Integration of Persons with Disabilities into the Society

Gurjaani: 5 September 2011
Ana Arganashvili – Representative of Public Defender of Georgia;
Ana Abashidze – Lawyer, Public Defender’s Office;
Nana Gegelishvili – Chairperson, “Tanadgoma” Library-Cultural Center for People with Disabilities;
Guliko Rostoshvili – Director, Day-Care Center for Supporting Independent Living of People with Disabilities.
Moderator: Levan Aleksishvili – Director, Gurjaani TV Broadcasting Company.

Poti: 7 September 2011
Nanuka Ghurjia – Teacher, Poti #5 Public School;
Lasha Zarginava – Chairman, Association “Media and Society”;
Nino Mirtskhulava – Parent of the child with disability.
Moderator: Qristine Kajaia – Freelance Journalist.

Batumi: 8 September 2011
Irakli Surmanidze – Head, Architectural Department of Batumi Mayor’s Office;
Lado Mgaloblishvili – Chairman, Civil Society for Human Rights;
Zaur Devadze – Head of the Board, Adjara Branch of the Union of Blind of Georgia.
Moderator: Nata Imedaishvili - Journalist.

Integration of persons with disabilities into the society, stereotypes that exist regarding persons with disabilities, ensuring their equal rights, including access to education and social security, functions and roles of governmental institutions and self-government bodies in protecting rights of persons with disabilities, concrete cases of human rights’ violations – these were main issues discussed at three public debates organized by the HBF in regional towns of Georgia: Gurjaani (5 September 2011), Poti (7 September 2011) and Batumi (8 September 2011).

The public debates were organized within the framework of EU-funded project: Addressing Hate Speech in Georgia: A Litmus Test for Human Rights and Social Tolerance.

Discussions started with an introduction of the project. The HBF program staff presented the project, its goals and activities to the audience. The aim of the presentations was to briefly explain problems of hate speech that exist in today’s Georgian society, the concept of hate speech and regulation mechanisms in various countries of the world. The project deals with expressions of nationalism, sexism, discrimination on religious grounds, homophobia and xenophobia. The HBF and its partners research and monitor the existing situation and take concrete actions to strengthen civil society through awareness-raising campaigns, establishing networks and platforms for open and democratic exchange to ensure Georgia's sustainable democratic transition in line with European standards.

Discussions revealed general, as well as specific problems related to the integration of persons with disabilities in today’s Georgian society. Discussions focused on possibilities for their solution.

Participants of the public debates differed per town, but consisted mainly of local media, representatives of self-government bodies, social workers, NGO workers, members of political parties and other interested citizens.

Discussions underlined an importance of changing approaches concerning persons with disabilities. The traditional approach usually highlights the support/charity component, but is necessary to change with an approach orientated on human rights protection.

Ana Abashidze, representative of the Public Defender’s Office, brought concrete examples and cases of rights violations collected by the special monitoring group of the Public Defender’s Office.

All speakers underlined that existing infrastructure do not allow persons with disabilities to move outside without someone’s help. One of the speakers in Batumi noted that during the reconstruction of Batumi panduses were installed, but they were not built according to the internationally recognized standards. This, of course, means that persons using wheelchairs are not able to move independently in the town, without help of other persons. The issue of social protection and welfare is also a common problem for disabled persons all over Georgia, statistics are not accurate and the policy of benefits is also problematic.

The Ministry of Education started to implement a number of initiatives regarding inclusive education. A program of inclusive education was established, a number of newly-renovated schools have relevant infrastructure for children with disabilities. But during the implementation of the program, problems also were identified, among them lack of professional teaching skills, prevailing stereotypical opinions about persons with disabilities among parents and in general, mistakes made during the planning of the program and its speedy implementation.

Development of social entrepreneurship was seen as one of the ways to promote employment and labor rights among persons with disabilities. Speakers underlined that it is necessary to support businesses in hiring persons with disabilities. The role of the self-government bodies is also necessary to activate.

Speakers also stressed the role media in drawing public’s attention to problems of persons with disabilities. The media can undoubtedly contribute to overcoming stereotypes towards persons with disabilities.

In Gurjaani, both participants and speakers highlighted the role of the self-government bodies in building physical infrastructure for persons with disabilities. It is necessary to give opportunities to persons with disabilities to be more actively involved in local developments. It is also important to find mechanisms for involving persons with disabilities in touristic businesses.

A lack of accurate statistics on persons with disabilities was named as one of the problems in Batumi. It is not clear how many persons with disabilities live in Adjara. Other infrastructural problems were also named, such as absence of special elevators in the buildings (elevators in the buildings are not equipped with Braille alphabets and there are not adequate street lighters too).

In Poti, participants of the discussion underlined problems on the way to inclusive education, which is mostly determined by teachers’ insufficient awareness, lack of specific skills and parents’ negative and stereotypical approaches to having children with disabilities in classes.

The HBF hopes to contribute to activating public discourse on problems of persons with disabilities. It is necessary to involve interest groups, as well as the general public in the integration process.