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President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Hello, everyone!
Mikhail Terentyev [State Duma Deputy, Secretary General of Russia’s Paralympic Committee] and I have agreed that we will hold this meeting to discuss additional support measures the government can offer to disabled persons. There are many problems. Clearly, there have been some positive changes as well, but unfortunately, there are also problems that aren’t getting better as the years go by.
I would like you to recall some of the existing issues, some of what’s been done, and some of what remains to be done. We have a federal programme called Accessible Environment for 2011–2015, in accordance with which, we must resolve issues and topics pertaining to a barrier-free environment, creating various opportunities. The volume of resources allotted to this programme is quite significant for our nation: 46 billion rubles [about $1.5 billion], which is about ten times more than all previous support programmes. But even large amounts of money are often spent in ways that are not entirely rational. We know this, too. It is very important for it not only to be spent as intended, but for the money to actually reach the people who truly need it.
”We have a federal programme called Accessible Environment. The volume of resources allotted to this programme is quite significant for our nation: 46 billion rubles [about $1.5 billion]. It is very important for this money not only to be spent as intended, but to actually reach the people who truly need it.“
Recently, we have established stronger accessibility requirements for designing and building social and engineering infrastructure facilities within the national standards, the sets of rules that determine specific parameters of access to housing, public buildings, and other buildings, ensuring easy access for the disabled. Unfortunately, this is unusual for our nation, because for many years, the government pretended that people with disabilities did not exist, or if they did, that it be best for them to stay out of sight because the government had many other problems, and as a result, none of this was reflected in designing standards.
We have good examples in many of our territories and regions, including Tatarstan, Tver and Saratov regions, which are implementing pilot projects to create accessible environments on a regional level. I’m thinking, what will we do? We will look at the results in Tatarstan and our other regions, and then, perhaps, if it is clear and acceptable to all of us (we will need to discuss it), we will spread this experience to the rest of the nation.
Another topic I discussed with Mikhail and other colleagues is job placement. Unfortunately, in previous years – and this is reflected today – our labour and social welfare legislation assumed that people with disabilities should not work. This was the common paradigm of the legislation. But this is not right, and the actual situation is entirely the opposite.
”More than 13 thousand employers and individual entrepreneurs representing disabled persons have received subsidies to reimburse the costs associated with creating special jobs for disabled persons.“
The truth is, we have already made some progress in this regard. More than 13 thousand employers and individual entrepreneurs representing disabled persons have received subsidies. I think it was about 50 thousand rubles to reimburse the costs associated with creating special jobs for disabled persons, including for working from home, to employ parents who have disabled children, as well as for starting up one’s own business. You see, these are good initial steps, because we did not have this experience before, but it’s good that we are starting to gain it. We will also prepare a special comprehensive programme of measures to ensure the implementation of modern forms of employment assistance. Today, I would like to hear from you about the different types of modern employment assistance and what we could do.
Pensions are being indexed and grow faster than the inflation rate. Naturally, I understand that these are not enormous pensions, but we are nevertheless trying to keep our word in terms of the changes in our economy. Despite the financial crisis, during this period we have introduced special social benefits [additional payments], which are being added to the pensions and ensure in each federal constituent entity the subsistence minimum for pension recipients. Frankly speaking, this was not an easy decision given the crisis, but it's good that at least we implemented it in its current form.
”Despite the financial crisis, during this period we have introduced special social benefits, which are being added to the pensions and ensure in each federal constituent entity the subsistence minimum for pension recipients.“
Since 2010, in accordance with your wishes, we have moved to awarding pensions and monthly payments based on the disability group, rather than the degree of limitations with regard to employment. I don’t know whether everyone supports this approach to setting pensions. If there are other points of view, I would like you to tell me about them as well. Nevertheless, this has been done.
We have significantly broadened the list of disabilities for which disability status is established permanently, removing the need for certain categories of disabled people to undergo regular disability evaluations. As far as I understand, in spite of what has been done, bureaucratic hurdles remain. Let’s discuss this, what could be done to remove or minimize them.
We are meeting now, during a rather important political period. I bring this issue up because, unfortunately, the earlier carelessness of the government toward the disabled has spread to all areas, including their voting rights. Currently, I hope measures have been taken to equip polling places with the necessary technical resources, as well as to create additional conditions for people to learn about candidates and voting, and have the opportunity to receive assistance from another voter when casting a ballot, which is really an essential guarantee of electoral rights and which, unfortunately, also hadn’t been widespread before.
What else can I say? We have changed the legislation improving state support to NGOs working with disabled individuals. We introduced additional tax benefits for NGOs and their charity work in caring for and providing social services to the disabled.
”We have changed the legislation improving state support to NGOs working with disabled individuals. We introduced additional tax benefits for NGOs and their charity work in caring for and providing social services to the disabled.“
The following actions have taken place this year: we have allotted 15 billion rubles in the federal budget to provide rehabilitation equipment for disabled persons and veterans, an issue we also discussed some time ago. And several days ago, just recently (on November 6 of this year), I signed a law on amending the law on the budget, and we added another 8 billion rubles to this amount, including 700 million for modern wheelchairs, which we spoke about at our last meeting. I hope that this will have an effect. This list includes equipment to meet the needs of hearing-impaired persons – I am referring to hearing aids, signal devices, closed captioning-enabled televisions, and TTY text-enabled telephones for the hearing impaired. This is what has been done. Naturally, we will continue providing this assistance.
Another topic that we always discuss in these meetings is education – and in this case, we are right to discuss it, because in addition to adults, we have some children here with us today. It’s an important subject, and unfortunately, it is also rather neglected in our nation. Incidentally, I recently met with our colleagues who help in this area, representatives of so-called online network communities. And I was told about the problem of distance learning computers for visually impaired children. But as far as I understand, according to the rules that have been established on completing this education, each student, each child, is required to return the computer. In other words, upon completing school, he or she is deprived of the opportunity to receive information, to communicate. This is completely unacceptable. It costs money to acquire this kind of computer. Unfortunately, not every family is able to provide it, so I think it would be right to include a stipulation in the legislation, at the necessary level, on the right of such a child to keep the technical equipment, the computer, after completing his or her studies. I am certain that all decisions to do this will be accepted, including at the regional level. Today, we do not need that many of these computers, only about 50. Naturally, we must provide them to everyone who needs them. But we should also ensure that we have these computers in our special schools for blind children, and perhaps one computer in each territorial division of the All-Russia Association [for the Blind], to use for training those who need to use them. We will do this. Why am I letting you know about it? Because unfortunately, I only heard about this issue recently, and it has not been resolved at the regional level, or at the ministry level.
”It is very important that distance education reaches disabled children, so that all the opportunities existing today are used.“
Overall, it is very important that distance education, which we have spoken about extensively in recent years, reaches disabled children, so that all the opportunities existing today are used. Distance education has emerged relatively recently, and it has enormous advantages for everyone in general, for all the residents and citizens of our nation. But these opportunities should particularly be made available to those who have more difficulties in learning, i.e., disabled students. We have a corresponding stipulation on providing subsidies to organise distance education, it has a certain timeframe, but I think we will extended it to the next period, because it is working.
Another issue was raised: that of increasing compensation payments for guide dogs. I would like to announce that a corresponding draft law has already passed a second reading and will be accepted by the State Duma directly during this session. These are individual matters, but naturally, they are very important, given the problems that we have in our nation, and that are faced by disabled persons in general.
In concluding my opening remarks, I would like to say that I’ve recently heard many sensible suggestions on this topic, and it would be preferable for them to be entirely concrete, rather than just speculation on how to improve the lives of people with disabilities and create the right kind of environment. Naturally, this is quite important as well, but help must always be concrete and targeted. I think this is absolutely the right approach.
There is another topic we discussed during our previous meeting at the Kremlin: the regulatory framework. I don’t know how prepared we are to discuss it today, but in any case, I have already given instructions to consider trying to modernise it, because a significant part of the regulations concerning work of disabled persons and their social status in general, was developed during the Soviet period and does not take into account new opportunities or the changes in our life in general.
Friends, I am now ready to hear you out.