Reseach: improved attitudes to disabled children
The Civic Chamber (CC) of the Russian Federation discussed how society reacts to children with health limitations and children with disabilities, and presented the results of their social research.
According to the Decree of the Fund to Support Children in Difficult Domestic Situations, at the end of 2016 the Higher School of Economics National Research University (HSE NRU) along with the Coordinated Council on Matters of Disabled Children (within the CC) carried out a survey amongst Russian citizens. They were studying how respondents relate to children with disabilities, whether or not they are prepared to help them, and whether it is necessary to introduce inclusive education into schools.
According to the results, 45.2% of respondents have a positive attitude towards children with disabilities in public places. Many do not behave in the same way towards them as they would towards others, but rather feel compassion and a desire to help. 24.1% of respondents felt indifferent, and one in five reacted negatively (with anger, fear, disinclination to see children with signs of health limitations).
“It is comforting that, according to findings, the majority of Russian would say they feel warmly towards disabled children,” noted the singer Diana Gurtskaya, a member of the CC. “The number of citizens involved in the process of helping disabled children has grown from 14% to 50% over the last six years (similar research was carried out in Russia in 2010 as well).”
Nevertheless Gurtskaya is concerned by the number of stereotypes circulating about children with disabilities. “That they are born into dysfunctional families, have no chance of success in society, and are incessantly demanding – we must eradicate these erroneous opinions. We will not be able to do anything as long as the government doesn’t help us, if public perceptions do not change. Such research should provide the correct guidelines to create a world truly without barriers,” added the member of the CC.
More than half of the families with disabled children consulted spoke about the negative reaction that society has towards their children. 16% of respondents felt that attitudes towards them were changing.
According to Marina Gordeyeva, Chair of the Board of the Fund to Support Children, it is very important to make use of public interest in this theme to advance positive changes in attitudes towards children with disabilities.
“As a society we’ve moved away from a clinical approach to disability,” claims Marina Gordeyeva. “Yes, it is an abnormality in your physical condition, and we need corrective services and health. But the social element is no less important, and in this sense the public is starting to perceive the problem differently. There is a positive dynamic here; citizens empathise, and understand the importance of observing the rights of disabled people. But disabled people find themselves under pressure from society all the same. Healthy people so far do not have wholly satisfactory perception of those with health limitations. Many react cautiously, and at times do not even know how to behave.”
Russian educational institutions basically lack any methodology for inclusive and corrective education. This would allow children with and without health limitations not to feel awkward when communicating, noted experts.
“The majority of Russians would welcome inclusive education as part of thorough approach both for children with disabilities and children without any health limitations,” said Oksana Kuchmayeva, a professor at HSE NRU and one of the authors of the research. “Of course, the social aspect is among the advantages of this approach. The child would not become isolated in addition to his or her health problems. He or she would get the chance to grow up in a tolerant environment. And normal children would begin to relate to their peers differently. Inclusive education is seen as a quality mark for education.”
None of this is possible if children experience shortages in educational assistance, materials, tutors when learning. This is confirmed by Elena Klichko, Chair of the Coordination Council on Disabled Children and Other Individuals with Health Limitations within the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation. According to her, 74% of surveyed parents of disabled children were in favour of joint teaching. With this in mind parents will clearly assess their child’s ability to learn.
“Anyone who is now fighting for the health and education of their child does not think of him or her as isolated from society,” says Elena Klochko. “Parents hope that their child will be incorporated into the future in this society. But without a positive reaction from society, unfortunately, they won’t be accepted. We need to understand that.”
Help to such families has a significant role in the adaptation of children – they often experience material difficulty. As the research shows, such support is often provided by charitable organisations and individual citizens. This is generally in the form of financial help and the distribution of essential goods.
“Sometimes it seems that it is simpler to help in material ways, rather than to take on the burden of providing help in the form of everyday regular communication, doing leisure activities together, helping people who have mobility and travel issues,” says Oksana Kuchmayeva, one of the authors of the research. “However, we asked the respondents one more question: whether they would like their child to participate in providing direct support. More than 37% answered “mostly agree” or a further 30% responded “strongly agree”. Here we see the influential role that family upbringing plays in developing the habit of helping those who are not like you, people with health limitations. That is important and necessary.”