Moscow’s Citizens with Disabilities Face a Fierce, Uphill Battle
Aug 28, 2013
Russian citizens with disabilities have a uphill struggle to convince politicians and taxpayers to make Moscow more handicap-accessible.
Misha Friedman, a former Russian citizen who now lives in New York, took the photo above on a 2013 visit to Russia and describes the image:
“A wheelchair-bound amputee holds on for balance as he ascends an escalator. Moscow’s metro system, like much of the country, is not equipped for access for disabled people. There are very few elevators in the system, and many stations lack ramps on the stairways. Most of the transfers between stations are connected only by stairs and, generally, at least one flight of stairs leads from street level to the Metro entrance.”
Russia is notoriously handicap-inaccessible thanks to the length of time spent under Communist rule, during which the government claimed that handicapped citizens didn’t even exist.
“During Soviet times, people said there were no disabled Russians, and if you did meet someone with a disability, people thought it was because their parents were alcoholics or drug addicts,” said Zhenya Lyapin, a Russian scriptwriter.
As a result, the city has steep hills, rocky roads, and many subway stops without any handicap access.
Yulia Simonova spent most of her childhood stuck in her home after breaking her back participating in gymnastics at the age of seven, and she has come forward since then to speak about her situation on television. Simonova is now an activist, lobbying to get children access to public schools.
Ten years ago, only one school in Moscow was accessible to handicapped children, but today that number has risen to 95 thanks to the efforts of those such as Simonova. Unfortunately, those 95 schools still represent only six percent of the total schools in Moscow.
Having access to a car can greatly improve the ease with which citizens with disabilities can get around the city, but that isn’t without its problems. While Moscow does set aside special parking for handicapped citizens, government corruption is rampant, and anyone willing to pay a little extra money under the table will be given access to those spots.
Thankfully, Russia put on an exceptionally strong showing at the 2012 Paralympic games in London, taking home 36 gold medals and coming in second place overall, behind China.
This great achievement has brought the plight of the handicapped to the forefront of public attention in Russia, and the government has pledged to spend 30 million dollars per year for the next two years on improved handicap access and inclusive employment.
Moscow is also planning a multi-million dollar urban redesign, which is important for people like American-born Denise Roza. “In a lot of places you’ll see a fantastic ramp,” she said, “but once you’re back on the pavement, it’s too high to get down to the street.”
Protests by people with disabilities in Russia have been making some headway. Additional hope also came with the 2006 passage of the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, affecting everyone with disabilities worldwide. Russia signed the document, which promises equal human rights for all the world’s people with disabilities.
It may still be a long time before people like Lyapin no longer have to struggle with long, convoluted routes, physically demanding roads, and inaccessibility every single day just to have anything resembling the normal life that the majority of Russian citizens take for granted.
Voluntary, strategic advocacy for those with disabilities in Russia has already begun, as you’ll see in the video below. What’s your advice for Russian citizens with disabilities to help them advocate for widespread accessibility?