Russian disability law aligned with Convention
Russia is bringing its legislation in line with the Convention on the Rights of Disabled People
The Russian Government has approved a legislative package aimed at creating equal opportunities for disabled people and other members of society in its implementation of civil laws. It proposes changes to 25 laws designed to bring Russian legislation in line with the Convention on the Rights of Disabled People. Representatives from public disabilities organisations have welcomed this new document, but will refrain from any judgements until it is seen how effectively these new arrangements work in practice.
“For the first time, specific standards for accessing facilities and services of vital importance to disabled people will be enshrined in law. These will include, for example, suitable transport and communal housing arrangements, depending on the impaired functions of a disabled person – e.g. sight, hearing, and impacts on the musculoskeletal system. This will allow for the creation of a legal model for clamping down on discrimination based on disability and so comply with the requirements of the Convention on the Rights of Disabled People” said Maksim Topilin, Russian Minister for Labour and Social Protection.
Amendments will be drawn up establishing the authority of federal and regional decision-makers in defining ways of gradually introducing the necessary conditions to enable disabled people to gain access to essential facilities and services in the following areas: access to all forms of transport, in the communal housing sector, cultural and leisure activities, communications and information, public health, in social services and employment systems, in polling stations and correctional organisations.
The document proposes new standards which will allow for a more objective, precise and understandable definition of disability in the eyes of the general public. It envisages the development of measures based on experience gained internationally in order to create the necessary systems for providing help to disabled people, and in breaking down barriers involved in the receipt of services.
The Ministry for Labour believes that these measures will improve the conditions for the full integration into society of nearly 40 million citizens of limited mobility and a further 13 million with various other handicaps. Together with family members, the legislation package will provide comfortable living conditions for almost 80 million people. The Government intends to bring the legislation into force from 1 January 2016.
The Director of the Regional Public Disabilities Organisation “Perspektiva”, Denise Rosa, believes that one of the main plusses of the amendments is the introduction of the concept of “discrimination based disability”. Under the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled People, reference is made to “any distinction”, namely the exclusion or limitation on grounds of disability, the aim and result of which impairs or nullifies the recognition, implementation and exercise on an equal basis with others of all laws relating to human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civic or any other field.” Discrimination based on disability incorporates all forms of discrimination, including denying people proper access facilities.
“As far as I know, the definition of discrimination on the basis of disability goes against the traditions of Russian law. If necessary, disabled people can demand that their rights are respected if they are discriminated against. Even if it’s a question of an inaccessible environment in a shop or pharmacy, which is unsuitable for people in wheelchairs – it’s still discrimination. The law will be geared towards the removal of barriers. A disabled person will be entitled to specify the necessary conditions to enable him/her to work effectively and to a good standard or study just like anyone else” says the Director of “Perspektiva”.
Among the more obvious and positive effects of these changes to the law according to Denise Rosa is the emergence of methods prescribing an improvement in accessibility in various infrastructure facilities, the need for a disabled person to be accompanied by someone working in the facility, improving the access to the receipt of information, including converting lettering into Braille and the use of subtitles.
“I’m amazed there’s no reference to the concept of “universal design”. This concept is included within the UN Convention, but isn’t mentioned in the amendments. To my mind, not enough attention has been given to people with stunted growth, which is only mentioned once. Changes mainly concern blindness, deafness and problems with mobility. I’m not really clear on how help will be provided to people with a temporary disability, for example someone who’s broken their leg and finds it difficult to use means of transport. Can he make use of all services if he’s not registered disabled? Well, of course, we’re all concerned as to how the law will work in practice. For example, will financial support be available for all these initiatives?” said Denise Rosa.
Work on amendments to the law regarding social protection of disabled people began following Russia’s ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled People in 2012. Comments and suggestions from various civic organisations, including the All-Russian Disabilities Society (ARDS), were included in the text. ARDS’s first Vice-Chairman, Oleg Risev, stated that the summary document differed significantly from the original version. He noted that the new legislative package does not offer any fresh benefits or preferences, nor does it increase disability pensions.
“The UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled People is a mini-collection of all rights for people with disabilities. It has incorporated all the various issues involved in connecting disabled citizen with the State, together with the State’s responsibility to observe the rights and interests of disabled people. It is important to understand that the introduction of a new law leads to the emergence of fundamental issues which subsequently have an impact on the life of the ordinary man in the street. One has to act to make it work. It’s not enough to say that we have ratified the convention and that it has remained a beautiful picture. We must use it wisely and play by the agreed rules of the game” says Risev.
A member of ARDS has called for an assessment of the effectiveness of the amendments during their implementation stage. “I still remember when the law on social protection for disabled people in the Russian Federation was adopted, as well as the difficulties in getting it through the legal process. How Yeltsin used his veto on two occasions, and the considerable length of time that elapsed before it became law. Unfortunately, this is often the way in Russia”, says the expert. “I want to believe that things will be different this time. We’re no longer living in the 1990s. We have a different legal culture as regards law-making. I wouldn’t want the rigour of Russian laws to be directly proportional to their non-compliance.”
Risev believes that the suggested amendments need more work by the ministries and departments responsible for approving the subordinate legislation. “I hope that the core of the law and Convention will not be watered down” he added.
According to the first Vice-Chairman of ARDS, if the law comes into effect, it will not only alter the legal playing field, but also heighten people’s general awareness.
There is no access for disabled people but there should be access for all. The disabled person is like a gauge – if it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for everyone else. When I’m told as a disabled person that I have the right to education and work, but I can’t find work placements or study places – what kind of right is that? If my rights are realised it will mean that the rights of others will be fulfilled too. It’s vital that people’s awareness is increased dramatically so that they can create a more accessible environment. They should remember that they are not creating such an environment for just anyone but rather themselves” Risev added.
Author: Daria Shapovalova