Since January 2016, the City of Heidelberg has had a dedicated “Disabilities Officer” – the sociologist Christina Reiss. Reiss acts as an ombudsman, promoting equal opportunities for people with disabilities and addressing the issues that matter to them. She works closely with Heidelberg’s Advisory Committee for the Disabled (bmb) and advises the city administration on inclusion.
The state of Baden-Württemberg’s “Law on Equal Opportunities for the Disabled” states that both urban and rural districts must have either a voluntary or a paid Disabilities Officer. The importance that Heidelberg attaches to disability rights in all areas of city life is reflected in its decision to make the Disabilities Officer a paid position reporting directly to the Mayor. The Disabilities Officer is not affiliated to any city department and can act as she sees fit.
“Heidelberg is already doing well in the area of disability rights, but there is still plenty of work to do”
“My main tasks as I see it are being a point of contact for people with disabilities, and giving them the opportunity to participate in all areas of society. Heidelberg is already doing well in the area of disability rights, but there is still plenty of work to do,” Reiss explains. She believes that, while there is already a good awareness of the needs of wheelchair users, the needs of people with visual or hearing impairments and psychiatric disorders are catered for less well. “Sometimes it is not immediately obvious from looking at someone that they have a disability. I want to work on raising awareness of this,” says Reiss. Her main areas of focus are accommodation and mobility. In addition, Reiss is responsible for coordinating the inclusion process across the city.