Round-table on “Equal Rights for Persons with Down Syndrome” - Russia

The UN Information Center in Moscow joined the “Best Buddies” Fund and “Perspectiva”, a leading local NGO, in organizing a round-table on “Equal Rights for Persons with Down Syndrome” on 20 March. The main idea of the meeting, which was benevolently hosted by the World Bank Moscow Office, boiled down to a simple question: What needs to be done in Russia to secure a full and decent life for persons with Down syndrome, promote their self-reliance and enjoyment of all human rights. This is why the agenda included different aspects of the issue: rights of persons with Down syndrome in the context of the UN Convention; family life; education; socialization; employment, and freedom to make their own choices.

We discussed the situation of these “invisible people” (the term used by a participant meaning those people are seldom seen in public which is a sad truth) firstly, from the legal angle. Several participants pointed out that the law-making targeting persons with disabilities is still regrettably slow in Russia. One guest said that the new framework draft law on education keeps all the unfortunate barriers intact. That said, the pro-disability community is working to improve the text and some changes have been proposed promoting inclusive education.
Another speaker focused on issues of capability and legal capacity of persons with disabilities. He stressed that the institution of guardianship has to be changed without further delay. His points were picked up by other participants who stated that Russian Civil Code has to reflect changing attitudes in society - despite the fact that there is a “conservative group” in the Parliament and the government that opposes any drastic moves.
The subject of family life was hotly discussed. Many participants were of the opinion that a family support service needs to be introduced as soon as possible. The task of educating parents was emphasized by several participants who opined that families rather often are not aware of their rights. In this context, a participant stated that a socio-psychological approach has to be furthered to encourage parents’ proactive attitudes. The audience unanimously felt that there is a need to promote a family-centered model.
Inclusive education was another important topic in the discussion. Practical experience of several inclusive schools was shared and praised. However, experts agreed that inclusion has to be well-prepared while any spontaneous initiatives are doomed to fail.
A video link connected the session with an audience in the city of Pskov. Experts from this province shared with us their achievements and problems in the area of employment and development of the individual.
At the end of the meeting participants agreed to produce a summary of ideas, proposals, and conclusions that emerged in the course of the discussion and which reflect a wealth of unique knowledge that has to be put to use. Several specific action points were put forward including contribution to a hearing on disability issues that will be organized soon in the Russian Parliament.