President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Colleagues!
Today is the first meeting of the [Presidential] Council for the Disabled. There are, of course, many problems. I would like to say right away that I count on your involvement in the discussion of this issue, which is very serious, important, and complicated for all of us.
Based on the data used by the Ministry of Public Health and Social Development, there are over 13 million people with disabilities living in Russia. Our council was established at the end of last year, in accordance with the Executive Order that I signed. In fact, many of you asked me yourselves to revive this council; it existed for five years, between 1996 and 2001, and a proposal was made to restore it. I supported the proposal, and thus, we are gathering here today.
It is, perhaps, of particular importance that we are not meeting at a simple, favourable period of time, although there have been almost no such periods in our history; instead, we are meeting during a very problematic period in the development of our country and our society. It is clear that at this very period, the period of crisis, the least protected group of population is struggling. Crises always affect those people who are least prepared for them, the most unprotected ones. Naturally, this also fully applies to the disabled.
I will not say any banalities, although overall, I will once again say that the way we treat disabled people is an indicator of how mature our society is. And clearly, we must make this indicator as high as possible in current times. It is also clear that our country (according to the Constitution, we are a social state, a state that supports the citizens in need ) must compensate for the special needs – or at least, part of those special needs – of the disabled through paying greater attention to their needs, creating the necessary infrastructure and an effective regulatory environment.
We have a great deal of problems in this area, as you well know, in some cases, unfortunately, through your personal experience. And when a disabled person cannot enter a store, get into an airplane or a train, visit a museum, a gym or a cinema, or get a normal education, this should not simply be described as indifference or carelessness; from a legal standpoint, this is a direct violation of our Constitution.
I remind you that we are nevertheless taking some action: in recent years, pensions for people with disabilities have nearly doubled in real terms. For those considered disabled for the first time, or who have undergone a re-certification, there are individual programs that include medical, professional, and social rehabilitation. We have 221 rehabilitation centres for disabled people in our country, and 305 centres for children with disabilities.
Last September, after some lengthy negotiations and difficult deliberations, Russia joined the international Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which aims to create an adequate, barrier-free environment for the disabled, secure their right to work, and their right to medical services, education, and full-fledged participation in society. And in accordance with the Convention, the government must give greater attention to educating the public on treating the disabled with respect.
This is a fundamental change, because the Convention is a very complicated document for our country, one which imposes some very serious obligations on us. And Russia, as a responsible member of the international community, will need to take all measures to comply with it. Accordingly, we will need to make changes to our legislation and regulations, which, of course, is not simple in current situation. But nonetheless, we are ready to do it. In this regard, I am asking the Ministry of Public Health and Social Development to prepare comprehensive proposals on ratifying the Convention and to present their finalized versions by the end of the year.
I will also note that the Convention was elaborated by the United Nations with direct involvement on the part of Russian experts. A significant part of its basic provisions is already reflected in Russian legislation, but there is still much that remains to be done in order to bring about the most modern approaches in this area.
Today, problems related to the education and employment of people with disabilities, disabled people, are quite relevant. According to the Ministry of Public Health and Social Development data, nearly 6 million out of 13 million disabled people living in Russia are able to work, but only 15 percent of these individuals were able to find a job. This is both bad and unfair.
Meanwhile, people with disabilities – and you yourselves set the pattern — are often able to achieve impressive results in social life and at work. Among them are well-known politicians, public figures, successful businesspeople, prominent scientists, artists, and exceptional sports players, whose achievements make us proud.
At the Beijing 2008 Paralympics our national team won 63 medals. I met with the Paralympic team members, and they have truly done a great deal for the prestige of our country. However, it must also be admitted that such results are often achieved not thanks to, but sadly, in spite of the conditions that have been created for these people living in our country. That is why governmental and municipal organisations, as well as associations of disabled people and other public associations, must team up to work out a strategy and approach for collaboration in this area, and if necessary, to adjust previously-made decisions.
I was just speaking about the UN Convention, but you know that in March of this year, I also asked the State Duma to ratify the European Social Charter, which is also a very serious document. It was signed on behalf of the Russian Federation back in September of 2000, and we also travelled a long way before making a responsible decision to adapt this Convention to our own conditions and start implementing it. This is another example of how we must work together. It is important not to be ahead of time. At the same time, if decisions have been made, they must be carried out.
Today, I suggest that we focus on several concrete issues. First of all, let me remind you that in 2004, we changed the procedure of determining the amount of monthly monetary payments to disabled people. It was no longer linked to disability groups, as was the case in Soviet times, but rather, to another indicator – the extent of limitation of work capability.
Basically, today this amount depends on whether a person can work, which, as a principle, has the right to exist, but at the same time, it does not mean that when a person gets a job, he or she loses his or her disabled status… disability does not disappear. As a result, what is most important is that this yielded an unpleasant bottom line: many disabled people found themselves worse off financially (after all, this is not an issue of criteria or principles: they must serve to yield practical results, they should not be made into a fetish, nor should they be turned into some sort of conquest). According to the data I was shown, those monetary losses add up to between 537 and 1,208 roubles per month – money that would help in any situation, especially during a crisis.
In this regard, I am asking the government to develop a new procedure of determining the amount of monthly monetary payments to disabled people, taking into account the proposals made, and to submit it to the State Duma; I would also like to ask the State Duma to consider this procedure, consolidating the efforts with the government.
Now the second issue I would like to address today. According to our data, only two percent of public transport is equipped for disabled passengers. That is unacceptably low. The problem could also be resolved through government contracts (the share of such contracts in Russia does not decrease and even increases in time of crisis) for Russian-made equipment, automotive equipment; we have funds set aside specifically for that purpose. At the same time, the number of buses equipped for the disabled should correspond to current norms: according to present-day standards, such buses should account for at least five percent of the overall number. Unfortunately, we have significantly less.
And finally, the third issue I would like to discuss in my opening remarks. Within the framework of the National Education Project, we have begun promoting so-called distance learning for children with disabilities and disabled people in general. Access to modern educational technologies must be provided using budget resources. That is, certainly, a wise step, a step in the right direction.
We must create a sound educational system for people with disabilities, so that children and young people could learn among their peers in regular public schools, and at the very least – and this is perhaps most important – they should not feel isolated from society, even at a young age. All the more so as the society needs this just as much as the disabled people.
There are also other suggestions and proposals. We will discuss them.