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Russia: Young Disabled Activists Tackle Attitudes in Mainstream Schools

Editor's Note: The following article is reprinted from Disability World, Issue No. 26, December 2004-February 2005.

Since 1998, Perspektiva has been training young disabled people to lead disability awareness trainings in mainstream schools. Today, young disabled people all over Russia and five cities of the NIS (Newly Independent States) are being invited to lead trainings in local schools; school administrators sign agreements with them or disability NGO's (non-governmental organizations) to provide this service. It has become a very popular way to change the attitudes of children and their teachers about disabled people.

It has also proved to be an effective way to involve disabled youths in their communities. Not only do they lead trainings, they negotiate with schools and local board of education officials and lead activities that will bring together these children with their disabled peers.

Finally, the disability awareness trainings are a great way to prepare the school for the inclusion of kids with disabilities. In a study carried out in Nizhny Novgorod about attitudes of teachers toward inclusive education, teachers of those schools that had hosted the disability awareness trainings were more inclined to see inclusive education being implemented in the very near future.

From Discrimination to Inclusion in Schools in the Republic of Komi

In the Komi region of Russia, in the city of Ukhta, special educational programs are provided for children with various disabilities, with 44 classes organized in the city's schools for children with developmental disabilities. However, a recent seminar organized by the Ukhta NGO of Disabled People revealed that most parents do not know how to go about ensuring that their children get an education. They don't know where to find appropriate schools.

One woman in Komi reported that a child, who has a vision impairment, has been excluded from classes and short excursions with his peers because the teacher says, "he moves too slowly."

After more than a year of lobbying efforts and court cases for funds to implement inclusive education activities, led by the Ukhta NGO of Disabled People, the President of the Republic of Komi has committed to providing support for the first model inclusive school. Some $15,000 has already been allocated.

Inclusive Education Efforts in Samara

Statistics from Samara's Committee for the Protection of Mothers and Children show that 4,027 children in Samara are registered as disabled, with 829 of these children under the age of seven. Of these children, 955 attend regular city school; 892 study in specialized schools for disabled children; 455 are educated at home and 896 receive no instruction whatsoever. And an additional 800 children get no education at all.

Also at Samara State Pedagogical University, a young man, who maneuvered his wheelchair through the university's mud-soaked courtyard to enter the building, was denied entrance simply based on the fact that, upon entering the rector's office, his hands were covered in mud.

Unfortunately, decisions to admit or not admit disabled students rest with each university's faculty, but disabled students are, according to Russian law, supposed to be given preference for admission. However, after seeing this young man's muddy hands, the faculty began a search for other reasons to deprive the young man of an opportunity to advance his education.

Desnitsa, one of the most active Disability NGO's in the region, has been promoting Access to Education for two years. In those two years they have succeeded in establishing a parents' NGO, lobbying for a Municipal Program on "Integrated Education" and assisting eight children to get access to their local schools.

They are also negotiating with a local university to set up a personal assistance program for families with a disabled child. Students will soon provide assistance to a disabled child as part of an internship program.

The parents are starting to lead peer support groups for parents. Finally the parents, together with lawyers and disabled activists, are assisting other parents to get access to education.

Disability Activists in the Volga Region Demand Equal Access to Education

According to official statistics, there are 4,135 disabled children of school age in the city of Nizhny Novgorod, where 1,131 study at specialized institutions and 351 children are at home. There are more than 7,000 disabled people ages 16-22, but only about 100 of them go to college.

Although there is a similar situation in cities throughout Russia, some positive changes have occurred with the help of Invatur--a Russian Disability NGO and partner of Perspektiva in Nizhny Novgorod.

For more than three years Invatur has been focusing on improving access to education. They have established a very effective coalition of disability NGO's and have established close and very productive ties with local schools an universities.

At a roundtable discussion led by the regional disability organization, Invatur, various officials were present, including Nizhny Novgorod's Education Minister, S. Naumov, who had formerly labelled children with learning disabilities as "uneducable".

During the course of the roundtable, however, Mr. Naumov said, "There are no uneducable children; all children need to learn." This was a great step forward in changing the general attitude toward inclusive education held by the Education Ministry.

Naumov also noted that the educational system needs to be revamped to include these children, but he stressed that this needs to be done "in steps".

Following more than one year of lobbying efforts by Invatur, a Disability NGO and partner of Perspektiva, Nizhny Novgorod's Education and Science Ministry finally allocated 800,000 rubles (approximately $27,000) from the region's budget to make local schools accessible to disabled students.

After a meeting between the Education Minister, S. Naumov, and representatives from Invatur, held on June 15, three schools were identified to be fitted with the appropriate ramps, railings and lifts to make them accessible to disabled children.

Invatur will continue to promote inclusive education in their region through advocacy and public education activities.

All of the activities mentioned in this report are part of a project funded by the United States (U.S.) Agency for International Development, Moscow office, and implemented by Perspektiva, together with its U.S.-based partner, the World Institute on Disability.

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