A new report from Inclusion Europe tells us that more than 700,000 people with intellectual disabilities are isolated in large institutions in Europe.

The same report also shows that people with intellectual disabilities are not often included in their communities and are not represented in many organisations.

To change this situation, Inclusion Europe and Inclusion International are launching the JUDY project, which will support self-advocates in Eastern Europe to take the lead on closing institutions in their countries.

We want to be able to connect with others, and to work together for our goals.

Self-advocates’ manifesto from the Hear our Voices! conference, Estonia, 2023

That’s one of the demands from European self-advocates in their Make it real! manifesto last year. 

“And it’s exactly what this work is about: creating opportunities for self-advocates in 5 countries to have a say about the topics that matter to them, in rooms and in front of people who decide about these topics,” said Milan Šveřepa, Director of Inclusion Europe.

The JUDY Project

The JUDY project will work with five of Inclusion Europe’s members from Albania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia to work towards this common goal: For Europe to end segregation of people with intellectual disabilities.

Self-advocacy is also new in Eastern Europe. There are not many self-advocacy groups yet, and many of the self-advocates in the region are not included when other disability organisations or governments talk about institutions.

The JUDY project has three main ways of working to solve these problems. Our members will work in their countries to:

  • Make sure that self-advocates in Eastern Europe know how to fight for their right to live in the community
  • Support members in Eastern Europe to do advocacy about closing institutions that fully involve self-advocates
  • Push disability groups and other organisations to work in a more inclusive way when they do work about closing institutions

While we support the work our members do in their countries, Inclusion Europe and Inclusion International will also do regional and global work, such as:

  • Research: Collecting information on closing institutions and community living
  • Build networks: Creating a network of self-advocate survivors of institutions to share their experiences and advocate for their rights
  • Support self-advocates as inclusion trainers: Training self-advocates on the Listen Include Respect guidelines so they can go on to teach other organisations in their country
  • Creating tools and resources: Developing and sharing resources on how to close institutions and support community living for people with intellectual disabilities

Why the JUDY project is important

The JUDY project will make a difference in the lives of people with intellectual disabilities in Eastern Europe. The project lays the groundwork for improving the lives of the 700,000 people who still face institutionalisation.

By making sure self-advocates and our member organisations have the support they need to push for closing institutions in their countries, we are creating a more inclusive society for all.

Self-advocates in our network told us at our last World Congress in 2018 that this topic was important, when they demanded “that all institutions are closed and that no institutional type settings are building again” as one of their 6 Calls to Action.

The JUDY project will also use ways of working from the Listen Include Respect guidelines. These guidelines help ensure that people with intellectual disabilities are fully included and respected in decision-making. 

The JUDY project is named after Judy Heumann, a lifelong advocate for disability rights, who passed away in 2023. The project is funded by the US State Department and will run for three years, from 2024 to 2026.