Why only in the presence of a witness of full age? – The Commissioner for Fundamental Rights on the delivery of registered mail to blind and partially-sighted persons

By default, Magyar Posta [the Hungarian postal service] allows the delivery of registered mail to blind and partially-sighted persons only in the presence of a witness of full age. According to the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights, this practice is in violation of the right to equal dignity and the country’s international human rights commitments. Ombudsman László Székely has requested the competent ministries and the President & CEO of Magyar Posta to work out a solution that would respect the right of self-determination of those concerned.

The Ombudsman learned from the press that the staff of Magyar Posta Zrt. would deliver official documents to visually impaired persons only in the presence of a witness. The person interviewed told the journalist that he had been blind for forty years, but he did not find it necessary to have somebody present when receiving official documents. He stated that he had never felt so stigmatized as when the mailman had delivered him his mail in the presence of a stranger. He found it discouraging that the postal service did not trust its own employees and complained that strangers might learn about his personal affairs. When he turned to Magyar Posta, he was told that blind and partially-sighted persons are “lumped in with those who are illiterate”.

Upon initiating an ex officio inquiry into the matter, Commissioner for Fundamental Rights László Székely has found out that, by virtue of the Government Decree on postal services, registered mail may be delivered to an addressee who cannot write or, due to any reason, is writing impaired, or to any other entitled recipient only in the presence of a literate witness of full age. This stipulation is included in the General Terms of Contract of Magyar Posta Zrt.; according to the President & CEO, the Company has proceeded in accordance with the prevailing legal regulations.

In his report, the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights has pointed out that the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) requires some sort of change of perspective in the Hungarian legal system as well. It means that persons living with disabilities are members of equal standing, value, and rights in society, who are in need of not charity but some assistance enabling them to live their lives as independently as possible. The objective of this change of perspective is to ensure any and all services to persons living with disabilities at a level identical to that available to the members of mainstream society without “over-caring”, and taking into account their individual circumstances, providing them with the chance to make responsible decisions.

According to Ombudsman László Székely, through enabling persons living with disabilities to manage their affairs independently, including the receipt of registered mail, the legislator would not deprive them of the possibility to avail themselves of support should they decide to do so. However, the mandatory presence of a witness of full age when delivering registered mail to visually impaired, blind persons is an unjustifiable, additional requirement that constitutes discrimination based on disability.

According to the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights, the prevailing paternalistic practice and automatism do not take into account the individual circumstances of blind and partially-sighted persons living with disabilities, e.g., their ability to write, do not leave scope for the enforcement of their right of self-determination and freedom of choice. The Ombudsman has established that the prevailing regulations and judicial practices infringe on the requirement of equal treatment and do not meet the requirements specified in the CRPD. The Commissioner for Fundamental Rights has called attention to the fact that the use of postal services, including the delivery of registered mail, shall be ensured independently, in a barrier-free manner to blind and partially-sighted persons as well.

Ombudsman László Székely has requested the Minister heading the Prime Minister’s Office and the Minister of Human Capacities to prepare, with the cooperation of Magyar Posta Zrt. and the advocacy organizations concerned, a new regulation that would enable blind and partially-sighted persons, while preserving their right of self-determination and freedom of choice, to decide whether they require the assistance of a witness during the delivery of official documents. The Commissioner has recommended the competent ministries to explore the possibility of how to make postal services barrier-free for blind and partially-sighted persons. The Commissioner for Fundamental Rights has also requested the President & CEO of Magyar Posta Zrt. to modify the current practice of delivery to visually impaired persons who are capable of writing.