Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Disabled people in Russia fight for the right to work

From The St. Petersburg Times in Russia:

Russia’s estimated 13 to 15 million disabled people face a range of difficulties, not least of which is finding a job.

“Although every disabled person has the right to apply to the state employment agency to find a job, in reality it is difficult for jobseekers with physical or any other kind of problems,” said Grigory Trofimov, coordinator of the Association for Helping Disabled People and Those with a Limited Ability to Work.

“It is strange, but at such employment agencies there is no distance training or possibility of contacting consultants by e-mail or telephone. You have to be there in person every time.”

“Of course, we have a lack of financial support from the state,” he added. “The biggest disability allowance is about 10,000 rubles ($329). But the main problem for everyone with any kind of disability is their isolation from normal life, potential work and communication with others.”

A lack of information on how to find a job or news about local and international social and volunteer programs is another difficulty faced by disabled people, according to Svetlana Katayeva, director of Avrio Group Consulting recruitment company.

Although in recent times some positive changes have been seen in Russia, such as wheel-chair-friendly transport and disabled access in some places, if people are not a member of the association for the deaf, blind or other societies, it is very difficult for them to tackle problems alone.

The main task of such organizations is the support and rehabilitation of disabled people. They give people a chance to work and forge contacts with employers.

“There are employers who are open to taking on disabled people,” says Yegeniya Zhilieyeva, regional recruitment director at Kelly Services in St. Petersburg.

“They are McDonald’s and some clothing factories which accept deaf or partially sighted people.”

Among the disabled population, there are many highly skilled specialists, who often find themselves at a disadvantage due to their restricted mobility. “Our main task is to help people find all kinds of jobs, from simple work that can be done at home to creative work that requires specialized knowledge, such as translation, writing, editing and programming,” said Trofimov. “For instance, we are currently working on a commercial project for a photography and design service.”

Comparing the situation in Russia and abroad, it is clear that while officially everyone has equal rights and opportunities, many stereotypes about disabled people remain. Firstly, there is so-called hidden discrimination, when employers do not reject disabled candidates outright, but try to pay them off.

“According to the law on the social protection of disabled people, there is a guaranteed quota (2 to 4 percent) of jobs for disabled employees,” said Trofimov. “But most heads of companies think that taking on a disabled person will only be a burden to them, so they prefer to give applicants money rather than offer them a job.”

Pyotr Bukalyuk, a member of the Association for Helping Disabled People and Those with a Limited Ability to Work, believes that discrimination is an inevitable part of any social system. According to him, employers are not interested in their employees’ problems.

“It doesn’t matter whether you are a young mother who needs to leave work early to collect your child from kindergarten or a disabled person,” said Bukalyuk.

Such pessimism may be the result of the legacy of the Soviet Union, when disabled people were hushed up and largely ignored by society and the authorities.

“It is a terrible problem,” said Kelly Services’ Zhilieyeva. “The treatment of disabled people is the main difference between Russia and European countries and the U.S.”

To break this circle of incomprehension and indifference, disabled people propose changing the list of documents required to register with the state employment agency and increasing employers’ compulsory payments to the budget for rejecting disabled candidates. Another task is to create a general database of job opportunities for disabled people and simplify the process of looking for a job.