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UN weighs in on 'unjust' disabled access case

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UN weighs in on 'unjust' disabled access case
Simon Bacher. Photo: Sue Bacher
20:38 CET+01:00
The United Nations has asked Austria for an explanation after a British woman complained that her 25-year-old disabled son has been left stranded in their home every time there is bad weather because of bureaucratic red tape.
The high-powered request comes at the same time as the publication of an Amnesty International report highlighting what it described as serious loopholes in Austria's anti-discrimination laws.
 
Sue Bacher, 63, married Austrian Josef Bacher, 64, and moved to live with him in their home in Vomp, Tyrol. Their son Simon was born in 1990 and suffers from Down's syndrome as well as a muscular condition which has left him with severe physical difficulties.
 
Navigating the path from their home has meant difficulties in getting Simon to external care centres and has put enormous strain on his family who need to give him constant supervision.
 
In a complaint to the UN which they are now looking into, Sue pointed out that as well as being unable to speak, Simon has a chronic lung disease and suffers from an immune deficiency disease.
 
But progress toward a safe walkway has been blocked for the last 13 years because their neighbour, Mario Raas, had managed to get a court to overrule their planning permission by complaining that it interfered with his view.
 
The Bacher’s home in the mountainous Tyrol region is regularly covered with snow and ice and becomes slippery when wet.
 
But when they arranged for the walkway to be covered to keep it dry, Mr Raas made his complaint and the court agreed with him, giving him permission for it to be pulled down despite the fact it had been built to the exact stipulations of the local council.
 
As a result the roofed walkway was torn down, with workers waiting until the family were at a dolphin therapy camp with their disabled son before they moved in to rip the roof down and dump the debris in the Bacher's garden.
 
The family were then sent a bill for €4,000 to cover the cost of the roof removal.
 
Sue said: "We don't know why this has been such a struggle. The only reason we can find is that the Austrians do not want to give handicap rights, out of fear that other handicapped people may follow Simon's example."
 
She said the amazing thing was that the walkway had been pulled down despite the fact they had been given planning permission thanks to their neighbour and lawyers.
 
Sue said: "Our teenage daughter was at home at the time and called to say that there were men removing the roof and throwing the debris into our garden. As you can imagine, it was a bit of a shock."
 
Simon on the walkway. Photo: Sue Bacher
 
The demolition of the roof took place without the presence of a Court Official or Court Order.
 
The battle has so far cost the family in the region of €30,000 and Sue explained that she is campaigning not for financial help but for more consideration of Simon's emotional needs.
 
She said: "Austrians say foreigners must integrate into Austrian society, but when you have a sick child you can’t actually integrate."
 
Mrs Bacher continued: "I do not wish to criticise Austria as a whole. The care that Simon has received at the University clinic in Innsbruck has been very good. But the way our neighbour has been allowed to behave defies belief."
 
Paul Hecher, a senior executive at the Red Cross who has been helping the Bacher family, suggested that the family’s difficulties are indicative of a nationwide problem.
 
"Certain inhibitions in dealing with people with special needs still prevail in Austria," he explained. "There is a lack of comprehension for the special concerns of families with physically or mentally challenged members."
 
The 2014/15 Amnesty International report said: "Despite the government’s commitment in the UN Universal Periodic Review follow-up process to fill protection gaps, the Anti-Discrimination Law did not ensure equal protection against all forms of discrimination."
 
The United Nations committee has now accepted the Bacher's case and it is currently being investigated.
 
Petra Flieger, a social scientist who has been heavily involved with the Bacher family and their case said: "If the UN backs the family it would issue a statement about the matter which doesn't have any legal consequences other than being a major embarrassment for Austria."
 
Sue said: "I just hope that our case will inspire strength in other handicapped people to fight injustice."
 
The United Nations Office in Vienna has just hosted the Zero Project conference which aims to discuss independent living and political participation in innovative policies and practices for people with disabilities.
 
By Emily Boneham
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