This story by Goshe Nikolov was originally published by Meta.mk. An edited version is republished here under a content-sharing agreement between Global Voices and Metamorphosis Foundation.
Several months after a student in a wheelchair sent requests, and only days after Meta.mk covered the issue of the absence of an access ramp in the cafeteria of the State Student Dormitory (SSD) Stiv Naumov in Skopje, the dorm got such a ramp.
„Во периодот кога беше ладно и кога врнеше, среде дожд чекав пред менза додека вработените отидат да ми стават за јадење и се вратат. Доколку имаше рампа, би влегол и би јадел внатре во мензата.“
“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 faced in the dorm. 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 has to use 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 recently. Until March 7, 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 announced that it would produce a video story and shoot the dormitory cafeteria building and its entrance, the cafeteria swiftly got an access ramp. The dormitory management arranged it through a donation from an unidentified private company.
Darko Stojanovski has lived in the dormitory since October 2022. 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 story was aired on Shortcut, an online news show for youth, on March 9.
The absence of an access ramp has meant inadequate and unequal access to the cafeteria for a very long time. Under the Law on Prevention and Protection from Discrimination, 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.
Previously, Darko had informed all the concerned institutions — the State Student Dormitory “Skopje,” the Ministry of Education and Science, the government, the Ombudsman, even 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. He received a two emails from the Ombudsman’s Office saying that a request had been sent to the dormitory, but without effect. When Meta.mk interviewed him on February 24, he explained:
„Од Владата во декември ми се јавија да ме прашаат дали има некоја промена, им кажав дека нема. Ми понудија да ми го сменат студентскиот дом, да ме сместат во некој од останатите, но им кажав дека не ми одговара затоа што студирам на Филозофски факултет и во тој случај ќе треба да користам јавен превоз. Потоа ми се јавија од ДСД да ми кажат дека ќе биде средено тоа и оттогаш помина доста време.“
“Last December I got a call from the government 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. If I move I would need to use public transportation [which is not wheelchair-friendly at all]. The State Student Dormitory also called and promised to fix the problem, but a lot of time has passed since then,”
At the time, Darko was waiting for his food at the back entrance of the dorm cafeteria with a tray in his hand. The kitchen staff was helping him to get his meals. Unable to enter the cafeteria, he was 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.
Stojanovski said that he requested an access ramp built as soon as possible, not only for himself, but also for future students in wheelchairs, so that they could use the cafeteria like any other student in the dormitory, without facing the same challenges he experiences.
“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 said.
The State Student Dormitory “Skopje,” the institution that manages the Stiv Naumov dorm, confirmed to Meta.mk the construction of the new access ramp.
“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” stated for Meta.mk.
Velevski added 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 people with disabilities.
Морам да напоменам дека зграда 3 од ‘Стив Наумов’ има пристап само до приземниот дел на објектот, а поради фактот што се работи за зграда изградена во 90-тите години, истата не е опремена со лифт кој би овозможил пристап на лица со физичка попреченост на горните катови. Со проектот за реновирање на зградите 1, 2 и 3 во ‘Стив Наумов’, се предвидува надминување на овој проблем со обезбедување на пристап на лица со физичка попреченост на сите катови од зградите, односно да може да бидат рамноправни во изборот и сместувањето на собите и од погорните катови.
I must mention that building 3 of Stiv Naumov dormitory has access only to the ground floor of the building, and because it is a building built in the 1990s, 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 to all the floors for bodily impaired persons, so they can be equal with the other students in opting for rooms on the upper floors.
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.