In the cold and rainy periods, I was waiting in the rain in front of the cafeteria building for one of the kitchen staff to get me my meal and come back. If there was an access ramp, I would have gone myself into the cafeteria and would have eaten my meals with other students.
This is how Darko Stojanovski, a university student from the village of Rzhanichino, in the vicinity of Skopje, the capital of North Macedonia, recollects his misfortune and the challenges he faces in the Stiv Naumov dormitory, in the Skopje settlement of Avtokomanda. He is a second-year student at the Institute of Social Work at the Faculty of Philosophy at the Sts. Cyril and Methodius University (UKIM) and this year he is staying in a student dormitory for the first time.
Stojanovski is in a wheelchair due to Osteogenesis imperfecta, and the real challenge in his everyday life is access to the dormitory cafeteria, which was practically impossible until now.
Until yesterday, the five steps at the cafeteria entrance were the only access to the lunchroom. The lack of an access ramp made it impossible for Stojanovski to have three meals per day in the cafeteria where all the other students eat.
After Meta.mk – ten days ago – announced it will produce a video story and shoot the cafeteria building in the Stiv Naumov dormitory and its entrance, the object of the cafeteria swiftly got an access ramp. The dormitory management arranged it through a company donation.
“I’ve lived here since the start of this academic year and I have had a great problem with the student cafeteria. Now there is no access ramp, although I have submitted pleas to many instances for construction of a ramp, Stojanovski explained on the 24th of February.
He has lived in the dormitory since last October, and despite the fact that on several occasions he requested the construction of an access ramp, the works started only a few days ago, and only after Meta.mk applied for permission to shoot and filmed the location.
The absence of an access ramp means inadequate and unequal access for the students to the cafeteria for a very long time. Thus, it is crystal clear in the light of the Law on Prevention and Protection from Discrimination, that an act of discrimination has been committed.
“Discrimination shall mean any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on discriminatory grounds, whether by doing or omission, aimed at or resulting in preventing, restricting, recognizing, enjoying or exercising the rights and freedoms of any person or group on equal ground with the others. This shall cover all forms of discrimination, including disabling the reasonable accommodation and disabling the accessibility and availability of infrastructure, goods and services”, specifies the definition of discrimination provided in the Law on Prevention and Protection from Discrimination.
Darko informed all the concerned institutions – State Student Dormitory “Skopje”, the Ministry of Education and Science, the Government, the Ombudsman, but also the National Coordinating Body for Implementation of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and the Monitoring Body for Implementation of the Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities about the challenges he faces.
“So far, I’ve received two emails from the Ombudsman’s Office, informing me that a request has been sent to the State Student Dormitory and that they expect a response. The Government called me last December to ask if there are any changes, and I answered that nothing has changed. They offered to move me to another dormitory, but I answered that it doesn’t suit me, because I study at the Faculty of Philosophy, so in that case, I would need to use public transportation. The State Student Dormitory also called and promised to fix the problem, but a lot of time has passed since then”, said Stojanovski when we interviewed him.
At the time, Darko was waiting for his food at the back entrance of the cafeteria with a tray in his hand. The kitchen staff is assisting him in getting his breakfasts, lunches and suppers from the cafeteria in the Stiv Naumov dormitory.
Unable to enter the cafeteria, he has been eating his meals in his room in one of the buildings of the student dormitory.
“I have the phone numbers of some of the cafeteria staff and I call them to tell them that I am coming. I take a tray from the room, go to the official entrance for the employees, they come out, put food on my tray and I return to my room to eat”, Darko explained.
The biggest problem for him, as he said, was when it was cold and rainy outside. Under the rain he had to wait at the back door of the cafeteria until the employees came out with his food.
Stojanovski says that he requested an access ramp built as soon as possible, not only for himself, but also for the future students in wheelchairs – so that they would not have to face the same challenges he experiences and to use the cafeteria like any other student in the dormitory.
“A ramp is like an ordinary staircase for an “ordinary” person to climb. And if there is no staircase, the person would not be able to climb up. The ramp is a kind of a staircase that enables people to get somewhere,” Stojanovski says.
The State Student Dormitory “Skopje” confirmed to Meta.mk that the construction of the access ramp is in its final stage. What should be done now is to install a railing, so that the access ramp will be safe to use.
“As suggested by the student and the Ombudsman, and despite the fact that we do not have funds for such a requirement, we managed to build the access ramp through a company donation. The construction is made of concrete, according to unified accessibility standards, so only the railing will be installed today and the ramp will be operational”, Viktor Velevski, President of SSD “Skopje” said.
Velevski adds that all students should have equal access to food and to every aspect of student life. He said that all student dormitories managed by SSD have an access ramp for the disabled.
“I must mention that building 3 of Stiv Naumov dormitory has access only to the ground floor of the building, and due to the fact that it is a building built in the 90’s it is not equipped with an elevator that allows access for persons with physical disabilities. The project for the renovation of buildings 1,2 and 3 in Stiv Naumov dormitory envisages overcoming of this problem by providing access of the bodily impaired persons to all the floors, so they can be equal with the other students in opting for rooms on the upper floors,” Velevski explains.
Otherwise Osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as brittle bone disease, is a genetic disorder of connective tissues, characterized by inability to synthesize or process collagen type 1, i.e. an increased tendency towards fractures and reduced bone density.
Stojanovski says that he is one of the most active users of a wheelchair and is independent and has no problem moving around the courtyard of the student dormitory and in the dorm room No.: 7 where he is living and which was adapted to his needs. He told us how he spends every day, and how he goes to the Faculty of Philosophy, which is about two kilometers away from Stiv Naumov student dormitory. For the weekends, he goes to his home in Rzhanichino to spend time with his family.
He also goes swimming.