FACT SHEET: Supporting Persons with Disabilities in BiH (2010-Present)

The Challenge

In Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), people with disabilities are often economically and socially excluded on a much larger scale than those in Western Europe. The state has been unable to fully meet its responsibilities to citizens with special needs. People with intellectual disabilities are often placed in institutions, rather than being empowered to live independently. The number of mentally and physically disabled persons in public institutions of BiH is estimated at 2,000. Meanwhile, there is little support for families of children with physical or development disabilities. Having to care for a child or other person with a disability precludes parents’ ability to have a job outside the home, go to school, or have any kind of social or personal life. Caretakers (usually the mothers) become psychologically and physically exhausted, with no end or even temporary relief in sight.


Our Assistance

USAID/BiH programs to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities are described below. Besides these programs, however, USAID/BiH has implemented numerous other activities to support and include this vulnerable group in day-to-day society.

  • A guiding principle for public events to be attended by the Mission Director is that they be held at venues that provide access for disabled persons. (In some cases, this prompted the permanent installation of wheelchair ramps.)
  • Public events to be televised or video-recorded include a sign language interpreter when practicable.
  • We provide buses to enable children with disabilities to attend USAID-sponsored events that are open and available to typical children.
  • USAID arranged and provided transportation to a special performance of Peter and the Wolf at the National Theater in Sarajevo that invited both typical and disabled children.
  • For the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, we held a month-long campaign raising public awareness about children living with disabilities. This included a video that put non-disabled persons in daily situations encountered by those who are disabled (see video).
  • For two years now, we organized a special Children’s Corner for children with disabilities at the annual week-long Kid’s Festival in Sarajevo (see story).


Service Centers for Children with Disabilities (Sarajevo, Banja Luka, Foca)

May 2014 – Present.  Total Funding: $425,000.  (USAID partnered with the municipalities of Novi Grad, Banja Luka, and Foca, which contributed by providing or refurbishing center premises.)  

Implementing Partners: Dajte Nam Sansu (Give Us a Chance); Svjetlice (Sparkles); and Tracak Nade (Glimmer of Hope). 

USAID provided funds to establish the first ever service center for disabled children in BiH in 2104. The center provides parents and guardians with a safe, rehabilitative place that could accommodate a short stay for their children and youth with disabilities. It also provides informational and psychological support, a respite from caretaking responsibilities, and social and learning time for the children outside the home under the care of trained teachers, nurses and volunteers (see success story). The center can accommodate 600 short stays (four hours) per month. The center also organizes an annual fashion show in which children with disabilities model clothing on the ‘runway’. USAID then launched a $300,000 grant fund to establish additional centers based on the successful model of the Sarajevo center. Centers have since been established in Banja Luka and Foca, and USAID is expecting to open a center in Tuzla and another in Sarajevo Canton soon. In total, the centers provide services to more than 480 families of children with disabilities.


USAID-Czech Government Partnership on Responsible Deinstitutionalization

July 2015 – July 2017.  Total Funding: $300,000 (USAID co-funding $150,000)

Implementing Partner: Czech Development Agency (CzDA)

To further help disabled people leave the margins of society, USAID partnered with CzDA to support responsible deinstitutionalization of people with disabilities. A study conducted by a local NGO advocating for the rights of disabled persons estimates the number of mentally and physically disabled persons in public institutions of BiH at 2,000. As part of this partnership initiative, USAID launched a $150,000 grant fund through its Marginalized Populations Support Program to which organizations can apply for funds to support the deinstitutionalization process, while CzDA provides technical assistance.


Marginalized Populations Support Program

February 2015 – February 2020.  Total Funding: $3.4 million.  Implementing Partner: Institute for Youth Development KULT

Through this program we support activities of local organizations that advocate for the rights and empowerment of underrepresented groups of BiH society, including persons with disabilities. Grants awarded so far have been used to refurbish two rehabilitation centers that were damaged in the 2014 floods and to establish special service centers for children with disabilities and their families (mentioned above).


International Sport Games of Paraplegics

Summer 2014 and 2015. Total Funding: $15,000.  Implementer: Alliance of Paraplegics and People with Polio in FBiH

USAID provided funds to enable BiH persons with paraplegia or those who use a wheelchair or crutches to participate in this annual regional event. Participants – from BiH, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Slovenia – competed in athletic disciplines such as 100, 200 and 400-meter wheelchair races and javelin, spear and discus throwing, as well as a round-robin chess tournament.


Empowerment and Rehabilitation for People with Intellectual Disabilities

September 2013 – September 2015.  Total Funding: $269,520.  Implementing Partner: SUMERO

We supported the establishment of four Empowerment and Rehabilitation Centers in BiH as part of a new approach in the treatment of people with intellectual disabilities. The centers – located in four cities throughout BiH – help over 700 disabled people learn and develop independent living skills to enable them to remain in their local communities rather than being placed in an institution.


It’s About Ability

June 2013 – December 2014.  Total Funding: $339,500 (USAID co-funding $150,000).

Implementing Partners:  UNICEF BiH and EU Delegation to BiH

This activity developed and implemented a nationwide awareness and social mobilization campaign on the challenges and abilities of children with disabilities, to change public perceptions and encourage inclusion of children living with disabilities in all aspects of society.


Empowering Citizens with Disabilities to Vote Privately and Independently

March 2012 – November 2013.  Total Funding: $299,644.  Implementing Partner:  Association of Election Officials in BiH

We purchased special hardware and software to enable disabled voters to cast their ballots privately and independently. We then conducted 76 mock elections in 32 municipalities (16 in each BiH region) to demonstrate to the Central Election Commission and lawmakers how to empower disabled people in the elections process. All pre-requisites are in place; it is now up to the government to do its part to enable all citizens to fully participate in the elections process.


Rehabilitation and Social Reintegration of People with Disabilities through Water Sports

June 2011 – February 2013.  Total Funding: $222,350.  Implementing Partner: Eco Sports Group

This project helped those with physical disabilities improve their psycho-physical well-being, raise their self-esteem, learn new skills, and become more active members of society through water sports. Participants earned internationally recognized certificates for scuba diving, vessel piloting, and as raft skippers, which increased their possibilities of earning an income. They learned that limited physical mobility does not have to be an obstacle to living an active and productive life – or having a job.


Early Intervention for Children with Developmental Disabilities

October 2010 – March 2012.  Total Funding: $74,270.  Implementing Partner: STOL

This project provided early therapeutic services to BiH children under age six with or at risk of disabilities. We helped train 40 occupational therapists for sensory integration therapy and equipped two sensory rooms: one at the Vladimir Nazor Center (for education and rehabilitation of children with intellectual disability, autism and cerebral palsy) and another at the Mjedenica Center (for education and rehabilitation of children with developmental disabilities). These were the first sensory rooms in BiH.