We Are was a social event organized on September 14th in Lithuania to raise awareness of the problems disabled people face everyday. Even though event took place in 20 municipalities it received little attention from society, politics and media compared to the uproar over the Paralympics prize sizes.
Lithuanian athletes won two gold medals in Rio 2016 Summer Paralympics. The Paralympian champions were Mindaugas Bilius, who won Men‘s shot put, and Lithuanian goalball team. Even though Lithuanian national television did not broadcast even one match, the media started to catch up when it turned out that the Olympian gold medallists get an almost 6 times bigger bonus prize compared to Paraolympians.
Discussion about inequality has evolved in the public sphere since then. Politicians have doubled the prizes and are discussing to even them. However, as Lithuanian journalist Andrius Tapinas pointed out in his article written for Lithuanian news portal Delfi.lt, the discussion should not be focused on the prizes but on conditions in which athletes are training (the trainer of current champion M. Bilius was working without being paid) and on the general situation of disabled people in Lithuania.
“There was an N-18 sign on the screen during online broadcast of Summer Paralympics 2012, so that images of disabled would not affect or scare children”, says R. Kavaliauskaitė, who is the President of the Union of People with Disabilities and the organiser of the social event We Are. She also confirmed that Paralympian athletes have raised the question of equal prizes many times before. Even though she admits that prizes are inadequate, better living conditions for the disabled are the most important. We Are event was focused exactly on this.
In the whole country only 20 out of 60 municipalities took part in the event. The organisers hoped for a bigger interest and participation. However, event was useful. Participants had round table discussions, checked if disabled people can access different buildings and reviewed the availability of parking. According to the President of the Union of People with Disabilities, it is good just being visible and going outside.
“It paralyzes me a second time”, says Rasa Kavaliauskaitė when she talks about the lack of basic facilities for disabled people, especially in rural areas. Politicians’ excuse is not having enough money to solve these problems. According to R. Kavaliauskaitė, some institutions refuse to make buildings accessible for disabled people, because there are very few of them and it is not worth it. However, reality is that they cannot leave their homes.
Jolanta Šliužienė, the Deputy Director of The Council for the Affairs of the Disabled under the Government of the Republic of Lithuania, says that education is the main problem. Schools are not suited for children with disabilities; they do not provide specialists and proper training for them. Even though J. Šliužienė confirms that it would be better to have all children in one school, she says that parents would protest because of the stereotype that the level of education will drop. She adds that because of such stereotypical way of thinking and low level of awareness we lose in “social sphere”.