Coordinated by Aurelian GIUGĂL


Social integration of people with severe visual impairment

Case Study: “Queen Elizabeth” School Centre - Prospects for the future[i]




Ph.D. student at Doctoral School of Political Science, University of Bucharest

Abstract: The issue of social inclusion and subsequently the assistance of the poor or those suffering from physical disabilities existed in Romania since the XIII century, but only in the late twentieth century people with severe visual impairment were able to exercise their fundamental rights: equality, access to public life, free access to education, the right to have a job. After 1989, the concept of assisting people with disabilities experienced a transformation: if social assistance represented only a service which often translates into financial benefits, after the fall of communism, it aimed the restoring of the normal functioning of society as a whole that is in close correlation to action. Also after the fall of communism were prefigured the main programs of social inclusion of persons with disabilities: both the state system by its Directorate of Social Assistance and Protection of People with Disabilities and the associative environment by the National Association of People with Disabilities and the Association of the Blind in Romania started programs and partnerships with European institutions on the employment of deficiencies, implementation of new technologies with synthetic voice for the blind, virtual libraries and audio-books, and coexistence among healthy individuals in collective projects. This article contains information on the educational institution School Centre “Queen Elizabeth” from Bucharest, Romania, and a qualitative research carried out with graduates of this particular center, respectively a number of 10 persons who have graduated from the school in both communist and post- communist regime. The main research objective is to present concrete situations in which blind people, graduates of a special institution, fight for their desire to integrate into the community, and what does the state do to help them in achieving their goal.


Keywords: equality, education, institution, integration, social assistance, social inclusion, state.


1.          INTRODUCTION

This article aims to determine the causes that led to the marginalization of people suffering from visual impairment and inventories the measures taken by the authorities and NGOs to achieve social integration of the disadvantaged categories. Are these policies in support of the great mass of blind or only few know and have access to these facilities? Social integration emphasis will be placed on the blind people’s ability to integrate from a socio- professional perspective, the barriers they faced in finding a job, and the relationship they develop with coworkers. Another aspect that will be discussed in this paper aims to technological development and new demands on the labor market that will be expected to be performed by the blind. With the development of IT industry, also the educational process will undergo significant changes: will the Braille alphabet be replaced with more advanced synthetic voice software? Within this research I will present the trends in this field of special education.

As defined by Law 519/2002, “persons with disabilities are those who live in a social environment which is inadequate for their physical, psychical, sensory, mental deficiencies and totally impede their access to equal opportunities in society, according to age, gender, or material, social and cultural factors, requiring special protection measures to support their social and professional integration.”[ii] It can be easily observed that the official definition emphasizes on the barriers that these people have to overcome in order to adapt to the social environment and not on techniques that should be implemented by social services to ensure the right to an independent life which would turn a passive deficient receptor of economic benefits into an active one that should be able to obtain his monthly care needed income by himself.

In support of my research, I will appeal to a “qualitative method”[iii], the interview, through which I will try to find, with the help of a special school graduates from Bucharest, answers and solutions to research questions. I decided to do a qualitative study because of the complexity and depth posed by this type of research. Compared with quantitative research, qualitative research “adopts a narrower coverage to avoid causal heterogeneity, and the selection of cases is geared towards positive cases for the dependent variable”[iv]. I will interview subjects that are selected from among the graduates of School Center no. 1 “Queen Elizabeth”, students who have completed their level of education in the communist period or in the transition to democracy period. I chose this time distribution to underline possible developments and changes in the field of special education in Bucharest and how these educational changes contributed to social change of people with visual disabilities.

The conclusions of this research will summarizes how the social integration of the blind is possible in Romania, in the context of technological change and labor market instability. At the same time, I emphasize in conclusion social integration’s complexity and its high temporal duration. Romanian case is not unique in Europe, but in the Western world factors of social inclusion of disadvantaged persons were more numerous: West did not experience the communist system in which people with disabilities were excluded from public life. This thinking has had negative consequences on those who lived under communism and systematically continued to penalize and to marginalize deficient.

The current situation in Romania regarding the status of persons with disabilities is quite sensitive to both public opinion and political class. Recent studies conducted by NGOs show that general attitudes towards people with disabilities is a veiled rejection which is manifested through discrimination, isolation, marginalization and sometimes pity. A study regarding the general opinion on people with disabilities conducted in 2006 brought to light that “only 45 % of respondents know a person with disabilities, of which 1 % say they had direct contact with it at work or at school”[v]. For the vast majority of the population, people with disabilities are almost invisible, and they should not attend school nor have friends. This is a sad truth that cannot go unnoticed by international institutions responsible for protecting this category. The new European Commission directives coerces Romania to provide more support and assistance to people with disabilities, who continue to be marginalized and disadvantaged in the labor market and society. Echoes of these new European regulations are found in several draft laws adopted or amended after 2007, “through which are reproduced and enlarged the spheres of competence of non-governmental organizations dealing with improving the condition of the blind in Romania”[vi]. However, public authorities (local and general directions for People with Disabilities and Ministry of Labour, Family and Social Protection) started a series of new social inclusion projects to support people with disabilities with effects already visible in society. Nevertheless, the blind’s situation remains an issue in the private sphere, where it continues the discrimination despite favorable legislation for their employment in different organizations.




The idea of supporting people with visual impairment came to life in the XIII century, and its evolution has seen many different stages of development. Late nineteenth century was when the blind people across the country have made an important step towards social integration. Until then, out of a total of 470 blind children identified at the census of 1899 in Transylvania, only 38 had a minimum degree of education.[vii] Therefore, it was decided to construct schools for this social category in order to educate them and promise them a normal life. All these measures could not be initiated without the immense contribution of the inventors of the alphabet for blind people - Louis Braille and Valentin Haui who have laid the foundations of special education for people with visual impairment.

The internal context of the early 20th century Romania shows the sympathy of the Romanian elite for the French society and the social model of welfare characteristic of this society. With Ion Vasile Tassu, the first Romanian blind person who was educated at the Paris National Institute for Blind Children, the history of assisting visually impaired people in Romania has acquired other implications. Following the study and later the integration into society of blind people in France, Ion Tassu and Romanians wanted to show that with darkness, a man's life does not end, but on the contrary, very different and more sensitive dimensions emerge. Ion Tassu managed to establish in 1901 the first class devoted exclusively to people with visual impairments in Focsani, Romania.[viii] This class was integrated into the regular education system under the Ministry of Education.

These first attempts to educate children with visual impairments did not leave the Romanian political class uninvolved, especially the monarchy represented by Queen Elizabeth. She tried to provide support on behalf of the crown to poor citizens, to the disabled and the suffering. Because the queen herself was suffering from a visual disorder   - cataract that was unsuccessfully operated by the Royal Palace’s ophthalmologist, her commitment to blind people was particularly special. Therefore, the task King Carol I of Hohenzollern entrusted her with was considered a social and patriotic act. The devotion with which Her Majesty took care of blind people in Romania is reflected in the many institutions that she created in order to help them: the School Workshop for young adults and blind, the charitable society of “Vatra Luminoasa”' and The Blind People Asylum from “Vatra Luminoasa”.[ix] In order to build these institutions of culture and support for young blind people, the royalty acquired in 1901 12.5 acres in the area of eastern Bucharest where in 1912 the Asylum "Vatra Luminoasa” and the Primary School will open their gates. These two institutions will have, from that date, the name of the EstablishmentVatra Luminoasa.[x]

The queen’s initiative to establish a series of structures to support people with visual impairments was encouraged by Theodore Roosevelt, the US president at the time, who contributed with a part of the funds required to build these settlements. The whole project had a significant role and Ion Tassu, who as a graduate of such institution in Paris, influenced the queen to take the French model of institutional organization, thus demonstrating that young blind people will be able to easily integrate in the Romanian society. The prestige enjoyed by the establishment Vatra Luminoasa determined the local authorities in Bucharest in 1920 to change the name of the street on which the institution was built, the Mărcuța–între-vii to Vatra Luminoasa Street. Later, the name “Vatra Luminoasa” was extended to the whole eastern district of the capital, becoming the first case in Europe where an entire neighborhood is named after an institution dedicated to blind people.[xi]

Nicolae Ionescu noted in the monograph on the settlement of “Vatra Luminoasa” that this institution has transformed a world of doomed by fate and illiterate into a world of educated and trained people able to integrate among the country’s citizens.[xii] In the eyes of the union of Romanian Principalities the discrimination of blind people was a real deal, so with the emergence of special legislations during the first decades of the twentieth century, a number of rights for these individuals were conceived, rights and duties that put the disabled and the healthy on an equal footing: the right to be trained and to acquire a job, the right to have a job in the civil society, the right to have a family and the duty to be subjects of any law in force in the State and be responsible for penalties in case of breaching these laws.[xiii]

The whole building of Vatra Luminoasa had the outset role of helping the blind youth and their families. Initially, the plan to help the blind people targeted only Bucharest and the surrounding areas, but subsequently, enjoying external support through donations from the US President and the Romanian monarchy, the project was extended to the whole country, the institution operating also at a regional level through subsidiaries. There were 70 “Vatra Luminoasa” Regional Societies, and were aimed mainly at fundraising, identifying people with visual impairment and evaluating their recommendation for the Establishment of Bucharest.[xiv]

With the outbreak of World War I in Romania, things suddenly get worse for the Establishment of Vatra Luminoasa as well: the lack of donations, the increasing number of disabled people, few healthcare professionals and staff led to the degradation of living conditions for the people in the institution. With the worsening of the social and political context and the occupation imposed by Austro-German troops, the situation of the blind youth from Vatra Luminoasa becomes critical: in addition, an epidemic of typhus ended many lives amongst the teachers and the elderly, the disaster culminating with a strong fire that destroyed more than half of the living space. The dismissal of teachers and cessation of workshops forced some to return to their families. Only two years after the closure of the military conflict, the Establishment for blind people will be reorganized and refurbished along with the recommencing of the study, interrupted also by the Great War.[xv] Through the efforts of Prof. Ion Tassu, the school was moved to Ghica Palace, where it will encounter functional difficulties for three years, until the work at the Establishment of Vatra Luminoasa will be completed. Only in the fall of 1923 the school will resume its activity in Vatra Luminoasa.[xvi]

Starting with 1923, the first legislative initiatives on the organization and functioning of social assistance are drafted in Romania. From that time until 1943 all social security issues were the responsibility of the Ministry of Public Health, Labor and Social Care.[xvii] Immediately after the First World War, the Establishment of “Vatra Luminoasa” acquired legal personality and a Board of Directors starts commanding its activities. The new status of the establishment stipulated the internal organization and management of the institution, which was the responsibility of a doctor, the design of the activities, their scope, the academic organization and its funding. It is interesting to note that the term “asylum” did not have a negative association in this period, as a century ago the same terminology indicated a place for people with disabilities, poor or impoverished. At the asylum in Bucharest, production workshops used by blind people to manufactures products were in place, products were subsequently sold and the income earned from the sale of these products returned to the people. These additional revenues were combined with ordinary subsidy from the state, so that this social category could have a certain economic autonomy, contributing in this way to the mental integrity of those people.[xviii]

In 1925, inside the settlement of “Vatra Luminoasa” a statue was built dedicated to Queen Elizabeth for the immense contribution she has had in developing this project. The event was a reverent one, attended by the Prime Minister I.C. Brătianu who actually contributed with the necessary funds for the payment of the settlement construction.[xix] In the same year, Professor Tassu started a fundraising campaign to build a school dedicated to all visually impaired people, but this time for those who were not assisted at the “Vatra Luminoasa” establishment. With the support of the Ministry of Public Education and of the Society “Friends of the Blind People”, the new school was completed in the fall of 1925. The next period was prolific for the educational institution, increasing their number of teachers and growing diversity of activities: the primary school syllabus was almost identical to the one of a regular education system, comprising first grade subjects like grammar, writing, memorizing, composition, mathematics and religion. In grades II, III and IV students were introduced to geography, history, natural sciences and physics, defining a more significant degree of complexity and academic efficiency this way. The latter was enhanced by the functional development of higher grade, the post-primary period comprising three years of study, after which graduates could enroll in a mainstream school based on entrance exam.[xx]

Before the outbreak of World War II, the schools and workshops for the blind youth enjoyed optimal conditions for activities both in educational and housing terms. With the Second World War the school’s activity is halted again, when a field hospital will be established in Vatra Luminoasa.[xxi] In 1949, the school was closed and students were divided by gender: girls were sent at the school in Buzau, while boys were sent in Cluj.

The communist dictatorship influenced the school of Vatra Luminoasa in a direct manner, leaving a four decades mark of “moments and scenes of great terror and extensive social injustice, and moments that will remain in the history of Romanian schooling for the blind with remarkable results took place.”[xxii] Professor Nicolae Ionescu noted in the monograph addressed to the teacher Ion Tassu that the Romanian communist dictatorship had a positive impact on blind youth literacy, contributing even to the restructuring of university degree education. At the same time, the author mentions the benefits the communist regime in Romania has brought in its early years by introducing a regular payment of disability allowances- the granting of financial and moral support to all categories of disabled persons for training and professionalization. After the party leadership changed its vision and its ways of governing, these benefits were gradually canceled, and the processes of educational and professional development were influenced by the trend of limiting the access of people with visual disabilities in public life. So there was an attempt of segregation of people with disabilities from the rest of the population by creating special sections for them, both in educational institutions and labor: in that period UCECOM was established with special sections for the blind people, the people suffering from amblyopia, and the disabled people, all these within the handicraft cooperatives in Bucharest and the rest of the country.[xxiii] In the same way that an individual directly involved in the educational process in the communist period - Nicolae Ionescu, acknowledged the achievements of the Vatra Luminoasa School had during that period, the same individual could not remain unresponsive to the abuses and compromises of some communist leaders. In the period 1949-1989 the establishment of Vatra Luminoasa and the School for Blind People, were temporarily removed on the reason that their monarchical origin was not consistent with the ideology and party vision. At that moment the blind people were moved to the village of Becicheret in a specially equipped establishment as Bucharest was not seen as a favorable place for their intellectual and professional development.[xxiv] Through this behavior, the trend of marginalization and exclusion of people with disabilities from the public life of a big city - the state capital, can be observed again.

After the Revolution of 1989 a new chapter in the history of special education in Romania began. If during the two world wars and the communist era, special education was possible at the primary and secondary school levels with the possibility of taking courses at the Post-Secondary Medical School, the democratic regime has allowed the blind with a superior intellect to go to college. This freedom to choose enjoyed by the blind people contributed largely to the achievement of the most important changes at the mental and moral level for this category hitherto marginalized: new life conditions, favorable legislation, and a variety of employment opportunities and jobs.

The evolution of technology and the challenge for visual impaired people to keep up with it, as well as modernization of the special educational system was required. The emergence of voice writing systems will bring major changes in the use of classical methods for educating and training blind children- Braille alphabet. Another consequence of the technical development and social evolution is the blind people’s capacity to provide services responding to the new socio-economic requirements, in order to provide themselves the material basis, without resorting to the financial support from social assistance. All these assumptions are based on the blind people’s ability to adapt to the new social conditions, maladjustment leading otherwise to segregation, marginalization and exclusion.






Based on the findings of Prof. Nicolae Ionescu, I shall attempt to capture the changes in the moral and psychological development of blind people in communism and immediately after. How did they manage to integrate in the society after graduating from Vatra Luminoasa Special School in the context of two opposite regimes - communism and democracy?

The “Queen Elizabeth” School Centre had a long history, marked by activity breaks during the communist period. One of the pointers that suggest a disruptive past of the educational institution is in fact its name - initially the school was called “Queen Elizabeth-Primary School for Blind People” then, starting with 1912 both the school and the Vatra Luminoasa Blind Asylum founded by King Charles I through the association “Blind People of Romania” will be called “Vatra Luminoasa Establishment”. Until the rise of the communists to power, the establishment will hardly surpass the two World Wars, and it will even cease its activity for a period, in such a way that in 1950, the “Reeducation Center No.1” (founded by the communists) changed its name to “The Vocational School Centre No.11”. Since 1952, the school for blind people was renamed taking the title of “Special Vocational School No. 5”, and in 1965 the new name of the institution will be “Bucharest School Centre No.1”. Currently, the school for blind people in Vatra Luminoasa is called “Queen Elizabeth” School Centre, thus showing the attachment of people with disabilities for the initiative of the Romanian monarchy.[xxv]

Queen Elizabeth School Centre currently comprises both high school and post-secondary courses, within the institution operating both a high school with four levels (IX-XII) and evening classes (Class XIII), and also a technological high school with technical profile, the basic activity being the manufacturing of wood products, the professional qualification in this area being that of carpenter. Also included in the School Center was the Post-Secondary Medical School of 3 years, the field of activity being that of medical and pedagogical activity with its related specialization - nurse for kinesiotherapy and physical rehabilitation therapy. During the academic year of 2010-2011, the education offer of the School Center was segmented into categories: for secondary education with theoretical, hard sciences and natural sciences profiles/specializations, 12 seats were made available, while for the technological profile with focus on the manufacture of wood products - 24 seats were available. In secondary education, 45 seats were allocated for students grouped into three classes. The staff at the School Centre included 67 teachers and 38 other people, most of them serving as caretakers.[xxvi]   

Using the means of qualitative research (the chosen research method is the interview), I wanted to know how government initiatives for social integration have evolved from the communist era up to the present moment and how are they are perceived by visual impaired people graduating from special education institution. Specifically, the aim of this paper is to determine the social integration opportunities that these graduates have, realizing if necessary a parallel between the communist regime and post-revolutionary regime.

To test the level of social integration of graduates at the Queen Elizabeth School Center in Bucharest is necessary to formulate the research hypotheses. The two main hypotheses of this study are: graduates of the Special School for Blind People in Bucharest have restricted access to the labor market compared to graduates of normal schools; graduates of the Special School for Blind People are discriminated against and marginalized by their healthy peers when participating in joint projects.

The sample consists of 10 individuals selected not only from the graduates of the theoretical and technical high schools, but also from Post-Secondary Medical School. Throughout the paper, two distinct groups were differentiated: 5 subjects have graduated from Vatra Luminoasa School Center during the communist period of 1970-1989, and 5 subjects graduated from the same institution after 1989. We chose this distribution to highlight any changes over the years. The research was conducted with the support of the association of Blind People from Romania and the Queen Elizabeth School Center to which I offer my gratitude for cooperating in this study.

After interviewing a number of 10 graduates of the Queen Elizabeth School Centre in Bucharest, two main lines of approach related to the integration of the blind people into society were revealed. The graduates of the “Queen Elizabeth” School Center in the communist period had another professional development and other contact with the society upon graduation. The practice of class segregation from the rest of the population of persons with disabilities was a normal and common practice in the communist regime: one of the party’s views was that of displaying a perfect society where all citizens participated in the manufacturing process. So those who were unable to fit in the work field were marginalized, being practically excluded from society; the disabled people who could provide services for the benefit of the party or state were grouped in organizations specially designed for them. Through their efforts, they brought their contribution to state building and economic development. All graduates of the school during the communist period said they had to follow a special educational institution as the Commission of local medical expertise did not allow the blind people to accede to mainstream education. The same situation was encountered when the blind people wanted to follow a program of higher education: in addition to the fact that universities did not have the necessary equipment for a blind person to actively participate in the educational process, the access of this category to higher education was not allowed either. The few blind people with higher education who graduated in that period pursued their education in Paris or Western Europe, in institutions aware of their needs. Regarding the relationship with students and teachers at the School Center, subjects admitted that they did not feel discriminated against at all because of their disability, for the simple reason that all pupils and even some teachers had serious vision problems. Thus the similar conditions and sad experiences of the past did not determine the students or the teachers to have a discriminatory attitude towards the students. A respondent who first attended the courses of a normal school, and then was transferred to the special school from Vatra Luminoasa recalled to have experienced a sudden change in her colleagues and teachers behavior when she applied to the special school. At the normal school she was marginalized and discriminated against because of her left eye disease, colleagues calling her “the dim”. Teachers were reluctant with regards to the learning abilities of the respondent, who in the first three years of school did not received the first prize despite having the same grades as the student ranked first in the class because of her disability. Moreover, the teacher ask the respondent parents’ a 'compensation' for the effort she was making by superficially adapting her teaching style to accommodate the needs of the respondent.

Discrimination against blind people was made in communism at the macro level, the access of this category in different systems or programs being restricted. The problem of employment of blind people was a matter which the party approached in a simple way: social and professional inclusions of disabled people meant having a job and participate in the production process. It was not the right of equal opportunities the communist were taking into account, but the jobs they assigned the blind people were specially designed for them. Of the five graduates of the School Center during the communist period, none of them was able to choose a profession according to their skills and preferences, but professions that were specially created for them. The School Center of Vatra Luminoasa allows the possibility of being integrated in the field of medicine by attending the Post-Secondary Medical School. Graduates of this institution became nurses in Physiotherapy, in the massage specialization. Another alternative to the nursing profession was that of carpenter, found more frequently in the case of men. For this qualification, the blind person had to attend the courses of the Technical High School at the Centre of Vatra Luminoasa. The last alternative of employment for a blind person was in manufacturing- cardboard or brushes.

The relationship of blind people with coworkers and team leaders was another point of the interview. This indicates the degree of tolerance, support, compassion a visual impaired person enjoys from his/her team. The responses to this question varied, each of the five respondents describing their own experiences with their colleagues. Generally, the atmosphere was positive, with no open conflicts between the visually impaired people and their colleagues. However, two respondents stated that they had some problems getting used to new colleagues when changing jobs because of the general reluctance communism created which still remains in the Romanian society today. Respondents working in the medical system said that the major problems concerning the relationship with colleagues and marginalization have emerged after the change of legislation for providing access to the medical system: currently, any individual who attends two or three months of massage courses organized by institutions more or less reliable may work in the medical facilities along with the blind people whose medical training consists of years of study and experience. People who do not have any disabilities are preferred even with a minimum training at the expense of those with visual problems with extensive experience in the field.

All blind persons attending the “Queen Elizabeth” School Center are enrolled with a degree of disability through the expertise of a Committee. In most cases, at this institution are admitted the blind people with severe disabilities or depending on the disease history, healing possibility or deficiency compensation. Taking into consideration that the Vatra Luminoasa School Centre has a common history with the association of the Blind People in Romania, currently sharing the same building, all middle school pupils or students are members of this association. All ten respondents in the interviews are active members of the Association of the Blind People in Romania. To become a member, each person with disabilities must compile a medical file and pay an annual fee of 100 lei. Of the 5 respondents who graduated before 1989, all know the general social inclusion programs the association is undertaking. Four of the subjects turned to one of these programs, either for financial support or charity. Currently, the Association develops partnerships with county councils and other public institutions, organizing cultural events, competitions and social activities providing support to people with disabilities who are in need. Not the same can be said about the social inclusion programs run by the public system of social assistance and support to disabled persons. Most respondents are not familiar with these programs, some even saying that they do not feel supported by the authorities or informed of these programs and therefore confidence in the purpose of these programs has decreased.

Like any normal citizen, blind people have passions that they manifest whenever they have the chance. Of the ten respondents, the answers to the question “What do you do in your free time?” were multiple and diverse: reading audio-books, shopping with family, cooking, walking in the parks, hiking, sports, poetry. Perhaps the most frequent hobby among the respondents was music: five of the ten subjects participate annually in music competitions organized by the Association of the Blind People in Romania, but not only that. Two respondents participated in international competitions, having important competitors in the domain of music and still achieving prizes and recognition. A respondent organizes guitar and mandolin instrumental music courses with great results, appreciated both at the radio and television. According to the theory of compensation, with the loss of the sense of vision other senses improve, and seeing is most often compensated by the hearing sense. Having a sensitive hearing leads to the maximization of the acoustic perception in such a way that the sounds blind people hear are clearer and can be captured with greater ease. This can explain the blind’s people inclination for music, an area in which they can achieve great performances.

With the technological evolution and wider internet networks, more and more blind people were able, using programs of synthetic voice, the help of their friends and taking special classes on computers, to enjoy the opportunities and facilities the new technology brought. However, I asked the young graduates why they have chosen to follow the courses of a special school since they could directly enroll in mainstream education. The responses have pointed out the reason of convenience as the school was close to home. I would summarize these answers, saying that there was an indirect fear of exclusion, marginalization, maladjustment which blind students could have encounter when registering at a normal school. However, this step was done by the majority of the respondents during college and since they did not have an alternative, the blind people who wanted to have higher education were forced to enroll in mainstream education. The specializations chosen by the blind people were the most diverse: from tourism and geography, and music, to psychology and social assistance. Of the five interviewed only three people are active in the field they studied in, the others working in other professional areas: music and sales. It can be seen as a major change compared to the communist era when all graduates were employed in positions: the most frequent jobs was that of medical nurse at the massage department, carpenter, brushes-manufactures, cardboard or recently telephony. Currently, graduates have the freedom to decide upon the area they want to work in, but competition in the labor market is fierce and blind people must face the risk of competing against people without disabilities who have similar training in the field.


4.         CONCLUSION

The integration of people with visual impairment in society is a current and sensitive for the Romanian public institutions, which spend on average 15% of GDP on disability pension payments, and allowances for caretaking. Every year, programs to support people with disabilities whose funding comes mostly from the state budget and in some instances from the European institutions, especially the European Commission are formulated. Therefore, the willingness to legally help the people with disabilities exists, but difficulties arise at the social level, when blind people want to get involved in various social and cultural projects, accede to normal education or get a job. Then, this category encounters several psychological barriers from their fellow citizens that continue to see them reluctantly, either with pity or ignorance.

The blind persons, graduates of special education institutions, have restricted access to the labor market. The reasons for this restriction vary according to the “political system and labor market performance”[xxvii]. During the communist period, once completed a special school for blind people, the person was automatically assigned by the local Commission of expertise to a default domain: the most popular profession was that of the medical nurse specialized in massage, followed by the industry of manufactures-carpentry, brushes, paperboard, subsequently adding the category of telephone services to the distribution grid. So in this case the stated hypothesis was totally confirmed, and even highlighted because access to blind people in the labor market was not only restricted, but it was banned in many fields. The democratic regime “brought major changes in the labor market mobility”[xxviii]. Technological evolution represented a challenge for the blind people who were accused by the authorities that they are a passive recipient of the facilities provided by the state.

Also, the graduates of a special school are discriminated against and marginalized in joint projects. Marginalization, exclusion and discrimination against the blind people is reminiscent of communism that through the segregation practice conducted both in education and the labor market established a pattern of thought still valid today. Compared with the communist regime, a tendency of helping the blind people more can be noticed now through the high degree of implication of NGOs and the European institutions in supporting deficiencies. The age of social inclusion arrived, but this process must counter the mentality and line of thought built during communism by promoting social responsibility of every citizen to issues surrounding him. In the recent years (since 2000) the system of social assistance was diversified, but not enough: adequate preparation of professionals and skilled personnel in this area requires significant time resources, the success of dealing with this issue depending on the involvement of all relevant bodies in solving the problem.

The future of special schools is uncertain given the fact that blind people will be able to fully adapt to the requirements of normal education. Unfortunately, the Romanian public authorities attempted to speed up the process of giving up this type of education by abolishing boarding schools near the special schools, turning them into foster cares. However, the process of adaptation of blind people to normal education is far from being over, very few cases existing where the blind quickly accommodated to the requirements of normal education.

To conclude, the social integration of blind people who graduated from a special school is an ongoing process whose variables: public institutions, NGOs, impaired people, can cause changes to the current situation. The key to success of this program lies in the involvement of the entire society within the issue, leaving aside the prejudices created by the communist system. Tolerance and indifference no longer represent a solution, but only empowering the stakeholders can lead to high resolution and overcome the barriers faced by people with disabilities. The stage of adapting to the demands of society is being finalized, the next step towards integration being the collective participation in fulfilling common objectives. Once this step is successful, we can speak of a genuine process of social integration.




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[i] This article benefited from financial support through the project Tineri cercetători de succes – dezvoltare profesională în context interdisciplinar şi internaţional: POSDRU/159/1.5/S/132400, financed from the European Social Fund through Sectoral Operational Programme Human Resources Development 2007-2013.

[iii] Leslie TUTTY, M., ROTHERY, Cercetare calitativă în asistența socială: faze, etape și sarcini, Polirom, Iași, 2005, p. 19.

[iv] Florin LAZĂR, Introducere în politici sociale comparate - Analiza sistemelor de asistență socială, Polirom, Iași, 2010, p. 61.

[v]Raportul de țară privind dizabilitatea în România,, last accessed 23.03.2014.

[vi]Asociația Nevăzătorilor din România,, last accessed 17.04.2014.

[vii] Liceul pentru deficienți de vedere Cluj-Napoca,, last accessed 09.04.2014.

[viii] Asociația Nevăzătorilor din România împlinește un secol,, last accessed 09.04.2014.

[ix] Nicolae IONESCU,  Azilul de Orbi „Regina Elisabeta’’. Vatra Luminoasă și rolul său instructiv-educativ, Pandora, București, 2005, p. 11.

[x] Asociația Nevăzătorilor din România,, last accessed 17.04.2014.

[xi] Ibidem.

[xii] Nicolae IONESCU, Azilul de Orbi....cit., p. 11.

[xiii] Nicolae IONESCU, Azilul de Orbi....cit., p. 12.

[xv] Nicolae IONESCU, Azilul de Orbi....cit., pp. 21-23.

[xvi] Ibidem, p. 32.

[xvii] Florica MĂNOIU, Viorica EPUREANU, Asistența socială în România, Editura Institutului Biblic și de Misiune al Bisericii Ortodoxe Române, București, 1992, p. 19.

[xviii] Asociația Nevăzătorilor din România,, last accessed 17.04.2014.

[xx] Nicolae IONESCU, Azilul de Orbi....cit., pp. 31-33.

[xxii] Nicolae IONESCU, Ion Vasile Tassu - Monografie, 120 ani de la nașterea ilustrului tiflopedagog român, Pandora, București, 2003, p. 49.

[xxiii] Ibidem, p. 51.

[xxiv] Ibidem, p. 52.

[xxvi], last accessed 29.05.2014.

[xxvii] Florin LAZĂR, Introducere în politici...cit., p. 76.

[xxviii] Florin LAZĂR, Introducere în politici...cit., p. 61.