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14.04.2009. Russian and International Experience on the Path to Equal Opportunities for Disabled

Moscow, 14 April 2009 A new analytical overview Russia: on the Path to Equal Opportunities prepared on the initiative of the United Nations in Russia by a group of independent national experts under the leadership of Mr. Evgeny Gontmakher, Dr. Sc., Professor, Head of the Centre on Social Policy of the Institute of Economics, Russian Academy of Sciences, was launched today.

One in 11 Russians has a certain form of disability. Nationwide, this amounts to 13 million people with special physical, mental or intellectual needs of varying degree. The publication is dedicated to issues of access to education and employment for persons with disabilities in the context of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities that came into force in May 2008 and was signed by the Russian Federation in September 2008. One of the main ideas of the Convention is that disability is caused not by health problems associated with a particular medical condition but rather by the status of the development of a given society which impedes, by the barriers it creates, the exercise of rights and freedoms by individuals with health problems.

The country is on the way to ratification of the Convention, and the government pays more attention to the problems people with disabilities are facing. On 7 April, the first meeting of the Council for the Disabled, chaired by President Medvedev, took place. It addressed the issues of social adaptation of people with disabilities, their integration in the society, and improvements to legislation protecting their rights. As Sergey Mironov, Chairman of the Federation Council, noted in the address to the readers of the publication, now the task is to ensure that people with disabilities can get access to education and take an active part in all areas of the economic, cultural and social life of the country.

The UN-commissioned research could assist in this, as according to Mr. Kiyotaka Akasaka, Under-Secretary-General Communications and Public Information, who opened the discussion, it is aimed at providing support to the Russian society in overcoming existing barriers to the promotion of an inclusive approach to persons with disabilities. The basic idea is to attentively review existing opportunities for greater social and economic integration and to propose appropriate recommendations for action.

Indeed, the publication gives a definition of disability, provides information on international trends and practices in the area of the rights of disabled people for education and employment with examples of particular countries. It also includes an overview of legislative measures and initiatives in this sphere in the Russian Federation, the effectiveness of their implementation, as well as their compliance with the provisions of the Convention.

In this context, Professor Gontmacher pointed out the following contradiction: Economically and financially the situation in the beginning of this decade has improved, while policies related to disabled people have unfortunately deteriorated. I refer to Law No. 122, which in fact, has changed the foundation of the attitude to people with disabilities. In the 90s the law on social security of disabled people established that a person was considered disabled irrespective of the fact whether he or she was able to work, while it was important that a person had disabilities, and the society should help this person to integrate. Law No. 122 adopted in 2005 assesses disability in terms of loss of ability to work and as a result, a lot of disabled people lost hundreds and thousands of roubles. What is next? In my opinion the situation is changing for the better owing to a number of reasons I would mention. First, the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This is certainly a major step forward, in particular ideologically. This is a real implementation of the UN principles and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that establishes that people cannot be discriminated against on any grounds, Evgeny Gontmacher emphasized.

Natalya Malysheva, Adviser to the Chairman of the Federation Council, also spoke about further steps to be taken. She noted, that today, the task is not only to sign and to ratify, but to ensure the implementation of all provisions of the Convention. It is not enough to conduct the approval procedures. An action plan should be developed to ensure the implementation of all provisions of the Convention. To my mind, the main problem in Russia is to change the attitude to disabled people in the society. This is not a problem of disabled people, but the problem of the society. There are contradictions between the mass education system and the fact that all people are individuals. A major challenge for the development of inclusive education is objections and misunderstanding on the part of parents of temporary healthy, as they are afraid that the standards of education will deteriorate. However, there are examples demonstrating that, on the contrary, the individual approach implemented in inclusive education brings very good results.

Authors of the report, Deputy Chair of the All-Russian Society of Disabled, Oleg Rysev, and First Deputy Chair, Alexander Klepikov, spoke about two main issues covered in the report education and employment.

Among the important components of the overview, both of them noted the legal analysis of the current legislation and the comparison of the experience of several western countries and the situation in Russia and some post-Soviet states. Based on this the authors of the publication made the following major conclusions:

-The adoption in 2004 of Federal Law No 122 brought about significant changes in the lives of people with disabilities. Disability pension is now calculated on the basis of the degree of employment limitation which is viewed as a step backwards and contradicts main principles of the Convention. Thus the motivation for active life among disabled decreased. Moreover, additional barriers to the employment of disabled people were created; in fact activities aimed at creation of barrier free environment were suspended.

- A general overview of international practices demonstrates that countries are at different stages of the implementation of inclusive education. Moreover, in former soviet countries (e.g. Belarus, Estonia) inclusion is effectively non-existent. This is reflective both of the developmental level of particular countries as well as the complex and multi-faceted nature of the inclusion process, which cannot be rapidly implemented.

- Inclusion is a new form of effective and, by extension, high-quality education enabling an individual to realize his potential. Viewing inclusive education as a right we should remember that education is a key prerequisite for a broader process of social inclusion of disabled persons, including employment. While current system of education for disabled people in Russia does not correspond to the requirements of inclusion and, in particular, the principles of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

- The existence of anti-discrimination legislation is a necessary, but in itself not a sufficient prerequisite to ensure employment for the disabled. It appears that this challenge should be addressed on a systemic basis, with legislative provisions backed up by incentives for employers and measures enhancing a disabled persons motivation to work, as well as efforts to encourage the public acceptance of this process, especially in periods of recession and crisis.

- In light of reduction in state support for enterprises employing disabled persons in Russia, recent years have witnessed a drop in the number of disabled workers, in both open and sheltered markets. Specialized enterprises employing disabled workers, including enterprises managed by disability associations, were especially hard hit because such enterprises are more dependent on the state support than employers in the open market.

- Proper conditions should be put in place in both open and sheltered labour markets to ensure the employment of disabled persons. Priority should be given to expanding employment in the open labour market.

If the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is ratified in Russia, significant changes will be required in the legislation and disability policies. In effect, however, it comes down to changes in public attitude. The focus must shift from charity to equal partnership with disabled persons, their families and associations.

Without abolishing current payments, benefits and other preferences targeting disabled persons, the implementation of the fundamental principles of the Convention will necessitate a new quality of existing civic institutions.

Thus, an education system with an increased focus on individual approach to students organically prepared to work with disabled persons is to be created.

A pro-active government policy in the labour market reimbursing employers for additional costs of hiring disabled workers will not only permit more efficient use of the nations workforce but will also give millions of persons with disabilities the opportunity to realize their potential as equal citizens of Russia. Such employment policy still remains to be designed.

Implementation of universal design principles will make environments more comfortable for disabled persons as well as for anyone living in a town or district.

Comprehensive development and support for disability associations and their involvement in fundamental decision-making in regard to ensuring necessary conditions for the disabled will help avoid mistakes in decision-making and decrease social tension.

However, judging by international and Russian experience, this will take more than one year. Still, the first steps need to be taken and priority measures might include the following: make a number of amendments to the current legislation; create a database of best practices in the area of integration of disabled people in education and employment; establish a Public Council under the President to monitor the progress of implementation of the main provisions of the Convention; as well as prepare and disseminate information about main provisions of the Convention in media, as its successful implementation requires joint efforts of the whole society.

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For additional information please contact Victoria Zotikova, Communications Analyst, Office of the UN Resident Coordinator in Russia: tel. 787 21 15/769 97 91, e-mail: victoria.zotikova@undp.org

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