They Have “Something to Say,” and We Should Listen

It’s peak summer in Timisoara, Romania. The outdoor café’s wooden table is bustling. “But do we have a right to protest the signs in the park? This issue is about children and we are all adults,” says Cristina. Someone swiftly clarifies, “Of course we do. We only do not have a right to kill or harm another person.” Dana adds, “I’ll tell you the one right we do not have. We do not have the right to quit.” In the background there is a constant clicking of the camera, Dan is taking photographs.

Meet Ceva de Spus, a fledgling movement of determined Romanian self-advocates that has become a formidable force fighting to advance disability rights in Timisoara. Ceva de Spus—meaning “Something to Say”—is a befitting name for this group of young activists, who are slowly but surely transforming this university town with their loud and clear message calling for an end to discrimination against people with disabilities. Having physical and intellectual disabilities themselves, the advocates of Ceva de Spus are intimately familiar with the constant discrimination, stigma, and limited access to public and private spaces and services that people with disabilities encounter on a daily basis in every area of life. For instance, Geanina, a recent graduate of the Arts specializing in fashion design, is a wheelchair user who pursued her undergraduate degree despite the fact that her class was inaccessible and she needed to be carried up stairs everyday for years.

It has been an unusually busy summer for the group. The current meeting was to come up with a plan of action to get the city to pull down discriminatory signs at a public playground. The biggest playground in the center of Timisoara had hung several signs that barred children with disabilities from accessing equipment including the seesaw, swing sets, slides, and trampoline. “This basically leaves children with disabilities with virtually nothing to play at the park, except the grass,” observed Sergiu, one of the members.

Earlier in August, in another incident, Cosmin Mihai Milos, a self advocate, was prohibited from entering ZHH Termal swimming pool without a personal assistant, despite the fact that he has been an accomplished swimmer for years. Following the incident, Ceva de Spus met with the pool owner and manager to explain that the policy was discriminatory. Cosmin was finally allowed entry into the pool. Later Cristina, another member of the group, volunteered to go to the pool to see if she would be allowed entry and she was. “We are happy to note that ZHH Termal pool has since changed its policy,” says Cosmin.

In relation to the playground, Ceva de Spus advocates submitted a letter highlighting the issue to the National Commission for Combatting Discrimination. They held one planning meeting, followed by an organized protest the next day at the park. Self advocates were joined by children with disabilities, their parents, and also parents of children without disabilities who were playing at the park. Following considerable pressure from the group and the local media attention they generated, the signs were painted over, the next day. The mayor’s office has now pledged to install accessible play equipment in the park. The self advocates of Ceva de Spus are elated with the outcome and the quick turnaround.

Unfortunately there are still several playgrounds in Timisoara were children with disabilities are not permitted to play together with the others, so the members of Ceva de Spus will have meetings and protests in every playground until the municipality will respect Article 30 of the UN Convention on Rights of People with Disabilities. When asked what’s next for the group, they softly reiterate their simple goal: “To make Timisoara completely accessible by 2020.” Not a tall order for this tenacious group.

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