Launch of the UN publication Russia: on the Path to Equal Opportunities and the discussion of the situation of people with disabilities in RF, held in Saint-Petersburg


On 6 August, A.I. Gertsen Russian State Pedagogical University Fundamental Library hosted a presentation of the analytical overview Russia: on the Path to Equal Opportunities organized jointly by the UN agencies in Russia, St. Petersburg Humanities and Political Studies ‘Strategy’ Centre and A.I.Gerzen Russian State Pedagogical University.

President of the ‘Centre’ Strategy, A.Yu. Sungurov, who chaired the meeting, welcomed the audience. Further A.Yu. Kruglov, Director of the Institute of International Relations, A.I.Gerzen Russian State Pedagogical University, addressed the participants and noted that “the university has more than a century long history of training teachers to work with disabled people.” One of the oldest departments of the university is the Correction Pedagogy Department established just after the October Revolution. However, this department has a longer history connected with the names of prominent Russian psychologists, doctors, physiologists, teachers, and linguists, who founded entire areas in working with disabled people – Feldberg, Belsky, Bekhterev, Griboyedov, Graborov, Aderaks.”

Dirk Hebecker, Senior Human Rights Adviser, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in RF, who led the UN delegation in St Petersburg, spoke about the process of signing and implementation by countries of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. According to Mr Hebecker, there is an understanding that the implementation of the Convention requires a lot of funds and is an unattainable ideal we can only strive to achieve. However, many countries have accumulated vast experience in this area; Russia can also offer a number of good examples. Thus, the analytical overview presents a combination of theory and practice.

Delivering a welcome message on behalf of the St Petersburg Government, S.P. Litvinov, First Deputy Chair of the Committee for Social Policy, noted that even though a federal law on social security for people with disabilities was adopted in 1995, “the country has not achieved international leadership status in this important area and is only working towards ensuring equal opportunities for all members of the society.” Russia signed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities last year and currently is preparing for its ratification. In this environment, St Petersburg, the city, which to a great extent is oriented at European standards, is implementing active social policy to serve as an example for other regions of the Russian Federation. “Efforts of the St Petersburg Government are aimed at creation of the environment for people with disabilities equal to other people, as well as the improvement of the legislation of St. Petersburg to further develop social support measures funded from the city budget,” Sergey Litvinov noted.

His colleague T.N. Shelomanova, Director of the Department for Supervision of Disabled People Rehabilitation, St Petersburg Committee for Social Policy, gave a comprehensive overview of the areas where the city authorities help improve the life of disabled people. This work is very important for the city as people with disabilities constitute 17 percent – a significant part of its population, more than in other Russian regions. This amounts to over 770,000 people, mainly senior pensioners. According to Tatiana Shelomanova, “the policy in relation to disabled people is implemented through a number of instruments, including about 30 laws stipulating social support measures.” In addition to federal measures, the city provides free public transport, supplementary rehabilitation equipment, as well as individual transportation. A plan for the adaptation of the social infrastructure has been approved, an information service for people with disabilities is in place, and the city also offers support to NGOs working in this area.

Professor E.Sh. Gontmacher (PhD), lead author of the UN publication, Deputy Director of the Institute of Global Economy and International Relations, Russian Academy of Sciences, and E.Yu. Shatalova, Senior Researcher of the Social Policy Centre, Institute of Economics, Russian Academy of Sciences, and Head of Social Psychology of the Clinical Psychology Department, Moscow Medical and Social Rehabilitation Institute, presented the UN publication Russia: on the Path to Equal Opportunities (Note that people with disabilities were among main authors of the analytical overview, commissioned by the UN – A.V. Klepikov and O.V. Rysev, deputy chairs of the All-Russian Society of Disabled People).

Professor Gontmacher expressed confidence that Russia would ratify the UN Convention. He believes that the ratification itself is not a complicated issue, while implementation of the Convention requires political will. He emphasized that it is necessary to focus on fundamental aspects – ideology to be established in Russia to ensure the implementation of the Convention. “Disability is not a medical problem; it is the barriers in our minds that we should overcome in everything we do,” Evgeny Gontmacher concluded.

Presenting major outcomes of the research, Elena Shatalova reminded the participants that if ratified the Convention would be obligatory to implement. In particular, inclusive education is referred to as a right in the Convention, while implementation of inclusive education “is a complicated multistage process... A variety of forms should be offered... Parents should have an opportunity to decide what is best for their child.” It is essential to form positive public opinion; here media should play a major role. Employment problems are connected with education. In addition, current legislation, unfortunately, does not provide for positive dynamics in employment of disabled people. The quota system does not work, while, according to the authors, disabled people should have an opportunity to enter the open job market. Ms Shatalova noted that, as disabled people cannot compete with healthy people in the job market, it is necessary to support a number of employment opportunities where the state would compensate the employer for possible loss, e.g. part-time work of disabled employees. The expert underlined that we should move from charity and compassion, at times humiliating for people with disabilities, to equal partnership.

Further, M.B.Gorny, Executive Director of the Strategy Centre, spoke about the concept of cooperation between executive agencies and NGOs, one of the mechanisms for ensuring equal opportunities in St Petersburg. Valeriya Olshanskaya, TACIS-IBPP Project Coordinator in St Petersburg, informed the participants about the progress of the project ‘Development of Partnerships: on the Way to Inclusive Education’.

A.S. Gorelik, Director of the UN Information Centre in Moscow and A.A.Demidov, Chairman of the Board, ‘Information for All’ MOO, and member of the Working Group on Information Society Development in Russia of the RF Public Chamber, spoke about efforts in various areas aimed at ensuring access to information for people with disabilities.

According to Alexandre Gorelik, “the UN views access to ICT as an instrument to promote human rights, an opportunity to overcome poverty in the broad sense of the word, ensure better access to education for all, stimulate employment, and contribute to inclusive socio-economic development in general.”

Mr Gorelik noted that ensuring access to technology for people with disabilities has become a global trend in recent years. At the same time, according to the UN, the majority of websites are not adapted for blind, visually or hearing impaired people. It is obvious that ignoring problems of people with disabilities connected with ICT use demonstrates poor political judgement of the government, egocentric indifference of the society and, finally, short-sightedness of the business community. “The generally appalling situation is changing. However, we must work together to ensure that there are more changes to come. No pains no gains,” Mr Gorelik concluded.

Executive Secretary of the St Petersburg Human Rights Activists Union, N.L. Evdokimova, consultant on social and legal issues of the St Petersburg regional NGO ‘Nochlezhka’ (caring for homeless people), I.Z. Karlinsky, and others took part in the active discussion.

Full text of the overview
Information on the process of approval and ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities