The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Youth with Disabilities Forum launched a four-year, $2 million Economic Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities project that will work to create equal access to employment for persons with disabilities (PWDs) and to foster a more open, inclusive, and accessible labor market. The project will be implemented nationally with a focus on Belgrade, Subotica, Novi Sad, Zrenjanin, Valjevo and Niš.

“Back in 1987, Robert L. Burgdorf Jr, a lawyer working at the U.S. National Council on Disability drafted the first version of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which became law in 1990 in the United States.  President Biden, then a Senator from Delaware, co-sponsored that legislation. The Law made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of disability and also laid out standards and rules to facilitate the full participation of persons with disabilities in American society,” said U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill. “Serbia has already adopted some policies to spur employment of persons with disabilities. I applaud you for that. We are confident this new program will energize efforts here in Serbia to make more economic opportunities available for all.”

Despite the adoption of affirmative measures related to the employment of PWDs and advances in the area, they still experience challenges and barriers when entering the labor market. According to official data, 70 percent of PWDs are poor and more than half of them depend on social benefits for living.

“Employment is one of the most powerful mechanisms for empowering people with disabilities. Earning income is the basis of independence, which we are also fighting for. There is a large number of people with disabilities who are unemployed because of the social system that put people with disabilities in a passive position to rely on the care and support of other people. We at the Forum of Youth with Disabilities have been providing support to persons with disabilities and employers for 14 years and are trying to find solutions for their inclusion in the labor market,” stated Jovana Krivokuća-Milovanović, Executive Director of Youth with Disabilities Forum.

To affirm their mutual support and cooperation in activities aimed at maintaining an inclusive labor market and encouraging socially responsible activities of employers, the mayors of Subotica Stevan Bakić, Zrenjanin Simo Salapura, Valjevo Lazar Gojković, Niš Dragan Sotirovski, Secretary of Social protection of Belgrade Aleksandra Čamagić, Acting Head of the City Administration for Social and Child Protection of Novi Sad Dr. Lidija Tomaš, as well as Deputy Director of the National Employment Service Petar Jarić, President of the National Organization of Persons with Disabilities Ivanka Jovanović and Advisor to the President of the Serbian Chamber of Commerce  Aleksandar Perić – signed a Memorandum of Understanding.

“Based on the sustainable development agenda, that the Serbian Chamber of Commerce adheres to, in seeking employment no one should be left behind or treated differently, regardless of physical or sensory disability,” said Advisor the Serbian Chamber of Commerce Aleksandar Perić.

The Economic Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities project is financed by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by the Youth with Disabilities Forum. Other project partners include Caritas Serbia, the Ana and Vlade Divac Foundation, Smart Kolektiv and the Center for Independent Living Serbia.