International activities of the Pancyprian Organization of the Blind

The international activity of the Pancyprian Organization of the Blind during the last four years included the participation of the Organization in many different bodies, commissions of the World Blind Union (WBU) and the European Blind Union (EBU), conferences, seminars and meetings organized by these Unions, in addition to the organization of such events by the Organization in Cyprus. Representatives of the Organization have also participated in many different meetings and international events (seminars, conferences, championships, tournaments and open games) organized by the International Blind Sport Association (IBSA) and the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) in different countries.

It is not possible to refer to all these activities, but we have chosen a sample, which might give an interesting overview of the work being done by the Pancyprian Organization of the Blind in this area.

Balkan Consultative Committee of the European Blind Union

The Organization is an active member of the Balkan Consultative Committee of the European Blind Union. During the tenth meeting of the Committee, which was held in Sinaia, Romania, from the fifth to the seventh of July 2002, the delegations from the nine countries that participated in this meeting elected Michael Florentzos from Cyprus as the new President and Mr. Sinan Tafai from Albania, as the new Vice-President of the Committee.

The eleventh meeting of the Balkan Consultative Committee was held in Nicosia - Cyprus from 16-17 May, 2003. Mr. Alexandre Neumyvakin, President of All-Russia Association of the Blind, (VOS) attended this meeting in his capacity as Vice-President of the Board of the European Blind Union. The Presidents of the Union of the Blind in Albania, the Union of the Blind in Bulgaria, the Pancyprian Organization of the Blind, the Panhellenic Association of the Blind, the Association of the Blind in Romania, the Union of the Blind and Partially Sighted of Serbia-Montenegro and the Bosnia and Herzegovina Blind Union reported on the situation of the blind in their respective countries. They also discussed matters concerning the services, means, rights and benefits afforded to the blind people in the Balkans. They also referred to the development of legislation and other measures in favor of the blind.

The President, Mr. Florentzos, opened the meeting and welcomed, on behalf of the Pancyprian Organization of the Blind, all the participants to Cyprus.

Mr. Florentzos briefly informed the delegates about the foundation of the Organization of the Blind in Cyprus and its main activities. He made reference to how the existing activities of the Organization contributed to the enactment and development of legislation and administrative measures and allowances concerning the blind people of Cyprus. Moreover, he explained the social difficulties faced by the people of Cyprus and especially the blind due to the Turkish invasion of 1974 and the occupation to this day of 40% of the territory of the Republic of Cyprus. In brief, the Organization has managed to a great degree to remove the burden for the care and support of blind people from the shoulders of the private sector to those of the State.

In order to refer to certain allowances, rights and privileges achieved during the previous years, Mr. Florenzos mentioned (a) the mobility allowance granted to employed blind persons for their travel expenses to and from their place of work, (b) the financial assistance by the State enabling the blind to buy a car, (c) the concession of a 50% discount by Cyprus Airways to the blind and their guide when they travel abroad, (d) the granting by the State of a secretary/assistant to professionally qualified blind people employed in the public sector. He also referred to a new monthly State grant of the sum of 150 Cyprus pounds (approximately 260 Euros) to every blind person and to partial exemptions in favor of blind people regarding telephone charges. Furthermore, by law, blind people who are in need are entitled to receive from the State an additional allowance of 350 pounds (approximately 600 Euros) per month.

We are optimistic that certain gaps currently existing in the legislation and the required support and care of the blind, will be fulfilled in the near future. At present, the Organization offers blind people, within its financial possibilities, various services and means not yet provided by the State, which are necessary for their quality of life, social integration and emancipation.

Mr. Florentzos, as the Chairman of the Balkan Consultative Committee for a period of three years, proposed the formation of four subcommittees, which will be responsible for organizing various activities in the Balkan states. The following Subcommittees were decided upon:

    (a) Cultural - Educational - Access to Information Subcommittee under the chairmanship of Mr. Sergio Radu Ruba from Romania,
    (b) a Sports Subcommittee under the chairmanship of Mr. Yiannis Leotsakos from Greece,
    (c) a Legislation - Social Rights Subcommittee, under the Chairmanship of Mr. Sinan Tafai from Albania and
    (d) a Women's Issues Subcommittee under the chairmanship of Mrs. Jivka Pavlova from Bulgaria.

According to the approved plan of action of the subcommittees, Greece will organize athletics before the General Assembly of the European Blind Union next Year, Romania will organize a goalball tournament and Bulgaria has already organized meetings of the Women's Issues Subcommittee in Sofia, in Thessalonica and in the town of Ohrida "Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia (FYROM)". The Pancyprian Organization of the Blind will organize the fifth meeting of that subcommittee next November in Larnaca, Cyprus. The Union of the Blind of Serbia-Montenegro has undertaken the responsibility of the organization of a chess tournament, Albania will organize folklore music contest and FYROM will organize individual chess tournaments at the beginning of December every year in addition to poetry reading nights.

Of significant importance is that one of the special guests at the meeting in Cyprus was Mrs. Sezcan Iksitash, a representative of an organization of the blind in the occupied area of Cyprus.

Some of the country and Subcommitees' reports presented at the Committee meeting held in Nicosia, Cyprus from the 16th to the 17th of May 2003 have been published in issue number six (September 2005) of Cyprus Braille Newsletter.

Mr. Christakis Nicolaides, who was elected as the President of the Organization in June 2005 has organized and undertook the coordination of the twelfth meeting of the Balkan Consultative Committee which was hosted in Tirana, Albania, from the 8th to 11th December, 2005.

During the last meeting of the Committee Dr. Sinan Tafai, was elected as the new President of the Committee for the current three-year period.

One of the main decisions of this meeting is the establishment of an ad hoc Committee with the task of the preparation of new statute of the Committee and the terms of references, which will be discussed and finally approved at the next meeting of this Committee, which will be held next September in FYROM.

European Blind Union - Constitution Committee

The President of the Pancyprian Organization of the Blind is one of the permanent members of the Constitution Committee of the European Blind Union. This Committee had its last meeting in Wachtberg-Niederbachem, Germany on Saturday, 14 December 2002. The meeting of the Constitution Committee was attended by Sir John Wall, President of the European Blind Union (United Kingdom), Julien Aimi, Treasurer of the European Blind Union (France), Norbert Muller, Secretary General of the European Blind Union (Germany), Mokrane Boussaid, Director of the EBU office (France), Michael Florentzos (Cyprus) and Theo Walraven from the Netherlands.

The committee considered several important issues such as a paper submitted by the EBU Commission on the activities of partially sighted people. This clearly indicates that the EBU represents partially sighted as well as blind people. It was agreed to recommend to the Board that an amendment should be put to the general assembly, which deletes the "definition" of blindness and uses the definition "blind and partially sighted." The Committee took into consideration the fact that the Commission's paper did not suggest an immediate amendment and accepted the offer of Mr. Norbert Mueller to write an article for the European Blind Union Newsletter, looking at the issue, before its discussion at the next general assembly in November in Athens, Greece.

The other issued discussed were the status of external membership, problems arising from non-payment of contributions by a few member countries that would lead to the deprivation of voting rights at the general assembly, the procedure for the registration of the delegates from each country to the General Assembly and the participation in the different committees of the Union. The Committee also reviewed the responsibilities of the nominations committee of the Union, which has always recommended a slate of officers and Board members to the general assembly.

During the above meeting reference was also made to the work of the Liaison Commission, taking into consideration that as from May 2004 ten additional countries joined the European Union. These countries are Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. This means that the commission has today twenty-five members.

The Pancyprian Organization of the Blind has also participated with two of its delegates to the 6th General Assembly of the European Blind Union in Athens - Greece, 2003. The President of the Organization has also taken part to the 7th General Assembly of the World Blind Union, which was held in Cape Town - South Africa, from 4-10 December, 2004.

Important is also the involvement of the Organization in the Development of a website in order to celebrate the European Year of People with Disabilities 2003, in cooperation with other ten member countries of the European Blind Union and with the support of the European Commission.

The Organization undertook, finally, the task of the Coordination and organization of different events for the celebration of the European Year of People with Disabilities in Cyprus.

Cyprus Confederation of the Organizations of the Disabled

Mr. Michael Florentzos, who was the president of the Organization from the year of the establishment of the Organization in 1980 until the year 2005, is President of the Cyprus Confederation of Organizations of the Disabled. Members of the Central Council of this Confederation also include two other representatives of the Pancyprian Organization of the Blind, Mr. Andreas Chapoupis, Director of the School for the Blind in Nicosia, who is acting as the Secretary General of that Confederation for the current legislative period and Mr. Christakis Nicolaides, President of the Pancyprian Organization of the Blind, who is the Acting Secretary General of the Confederation.

The Confederation submitted an application to the European Disability Forum (EDF) in order to become a member in that Forum, as a European Union member country. Mr. Yiannis Vardakastanis, President of the Forum announced that the EDF Board of Directors, approved the application of the Confederation. According to the Constitution of the EDF, when Cyprus officially joins the EU in May, 2004, the Cyprus Confederation of Organizations of the Disabled will have the possibility, to officially apply for full membership status within the European Disability Forum.

Last year the Confederation invited the President of the EDF to Cyprus. A special meeting of the Parliamentary Commission of Labour was organized. Furthermore, meetings between the President of the EDF and the Minister of Labour and Social Insurance as well as with various Services, Authorities and political parties were arranged. Mr. Vardakastanis was also one of the main speakers at a seminar entitled "Equal Opportunities", which was organized in Nicosia by the Social Democratic Movement of Cyprus on the 11th of January, 2003 and participated in a another Seminar for mentally retarded people, also held in Nicosia on the 28th of March, 2003.

In the field of its international activity, members of the Central Board of the Confederation participated in most of the seminars and activities organized by the European Disability Forum and/or the European Union in the years 2002 and the first six months of 2003.

Unfortunately, the Confederation lacks the required substructure and the necessary staff to become the sole representative of the disabled at all levels and decision-making bodies of our State and internationally. Nevertheless, the confederation has the full support of the Board of the Pancyprian Organization of the Blind and of course the support of the staff of our Organization.

Its President Mr. Florentzos at its last General Assembly presented the main points of the recent activities of the Confederation in June, 2005. The participants exchanged opinions and views, in order to enable the Assembly to take decisions of general policy. The Confederation has already commenced the procedure to amend article 5 of its Constitution concerning the membership of Organizations. According to the proposed amendment, the Confederation may accept as members Organizations in which the majority of their members and of the members of their governing bodies consist of persons with disabilities. By this amendment, parents' Organizations, which represent people who are unable to represent themselves, may be accepted as members of the Confederation.

On the virtue of the Confederations Constitution, every Organization participates directly in the Central Administrative Board with three representatives. Each Organization, without losing its autonomy and independence, may make use of the collective power of the Confederation in the course of seeking its aims.

It has been proved, especially recently, that this direct participation of the Organizations of the disabled of Cyprus, in the General Assembly and the Central Board, renders our Confederation a legal body which puts into effect and promotes the will of the disabled for their social emancipation, as individuals and as an organized body.

The Confederation propounded the demand of the deaf people of Cyprus for news bulletins in sign language on all television channels. Certain TV channels have already accepted and put this demand into effect.

The Confederation has already undertaken the role to coordinate and fully represent the people with disabilities. In so doing, we have submitted proposals, suggestions and memorandums. We have for example submitted an extensive memorandum to the Parliamentary Commission of Labour during the discussion of the Persons with Disabilities Law. Those of our suggestions, which were accepted, have already proved to be effective.

The Confederation in cooperation with our Organization was very active in coordinating and organizing different events for the celebration of the European Year of People with Disabilities in Cyprus, as it did in 1981 for the International Year for the Disabled of the United Nations.

THE CYPRUS Confederation of Organizations of the Disabled (CCOD) has organized an informative group of further education seminars at the Hilton Park Hotel in Nicosia, on Friday, 22nd and Saturday, 23rd June, 2006.

The seminars are within the framework of the European Project "Activists and Advocates for the Rights of Disabled Persons" and co-financed by the biannual Programme of the European Union and the European disability Forum.

Speakers at the above seminars were Pierre Baussand, Coordinator of the Programme, Christine O'Mahony from 'Disability Equality in Education in the UK', Professor B. Fitzpatrick from 'Equality Commission of Northern Ireland" and Stella Komninou, Senior Officer at the Ombudsman Office. The second day of the seminars included speakers such as Mr. Nikos Trimikliniotis, an expert on relevant issues in Cyprus, Christos Angelides, Director of the Disabled Welfare Service and Diomides Diomidious, General Secretary of the Democratic Workers Union of Cyprus. Dinos Efraim and Yiannis Vardakastanis, President of the European Disability Forum, have submitted their presentations too. Mikis Florentzos, President of the Confederation has coordinated the two-day event.

These national seminars took place in all Member States of the Programme, and aimed for the core education of organizations of persons with disability, lawyers, organizations both of employers and employees, and organizations or unions who work for the eradication of discrimination and the respect of human rights for disabled persons, especially in the work place.

International Blind Sport Federation (IBSA)

In addition to the Seminar held by our Organization entitled "Sports for the Blind, Necessity, furtherance and prospects" and the Panhellenic Conference on Issues Concerning the Blind, which took place in October 2003, our Organization was involved in many other sports activities.

The sports team of our Organization represented Cyprus in the Balkan Athletic Games in Thessalonica, Northern Greece, last year, and in the Panhellenic Athletics Championship, which take place in Athens, Greece, every spring. Members of our sports team also participated in the IPC World Athletics Championships in Lille/Villeneuve d'Asq, FRANCE, from 20-28 July 2002, the 2nd European Athletics Championship in Porto, Portugal and the Commonwealth sports games in Birmingham in July, 2004.

The National Football Team of the Blind (Cat. B1) represented Cyprus in different international five-a-side tournaments in Greece and Italy. A B1 International Five-A-Side Football Tournament for the Blind was also organized in Nicosia - Cyprus, from 20-22 May, 2005, where the football teams from Russia, Greece and Cyprus took part.

The football team of partially sighted (Cat. B2/3) participated in the Five-a-Side Football B2/B3 World Championship, which took place in North Italy from 19-29 September 2002 and in Birmingham from 10-19 December, 2004. A B2 International Tournament for partially sighted participants was also organized by our Organization in November 2003 in Nicosia. In this tournament the national teams of Byelorussia, which holds the World Championship, and that of Russia in second place offered exciting matches. Our team was also in St. Petersburg, Russia, for a week in May, 2004, for another international five-a-side football tournament organized by the Russian Paralympic Centre of Moscow, within the celebration festivities of 300 years of the founding of the town of St. Petersburg.

The most important participations of our Organization was, though, the IPC World Swimming Championships, which took place in Mar del Plata, ARGENTINA. In this championship Carolina Pelentritou, a 17-year-old visually impaired girl, won the Silver medal in the 50 meters free style. She also won the gold medal in the Panhellenic Swimming Championship, which took place in Athens last June. Her participation as a member of the national team of Cyprus in the Commonwealth Swimming Games, which took place in Birmingham in July-August 2002 was also very successful.

The next big event, where the athletic team of our Organization, including our two young champion swimmers, Carolina Pelentritou and Michaela Spandiou, took place in Athens. It was the Paralympic games where Carolina Pelentritou won the Gold metal in 100m stroke.

Finally, the International Blind Sport Association accepted a proposal submitted by our Organization to organize an international sports seminar in Limassol Cyprus in November, 2004, under the auspices of the Association. Participants from 15 European Countries and Israel discussed matters such as the management and coordination of activities of Sport Organizations of the Blind and guidance/support to sports teams consisting of blind and partially sighted individuals. Among them were the Secretary General of the European Paralympic Committee, the President of IBSA, other IBSA Officials and representatives of many national sports associations of the blind, members of IBSA.

Our intention was to inform and discuss with members of the staff, coaches, other experts and athletes of the European IBSA member countries subjects concerning the following areas:

    (a) Structure of the European Members Organizations of IBSA (Blind specific or pan-disability? Structured by sports, by clubs, by regions, by disability, etc?: advantages and disadvantages),
    (b) Organization of sport activities in Europe in collaboration with IBSA (processes, priorities and conditions of participation),
    (c) Recognition of national and international sport championships from IBSA,
    (d) Arranging of local championships and sport events,
    (e) The IBSA classification system (Cat. B1, B2, B3) in comparison with other classification models,
    (f) The philosophy behind the IBSA rules and regulations and their application,
    (g) Recruiting procedures of blind and partially sighted athletes,
    (h) Appointment of guides for sports teams consisting of blind and partially sighted athletes, and
    (i) Incentives and awards for blind and partially sighted athletes.

Many other national and international sports events have already been planned.

General Activities

Among the international activities of the Pancyprian Organization of the Blind where blind people from Cyprus and abroad took part and/or experts from different European countries submitted presentations and/or they contribute to the discussions where the following:

    - Two Seminars entitled "Latest Developments in the Field of Ophthalmology and Ocular Diseases and Current Therapeutic Methods" (29 June, 2002 - Amathus Beach Hotel, Limassol & 1st October, 2005, Europa Hotel - Nicosia).
    - Digitization of the Catalogues of the talking book library and the library of Braille books that can be searched electronically at the website of the University of Cyprus and of the Pancyprian Organization of the Blind.
    - European Union Programme "Youth for Europe", with the participation of 15 members of the Sport Club "Ifaestos" from Thessalonica - Greece and 15 young members of the Organization (Nicosia - October, 2003).
    - third Pan-Hellenic Conference for people with visual disability )Nicosia - Cyprus, October, 2003).
    - European Youth Exchange program, in which young people from Cyprus, Greece, Austria and Ireland explored several thematic areas as the internet, support material and software for the blind and information material related to new technology (Thessalonica - Greece, June, 2004).