What can handicapped people expect in prison, politics and at workplace?
Euroradio: Are towns and cities in Belarus easy for people with disabilities to move around in?
Siarhei Ddrazdouski: [One can hear government's] reports about the number of ramps constructed or curbs lowered. To someone who is not familiar with the situation, this may sound significant like: billions of rubles are allocated to address the issue! And the money is allocated indeed, I must admit. Comparing the situation 20 years back and today, you can spot around some elements of barrier-free environment. But have people in wheelchairs started to appear outdoors more often? Not so much. I know only a couple of dozen such people in Minsk. There should be 10-15 thousands, and all of them should be visible.
Making a ramp alone is not ehough. Especially when this creates a wrong impression in most cases: an access ramp is in place in front of the entrance, but it is not clear if you can make it inside or not. The people who have faced this obstacle once will not take a risk again. There were also reports that a certain number of low-floor public transport vehicles was purchased. But it is not clear why this number. Americans sorted out the problem of transport accessibility in the following way: "Effective January 1, no non-adapted bus will be procured." Nowadays, all of their public vehicles are adapted to people with disabilities.
"A hadicapped person must prove his/her ability to work"
Euroradio: Can a disabled person find a good job? A top manager job, for instance?
Siarhei Drazdouski: A person will avoid thoroughly being associated with disability whatsoever. Let's take a look at a hundred of top managers in Belarus. How many of them are displaying the signs of disability? Even if there are, they try to hide their disability thoroughly. How many people with disabilities are today in the House of Representatives? They could be there, but they are thoroughly hiding their disability as well. How many such people are in the government or in showbiz?
According to statistics, people with disabilities normally get lower wages. Unlike people without disabilities, a disabled person must prove his or her working ability at Medical Expertise and Rehabilitation boards. The checks can last for one month or two. Would a normal employer keep a workplace vacant for such a long period of time?
The system of higher education is even less accessible. Paid distant learning in higher education is the most accessible form.
Today, we record facts about people being fired or having their job applications rejected due to their disability - and, of course, employers never say it directly but then hire someone with little experience and lower qualifications.
Euroradio: What is the problem exactly? The laws that do not protect the rights of people with disabilities or there is some bigger picture here...
Siarhei Drazdouski: Today, a disabled person is perceived as someone who requires treatment, rehabilitation, assistance, i.e., an object of pity. The leading developed countries of the world took another approach by developing an inclusion society. America, Britain, Australia, Oceania, the whole of Europe passed disability discrimination laws that created a legal framework for any person to be protected from discrimination based on disability in any concrete situation.
Euroradio: What is the amount of current disability pension? Can you survive on it?
Siarhei Drazdouski: There are minimum pensions rates depending on the degree of disability. A person with the first-degree or profound disability is entitled to the highest pension (paid by the state to a disabled person without working experience). Currently, it is on the level of 110-120 euros. This is not enough, because the minimum social security pension is defined in correlation with the minimum consumption budget. But no calculation of this minimum consumption budget is made with regard to people with disabilities. It is calculated only for pensioners. But how can a profoundly-disabled job-restricted 25-year-old man with a family and children be treated as a pensioner?
Apart from pension, a person receives subsidies in the form of rehabilitation tools or benefits. But a person who gets a prosthetic device is not a consumer. He or she is just an user. In other words, he or she is not able to demand a quality warrant for this prosthesis since the Law on Protection of Consumers' Rights is not applied to them. The list of rehabilitation tools provided by the state is rather small: a wheelchare, a prosthesis, a hand-rail... Those tools are produced by the single manufacturer with the same single quality control. In other words, the manufacturer does not not depend on consumers. This leaves us with no choice!
Euroradio: Can you buy in Belarus on your own?
Siarhei Drazdouski: It is very difficult to do. Foreign-made tools are almost not there. Being medical tools they require certification, and the latter costs much more than any estimated profit.
Euroradio: Has there any progress made over the past 5-10 years in the life of people with disabilities?
Siarhei Drazdouski: Out of context, there are positive things. But if taken in the context of the social development of society.... Well, we pronounce, for instance, that pensions have grown, but wages have grown by five times more. In other words, pensions have dropped compared to wages. But if we make a comparison between a disabled person today and ten years back, yes - his or her life has changed. But if compared to an average Belarusian, the situation does not look improved at all. Today, Poles are much more integrated in the social life of society and are much less dependent on their disability - leave alone Sweden or Germany.
Euroradio: Can a disabled person in a Belarusian prison move around without hurdles?
Siarhei Drazdouski: The Office for the Rights of People with Disabilities regularly receives letters from prisoners who share terrible situations when minimum standards of human co-existence are not observed. A disabled prisoner is exposed to greater sufferings equal to torture, because there is no infrastructure or tools. Secondly, we are not allowed inside prisons. All we can do is to analyze the complaints that we receive.
Euroradio: How can one draw attention to the problems faced by people with disabilities? To stage demonstrations or to keep talking about it everywhere?
Siarhei Drazdouski: Everything is needed, but the question is: how? Of course, you can gather 15 people for a demonstration in Bangalore Square. The state will simply note that a handful of people with disabilities again wanted something but society did not even notice it. One should engage in a heated debate between the state and people with disabilities represeted by their activists and their organizations. Today, the state regards itself as a separate element, although they are nothing but appointed administrators of our resources. Today, social assistance is monopolized by the state.
Euroradio: What is the proper, ethical way of behavior with people with disabilities?
Siarhei Drazdouski: How should we be named properly? From the state's point of view, our legal status is a disabled person, similar in name to the status of a pensioner or a military officer. But you don't address an elder person in the streets like: "Hey, pensioner, come over here!", because it is rude. It is similarly rude to call a disabled person a handicap when you come across him or her in the street. In daily relations he or she is a human being; disability is his or her private business. Do we need to stress their disability? Today, we try to implant the notion of "people with disability" - in line with spirit of international language norms...
Euroradio: What moment is the most psychologically difficult for a disabled person?
Siarhei Drazdouski: When a person faces a choice: what next? Many things he or she was used to get cut off by disability, and a disabled person finds no support to compensate for the loss of it. The feeling of dispair is the most difficult. It does not always come after a person gets seriously injured or ill. This is the issue of conscious choice.
"If there are people who survived in a more desperate situation, you can do it, too"
Euroradio: How can one overсcome this moment and remain strong?
Siarhei Drazdouski: If there are people who survived in a more desperate situation, you can do it, too. Naturally, there are close people, relatives. One can seek support from them but explain how they should treat him/her and how they should not. Lastly, people should remember that we live in a state not in a savage society. And people should understand that the state must solve some of his or her problems. One should fight for it.
Euroradio: Have you thought about becoming a politician, a member of parliament or the president??
Siarhei Drazdouski: Yes, i did in the past. In 2004 I wanted to run for a seat in the local council. But I was not allowed to register. In the Other remarks section on the registration form, I missed to fill in my pension income. Since there are around 5% of people with disabilities in Belarus, at least 3% of deputies would be needed. We carried out a poll, and 40% of those polled said they would not vote for people with disabilitieis under any circumstances.
Profile: Siarhei Drazdouski has been in a wheelchair for almost 20 years. He has two higher education diplomas - in mechanical engineering and law. He has been active in protecting the rights of people with disabilities since 1998.
Photo: inva-life.ru, ampby.org, resurs.by