Monday, 22 March 2010

Moscow reinvents the wheelchair

Efforts to help disabled people move out of the shadows have been given a lukewarm welcome by activists, who say that official support is sincere but misses the point.

With the sterling performance of Russian Paralympians pushing the plight of Moscow's 1.2 million disabled people up the political agenda, City Hall was keen to announce a gold-medal package of measures to help the city's less able inhabitants.

But while transport chiefs aim to make the Filyovskaya metro line wheelchair-friendly from Alexandrovsky Sad to Kuntsevo and introduce more than easy-access buses and trolley-buses, experts say this doesn't go far enough.

Sergey Prushinsky, a manager for inclusive education development with the disability support NGO "Perspectiva", is a wheelchair user himself.

While the authorities claim 42 per cent of Moscow is adapted for the needs of disabled people, he disagrees - and believes lack of communication is costing the city money.

"We can see big sums are being spent on adapting city facilities to the handicapped, but it's possible to do this at a lower cost - just ask us what we really need," said Prushinsky. "Many officials who work in social departments have a Soviet-era perception of what should be done for disabled."

As far as the metro is concerned, Prushinsky rarely uses it because it is difficult without a helper.
But other transport is little more convenient - such as the "social taxi" introduced a year ago.

"It's half the price of a normal taxi, but it's more expensive than public transport and you have to book it two days in advance and can't change the time if you need to," said Prushinsky. "A lot of what happens in Russia makes the disabled feel like second rate people."

The same problems also affect the tourist industry - discouraging foreign travelers from coming and hampering would-be domestic visitors.

The "Social Adaptation" NGO is the only organisation working with disability tourism in Russia. Its head, Tatyana Melyakova, who is also disabled, suggested officials are trying to "reinvent the wheel" rather than adapt schemes which have been successfully implement abroad.

"We are taking a tour group to LA today this week and I'm glad that people will be able to see there exactly what should be done for to make our city comfortable for all people in society," said Melyakova.

Many handicapped people agree that western way of solving this problem is the best, as handicapped needs are taken into the account on a stage of construction without any special devices. In theory the same process exists in Russia - but it is often overlooked by construction firms.

Russia needs at least 50 years to make its main cities disability friendly, say the NGO experts. Now they have to go to the authorities and businessmen by themselves and plead for adapting city facilities, shops and hotels for disabled.

Against that background, the head of Moscow's Social Protection Department Vladimir Petrosyan announced plans to improve disabled access on the metro, and introduce 397 low-floor buses and 153 similar trolleybuses around town.

He also proposed fitting ramps to more apartment blocks, but acknowledged that there was a lot of work still to be done, RIA Novosti reported.

"Using metro by disabled is a serious problem, it is difficult to adapt it all at once, cause it's too deep and was built when the handicapped problems were not taken into the account," Petrosyan said.

No comments: