Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Disabled people still "invisible" in Russia

Disabled Russians protest in 2004.

Radio Free Europe reports May 26 that even with new laws in Russia designed to give disabled people there more access to society, many are left out due to continuing architectural, educational and employment barriers.

In Russia, employers are legally obliged to hire a certain percentage of people with disabilities. But Dania Galiullina, a spokeswoman for Tatarstan's Labor and Employment Ministry, says most employers simply ignore the law.

"Companies that refuse to employ disabled people have to pay fines," Galiullina says, "but the amount of the fine is so low, most companies prefer to accept that they are breaking the law and just pay the fine."

According to the United Nations, 14 million Russians are disabled, but they are only gradually being integrated into Russian society. But the new Russian president says he wants to make it a priority.

At Perspektiva, a disability rights NGO in Russia, its director Denise Roza's top priority is to trying to persuade the government to adopt the new UN convention on disabled rights.

She says the new Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, said in a recent speech that he wants to take greater steps to help the country's disabled population.

"This was an issue we did not talk about at all for a long time," Medvedev said. "But the situation is changing now, and the state has made this issue one of its priorities. I think we have more opportunities than before because society is starting to change, rather a lot, and it seems to me that these days it's difficult to force someone to stay at home. Also, you see more and more disabled people on television, on the streets. You see more and more how people who are disabled are leading ordinary lives."