in the Assembly of Kosovo, the elevator that enables people with disabilities to enter this institution has been fixed just recently.

A report issued in 2020 by the organization HANDIKOS shows that Kosovo has met only 6.5% of international standards for accessibility for people with disabilities. The same reality goes for many schools, despite the fact that going to school is a fundamental right.

My friend does not have big dreams, he just wants access to his rights. He wants public space to belong to him as much as it belongs to others. Perhaps, if this basic requirement was fulfilled, it would pave the way for him to pursue other dreams, bigger ones. This is the change I am desperately looking for in Kosovo, a public space for all.

Image: Arrita Katona / K2.0.