Disabled People in Russia: on the Way Towards Equal Opportunities

On 24 September 2008 Russia signed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. What actions should be taken to endure the implementation of the principles of the Convention and its ratification? Are there any obstacles for education and employment for people with disabilities? These questions were among those received by participants of the online conference ‘Disabled People in Russia: on the Way Towards Equal Opportunities’ organized by the UN Office on 12 December at the premises of RIA-Novosti news agency. One of them, Oleg Nikolaevich Smolin, Russian State Duma deputy, Deputy Chairman of the Education Committee of the State Duma, Vice-President of the All-Russian Association for the Blind and First Vice-President of the Russian Paralympics Committee who is blind and has a first group disability by his own example encourages our society to overcome the social barriers connected with disability. Another participant is a well-known expert, Evgeni Shlemovich Gontmacher, PhD, professor and Head of the Social Policy Centre of the Economics Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Board Member of the Modern Development Institute. During conference the speakers answered 15 out of almost 70 questions from 10 Russian regions and even from abroad.

Oleg Smolin opened the conference saying that the decade of disabled persons marked in December around the world is a good chance for the authorities to remember about this group of citizens, to which every tenth person in Russia belongs. The deputy noted a number of recent improvements in this area. President Dmitry Medvedev agreed to re-establish the Council on the Issues of Disabled under the President of the Russian Federation. On 9 October at a meeting with the Communist Party fraction in the State Duma Vladimir Putin agreed to meet with heads of organizations of disabled and deputies representing their interests in the parliament. There are other improvements, although, according to Mr. Smolin, they do not keep pace with the development of the economic and social crisis in the country.

Victor, Luchegorsk: Are there special projects aimed at integration of disabled people in society?

Evgeni Gontmacher, Head of the Social Policy Centre of the Economics Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences: Technically such projects exist, including the Federal Target Programme for Social Protection of Disabled implemented for many years. There are regional programmes, although they are not of equal value – it depends on governors and regional capacities. However it would be too early to say that there is a system that provides support to every disabled person. It is the signing of the Convention and its implementation in full that can create the conditions for these projects to reach all people they are intended for.

Vladimir Salit, Tomsk: With the signing of the Convention what should disabled people in Russia expect in the area of education tomorrow and in the coming three years?

Oleg Smolin: We have drafted a text of the law on amendments to the legislation in the area of education of persons with disabilities. We have worked on this document together with ministries and organizations of disabled; however, the draft was rejected by the government because of the position of the Ministry of Economic Development and the Ministry of Finance. They think that 2.5 billion roubles for the needs of disabled is too much. What is the draft law about? It includes a number of important ideas, I would mention just one – the right of parents to decide on the environment their child will study in. We do not think it is right to unthinkingly destroy the system of specialized educational establishments that exists in the Russian Federation, but we are sure that every parent who wants his child to study in an inclusive environment should have this opportunity. The state should ensure that there are opportunities for education both in specialized and inclusive educational establishments. This is the key idea of the draft law supported by the majority of organizations. And we hope that the Convention will help us speed up its adoption.

Vladimir Ivanov, Oryol: Why is it that if a disabled person tries to improve his life, get a job or become an entrepreneur he no longer receives social benefits, e.g. payment for care of disabled?

Oleg Smolin: A rehabilitating person should be encouraged not punished. After all if he works he does not only improve his life, but also supports the state by paying taxes.

Olga, Moscow: People with a number of disabilities are eligible for a separate room; however it is possible to apply only if there are less than 10 metres of the total space per person in a family. Therefore a lot of families cannot use their right for an additional room. Is anything done to make amendments to the Housing Code?

Oleg Smolin: Three years ago a draft law was adopted in the State Duma in first reading. It should, in particular, establish the fact that the living space that allows applying for a room in the regions cannot be less than the officially norm set at the federal level – 18 sq. m, i.e. it cannot be lowered to 10 sq. m. However this draft law did not make it through the State Duma, as a number of its provisions were not approved by the President’s Office and the government, and without their approval the Duma does not adopt any documents today.

Alan, Tver: When will the state finally start looking into the problem of providing blind people, especially totally blind and blind specialists with computers (notebooks), and mobile phones (smart phones) that can be equipped with talking programmes?

Oleg Smolin: Dear colleagues! In addition to being Vice-President of the All-Russian Association for the Blind in the State Duma I coordinate the Council on Digital Education and Modern Information Technologies at the Education Committee. I mention it because I want to give an example in my capacity as a Coordinator: in France the state provides notebooks not only to blind people, but to every student. In South Korea – to every weak school student thus improving their results by 40 percent. I fully support this idea. Moreover, we have asked the Russian Government about this several times. At the moment the only thing we achieved is including of talking books, tonometers, thermometers and vision correction aids in the list of rehabilitation devices that are financed from the budget. We should move on. At the moment we cannot change this situation but we will work on it.

Tatiana, Saratov: Speaking about disabled women we should mention the limitation of their maternity rights. They can have a baby, but how can they support a child with their small disability payment? For disabled women it is much more difficult to find a job than for disabled men.

Evgeni Gontmacher: I can only say that I am puzzled by the government policy in this area. It was announced that we should improve the birth rate. Yes, a disabled woman has the right to have a baby as well as other women. And disability pension is very low. That is why I think if we further develop the programme aimed at improvement of the demographic situation we should work on the section on disabled women and families of disabled people. Certainly, the best way to solve these problems is for people to be employed. If, for example, a woman is single, has a job and receives a good salary it is possible to solve all these problems. That is why I consider it the next step in enhancement of our demographic policy.

Vera, Petrozavodsk: According to the law on employment quotas for disabled people employees should comply with the established quotas for employment of disabled. If the quota is not maintained the employer should pay a certain amount to the budget. At the same time there is neither a mechanism for its collection established by the law nor controlling agencies. An employer can be penalized for failure to give information on the quota; however no sanctions can be implemented for refusal to employ disabled people. What is the situation today with the adoption of additional bylaws regulating the mechanism of maintenance of quotas for employment of disabled?

Evgeni Gontmacher: These are the consequences of the notorious Law 122 that in fact abolished payments an employer should make in case the quota for disabled employees is not maintained. The law increases the number of employees in a small enterprise from 30 to 100 people, while it is well-known that most disabled people are employed at very small enterprises. Thus an employer in fact may not take up the quotas that are formally established in every region because no sanctions will follow. Before the adoption of Law 122 employers had to pay certain amounts, there were designated funds in a number of regions aimed at creating jobs for disabled people. Thus there was a relatively logical and transparent system and Law 122 destroyed it. I hope that owing to the efforts of Oleg Smolin and his colleagues the situation will be reversed.

Oleg Smolin: Several years ago the State Duma adopted in first reading the law of the Leningrad Legislative Assembly on reestablishment of the size of enterprises participating in quota assignment at the level of 50 people (not 30 as before, but 50, and this is a major step forward) that states clearly that if the quota is not taken up the money should go to a special fund that deals with jobs creation for disabled people. Unfortunately, the law is currently at the same stage. We are told it can harm small business. To my mind the state harms small business much more by numerous inspections, penalties and other actions that cost much more to businesses than employment of one or two disabled people.

Vladimir, Tomsk: Can state agencies fine parents of children with disabilities if they do not get education due to parent’s fault?

Evgeni Gontmacher: There is a provision based on the Constitution that every child of school age should study, including children with disabilities who should attend an educational establishment. However, as far as I know, there are no specific sanctions against parents who do not take their children to school neither in the Criminal nor in the Administrative Code. While, according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, 2 million of children in the Russian Federation do not attend school, it is very likely that many of them are disabled children and I think that it is a major problem.

Oleg Smolin: Nobody knows how many children exactly do not get school education in Russia. Ministers of education always say there are not more than just several thousands, while the Ministry of Internal Affairs says there are about 2 million of them. And if we look at the number of children of a certain age group attending educational establishments we will see the difference of 2.3 million, including about 200 thousand disabled children. I am sure that first of all the state is responsible for providing education opportunities for disabled children, while their parents should help them use these opportunities.

Evgeni, Volgograd: Are there plans to develop and distribute for public discussion and local lobbying of a package of laws aimed at implementation of the norms of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in the Russian Federation?

Oleg Smolin: Of course, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities will require major amendments to the legislation. Without waiting for its ratification we have proposed draft laws aimed at bringing our legislation to compliance with the Convention that will be ratified in future. One of the draft laws is dedicated to social support of disabled people according to disability groups rather than the level of incapacity, another – to education of people with disabilities. Therefore as soon as the Convention is ratified we will propose other bylaws, and will start with these two. Please ask your deputies to vote for proposed bylaws.

Denis, Moscow: What can and shall NGOs do for the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to be finally ratified?

Evgeni Gontmacher: Certainly, NGOs can make a significant contribution. That is why they should take an active part in drafting laws and legal acts that will help implement the Convention, raise awareness and in fact lobby this issue at all levels. By the way, the regional level is as important as the federal. We will adopt the Convention at the federal level, while in the regions local authorities still do not understand what this is about, who people with disabilities are and what should be done for them. And the main obstacle, to my mind, is not lack of funds, although the ratification will require considerable spending, e.g. for inclusive education and new employment programmes… The main problem is to change the attitude of the society, not only civil servants, to disabled people, and treat them as everybody else. We should stop dividing people into normal and abnormal. All people are normal, they just have different abilities. This is the most important thing.

Full text of the online conference is available here: