“There are no invalids in the USSR.” This was the laughable, official statement from the Russian government when asked if they were planning to send any disabled athletes to the first Paralympic games back in 1980. A cheeky response; just what you’d expect from a Communist government obsessed with molding the perfect society.
And sadly, most Russians still have a negative attitude towards disability. Some will even become enraged if they see us in public. Many see people with disabilities as a drain on society, not giving as much as they are receiving. This is definitely a throwback to the Communist era of Russia, and it will take a long time to change this type of mindset.
The media is also a huge problem in Russia, exemplifying the typical Russian’s attitude towards disability. During the Olympics opening games in Sochi earlier this year, the Russian commentators during the opening ceremonies got caught in their own guffaw when they said injured U.S. Olympic skier Heidi Kloster should think about starting her Paralympic career
It is not a lack of laws demanding accessibility and fair treatment that is the problem in Russia. There’s one law that specifies every building should include accessibility features, among many other things, and another that specifies accessible housing is a right of every disabled citizen. Segregation at schools, however, is incredibly common and there are no laws guaranteeing accessible education.
The huge glaring problem is the enforcement of the accessibility laws. With so many Russians having negative attitudes toward disabilities, including police officers and other city officials, it’s no wonder so many disabled citizens in Russia remain homebound, and in many cases bed-bound, too, because their apartment is too narrow and they can’t fit their wheelchair in the halls or door jambs.
Officials know about the laws, but they don’t enforce them. Complaints either go unheard, placated or more, and the worst of it is there is no fear of retribution, allowing these laws to be ignored indefinitely while the disabled citizens suffer. More than anything else, Russia needs to develop a stringent way to enforce their laws throughout the entire country.
There have been some impressive strides, however, with many disabled Russians working hard to make changes deserve our praise. there’s still has a lot of work ahead of Russia if they ever want to rival the United States in realm of disability accessibility, and it looks like they are in desperate need of some positive disability imagery.
In the meantime, I’ll be staying clear away from Russia. If you want to be an ex-pat, try Finland instead. They have a ton of ramps and a great sensibility towards disability, with most disabled citizens living full active lives. It sounds like these two countries should have a pow-wow session.
Have you ever been to Russia? What did you see?
- Check out the official accessibility report on Russia released in 2013: “Barriers Everywhere”