Stop for one second and think about all the things that are included in your morning routine. You wake up, prepare breakfast, brush your teeth, get dressed, leave for work. Now think again: how would it look like if all those things suddenly became impossible without the help of another person?

For some people, this is just a thought experiment

But this is how reality looks like for people with disabilities. It doesn’t mean that they can’t lead independent and fulfilling lives. They can, but it requires the service of a personal assistant, Jelena Backovic explains.

Jelena and Amela from Bosnian Doctors for Disabled NGO during Tech4Stories project in Sarajevo, March 2018

Photo: J.Agovic

She herself is a person with disabilities, and together with her friend, Amela Balestrieri, they run an NGO called “Bosnian Doctors for Disabled”. TechSoup Europe’s Tech4Stories workshop helped them to develop a project of a campaign which shows the importance of service of the personal assistant.

“Our aim is to explain to all Bosnian NGOs active in that field – but also to the lawmakers – that this issue isn’t less important than other matters related to the challenges which people with disabilities face”, Jelena adds.

The change which Jelena and Amela want to see one day, involves the government creating a new regulation regarding personal assistant’s service. (“Right now this issue remains invisible from a legal point of view”, Amela explains.)

So who exactly is a personal assistant?

According to Jelena and Amela, he (or she) is someone who enables a person with disabilities to be more independent. Personal assistant (PA) is not a care giver nor someone who guides a person with disabilities through life. PA helps with physical activities: cleaning, putting clothes on, pushing the wheelchair, tidying, getting to work, preparing materials that are necessary for studying.

“It’s like a factory” – Jelena laughs – “And I’m the boss in it. There are three personal assistants working for me and each of them does different things. One brings me documents for work and the other ones help me with putting on my clothes and tidying”.

Tech4Stories by TechSoup Europe, Sarajevo, 03.2018, Photo: J.Agovic

How are Jelena and Amela going to explain the role of PA in the lives of persons’ with disabilities?

“During Tech4Stories workshop we learned how to plan a campaign in a right way. And even if we don’t collect enough money to finish this one, we will still be using that knowledge in our everyday work”, Jelena tells me.

What did activists learn during communication workshops?

“Being precise is crucial. More impactful stories are better for the audience. For example, I would use Amela’s story instead of mine as an opening for a campaign, because her experience – of a person who is paralyzed and in a greater need of a PA than I am – seems more powerful”, Jelena tells me.

But probably the most important advice they got from Brandon Oelofse, the trainer from Tech4Stories workshop, director of RNTC was to leave their own bubble.

“I’ve been a part of the movement of people with disabilities for so long”, Jelena recalls. “It’s a good thing on one hand, but on the other, it can make you lose touch with so-called <regular> people. It simply means that at some point you become fixated with your topic and forget what’s the best way to communicate it to the others. So the right step would be to think about metaphors. That’s how I can move my topic closer to the audience”.

Jelena Backovic from Bosnian Doctors for Disabled and her personal Assistant Zana, Tech4Stories workshop, Sarajevo, March 2018

Jelena and her Personal Assistant Zana during Tech4Stories workshop, Phot. J.Agovic

The inspirations Tech4Stories gave them can be heard in their own words when they are describing the role of PAs in their lives: “personal assistant is a rock for independent living”.

“The goal for our campaign would be to convince other NGOs that making services of personal assistants available and more popular, is an issue they should contribute to. Because their beneficiaries could use the help of PAs – just as we did. Our experience with PAs is a positive example itself – and if we do this campaign one day, we will show more positive stories in videos and articles available to a wider audience”, Jelena adds.


Learn more about Tech4Stories project that was possible thanks to the Charles  Stewart Mott Foundation.

 Credits: Anna Kiedrzynek