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Changing Perspectives in Russia

by Erin Kelly
June 21 2010

One of the first things we noticed after arriving in Moscow was the poor quality of services for pedestrians. Sidewalks are bumpy with very high curbs, there are no elevators in the metro stations, and if you’re lucky enough to find a ramp, it’s extremely narrow, steep and slippery (we could barely roll our luggage up the one at the high-end Hilton Hotel). These are the kinds of obstacles that Yulia Simonova and other disabled people face everyday in Moscow and Russia in general.

Yulia Simonova

Yulia is the Project Coordinator for the Regional Society of Disabled People – Perspektiva, an organization that works to improve the conditions and raise awareness about the rights of disabled people in Russia. The conditions for disabled people in Russia are terrible – not many handicap-accesible areas, hardly any programs for the blind and deaf, few schools that accept disabled kids, etc. The mentality among the Russian people focuses on the masses, not on the individual. There are so many people in the country (10 million in Moscow alone) that problems affecting even a few thousand people don’t matter. Disabled people are invisible and the government can’t be bothered with implementing services for such a small group in the scheme of things.

Yulia broke her back after a tragic gymnastics accident at the age of ten, and has been in a wheelchair ever since. She was forced to be home-schooled because the schools were not handicap-accessible at that time, and she began to lose hope in ever being able to lead a normal, happy life. She gradually met other people in wheelchairs and learned that they do in fact lead very diverse and active lives, changing her perspective on the possibilities for disabled people. After finishing school, she became a trained activist for people with disabilities through Perspektiva, and has been working for the organization ever since.

Yulia works on the development of inclusive education, traveling to schools and training students, parents and administrators about people with disabilities. She meets with many children, both with and without disabilities, talking to them about all of the activities that she does and showing them how disabled people can, in fact, lead normal lives. The impact of such education is obvious – she recalled how one boy, who was not disabled, came up to her afterwards and said that he now wants to be friends with disabled kids and help them. Many parents become involved in creating awareness as well. And though progress is slow, it is there – there are now 80 inclusive schools in Moscow, which accept disabled children.

Yulia’s story and Perspektiva’s mission are perfect examples of what creating awareness can accomplish. And that is the main goal of our project as well – to create awareness about individuals who are fighting for their beliefs, following their passions and making progress, one day at a time.

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23 Responses

  1. Raul

    This is very important and something that needs to be told…I am glad to see that things are changing, even if it is happening slowly.


  2. Your project is awe inspiring – as is Yulia. I interviewed the founder of a migrant worker NGO in Beijing – The founder was once migrant worker himself, and now dedicated his life to building an NGO and running an NGO in China is no easy task due to government restrictions, but the NGO has battled on. He was so passionate and certainly making a change, just one man on his own.

    Good luck on your adventure and I look forward to reading more about your travels and the people you interview.

  3. Interesting post & project. I’m a peace corps volunteer in macedonia, and when I first came into the school I work at here, I was startled to find that there is a deaf-mute boy in the regular first grade classes. He doesn’t have any special materials or aid and is essentially left to fend for himself throughout the day, because there’s no support in the education system for students who need additional aid. This isn’t unusual – although I’ve heard there are some more resources for students in the capital city, in the towns and villages there is no support for disabled students. As many problems as we may have in schools in the US, it’s important to draw attention to the fact that in other countries disabled students & people lack many of the resources (whether it be attention & care, or physical resources or training) necessary to lead normal lives.

  4. This is a great article. Glad you were featured on WordPress. It is nice to stop and think about how just one person can make a difference. Often we feel that the problems & pressures of the world are too big for one person to make a difference. Which really isn’t true. We feel overwhelmed, but in reality we can all make a difference in one way or another. 🙂 Great post!

  5. It is amazing that in other parts of the world things are not as accessible to individuals with special needs as they are in other places. Although, the world could be a friendlier place sometimes and it’s wonderful to see people who are striving for that change. Great post!

  6. Tom Kelly

    Congratulations for being the 1st position featured blog on the WordPress home page today!!!

  7. Nessie

    Great post and great blog! Thanks for featuring such an important subject.

  8. Pingback: Changing Perspectives in Russia (via Opening Our Eyes) « this year's masterpiece

  9. Pingback: Changing Perspectives in Russia (via Opening Our Eyes) « Reactions of the Freshly Pressed

  10. Nome Meu e Jorge Freitas sou do Brasil e nasci no Rio de Janeiro e eu gostaria de puplicar em meu blog sua historia…

  11. njaiswal

    It’s great that work is being done in this direction. The importance of the individual and her/his rights must never be subjugated, at least in matters of acceptance and access. Best of luck with your endeavour!

  12. Very important post. I had no idea of the attitude of the Russians towards handicapped people. Yulia is doing an amazing job.

  13. Congrats on being featured! This is an inspirational blog and a particularly interesting post. Disabled people are still marginalised in most countries but in a huge country like Russia it must be particularly difficult to be noticed and heard. Well done you and WordPress for spreading awareness of a vital global issue.

  14. brilliantmindbrokenbody

    It’s a great project, but it’s disappointing that people have to be told things like this. Even the US, where we supposedly have a better outlook on disability, we talk about people’s disabilities as tragedies, we refer to people who use wheelchairs as ‘wheelchair-bound’, and we think that we shouldn’t have to accomodate the needs of people with disabilities.

    I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, as I encounter ignorance and prejudice every day because of my disability and my partnership with a service dog.


  15. This is a great initiative on your part. Good luck!!!

  16. My deepest sympathies for your struggles. As Moscow comes more and more into the present, perhaps the future, things will get better.

    Na zdorovye.

  17. It’s people like Yulia that make our world a better place. It’s sad to see our world fall apart for the ones who deserve it all – –

    Great post and it’s nice to see that some people still prove that they can make a change in this world starting with just one 🙂

  18. a dedication of a very noble job. I hope all countries can look at their citizens with disabilities the same as other citizens of the perfect.

  19. rockyrajkonwar

    Great blog ! You wrote very well.

  20. Russian culture is intriguing and the desparity in wages for health care professionals there and in other countries is staggering. How they don’t pay the doctors like we do in the US and other nations is wierd…similar to how teachers in the US don’t get the high pay they deserve. Thank U for this heartfelt perspective about a woman of honor.

  21. Bravo to you! Enabling all people to live their lives to the fullest is crucial, and you are doing such a wonderful job at that!

  22. Really interesting and informative images. You’ve certainly outlined your subject with a detailed and comprehensive manner. Some of these links are amazing, top stuff, love it.

  23. i currently live in russia, moscow, and may say that not only disabled people expirience huge difficulties in thier everyday living – but majority of people.
    moscow is now a city for only rich and rather young people.

    for other – older and disabled people (who suffers most of all), poor people –
    there are too bad medical care to be called that the country has a medical system care, no good system of government (or social) care, also majority of people in russian regions are very-very pooor – living 100$ per month or less, no adecuate culture or sport activities (especially, for older and disabled people).

    for me – when im looking around – its more easy to say putin’s oil capitalism system doesnt want to feed people whose existence can not make a profit.
    but how people may be so cruel to those people who need for a little help ?

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