President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Colleagues,
We are here today to discuss state support for people with disabilities, families bringing up disabled children and people caring for disabled people and elderly relatives. It is not by chance that this issue is on the agenda today. This is a matter we have been working on, and today we must not only discuss all the issues involved but also make the necessary decisions.
It is clear that disabled people are one of the most vulnerable groups in society. People with disabilities face far more problems than others. Their material situation often depends entirely on the state, on the benefits and payments they receive. We have a duty to increase this support regularly and find the possibilities that will enable us to do so.
But state support should not consist only of payments and benefits. We have the broader task of providing disabled people with comfortable living conditions and creating a developed rehabilitation system so that they can take a full part in life. Ultimately, we must change the way society views people with disabilities.
This was an issue we did not talk about at all for a long time, but the situation is changing now. The state has made this issue one of its priorities. I want to add that social support for disabled people is on the agenda for one of the upcoming Government meetings, and this should be taken into account too during our discussion today.
A related issue is that of support for people caring for the disabled. This is hard work. More than 500,000 people are receiving the monetary benefits that have been set, but these payments are insufficient, and I therefore ask you to make the appropriate proposals on this and all aspects of the issues we are discussing today.
What else do I want to say? It is clear that compensating the work of people caring for the disabled and the elderly requires the state to make extra efforts. Our task is to adopt these support measures this year, the Year of the Family. Even on the symbolic level this is the right thing to do.
A whole package of proposals has been prepared for our discussion today, and we will be examining various support mechanisms. We need to agree on coordinated and absolutely concrete proposals.
Several factors are behind the discussion of this issue today. A number of appeals, including to the state leadership, have come from civil society and from families looking after disabled people. There have been a considerable number of these appeals. Some of them were sent by post and I have received others via the Internet. I think it is important for the authorities to maintain a full-fledged information and communication link between civil society and those responsible for making decisions.
Today, we will decide the main outlines of our decisions and I will sign soon after the corresponding decree.
Health and Social Development Minister Tatyana Golikova: We are taking a stage by stage approach to the issues regarding disabled people. There have been several recent decisions in this area, including one simplifying procedures for repeat disability assessment reports for disabled people, and a decision to establish separate individual rehabilitation programmes for disabled children and for adults, and special measures for veterans. Furthermore, during the preparations for Victory Day, a decree was passed on providing all veterans of the Great Patriotic War with cars over the course of 2008. This decree also stipulates that all disabled people who joined the waiting list for cars before January 1, 2005, will receive the vehicles they need in 2009.
[Ms Golikova went on to outline the measures drafted by the ministry in response to the presidential instruction sent out following the collective appeals from citizens. The ministry’s proposals include increasing material assistance for people looking after disabled children and elderly relatives, and measures regarding their future pension provisions].
President of the All-Russian Society of People With Disabilities Alexander Lomakin-Rumyantsev: I think it is quite symbolic that the President’s first decrees and first discussions are about social issues. I think that this indicates to the public in general a real increase in focus on social policy by the state.
[Mr Lomakin-Rumyantsev went on to discuss the problems disabled people face in housing, education and employment].
I think it is very important that Russia sign the 2006 Convention of the Rights of the Disabled, of which it was one of the initiators, because this Convention reflects the most modern approaches to dealing with the problems disabled people face.
Another point I’d like to make is that I do not agree with the expression you use, ‘people with limited abilities’. Disabled people have repeatedly proved that their abilities are not limited, and this is why the Convention uses the term ‘people with disabilities’ or simply ‘disabled person’[in Russian sounds as invalid].
I think the main problem we will face after signing the Convention is making the state and the public realise that when the state does something for disabled people it is helping not so much disabled people as society in general. This is a part of social security for every individual, because everyone will be able to feel protected no matter what the future holds. This is very important and this is why the Convention and further work on it are so essential.
Director of the Learning Technology Education Centre Alexander Yezdov: You spoke about providing disabled people with comfortable living conditions and getting them fully involved in life. Our experience in organising distance education for disabled children shows that providing children with information technology is a great help in broadening the horizons of their lives. One of the obstacles in expanding this process is the lack of funding and laws to support distance general and vocational education.
Dmitry Medvedev: So, you think there is an insufficient legal framework for distance education for people with disabilities?
Alexander Yezdov: It is practically nonexistent.
Tatyana Golikova: Dmitry Anatolyevich [Medvedev], during the clarifications made to the 2008 budget in February, we made provisions for allocating 151 million roubles, if I recall correctly, for installing Internet connections in our establishments looking after children in difficult circumstances in life.
We will soon be meeting with the directors of these establishments and will settle the basic conditions with them, because the children in these establishments are all different, have different illnesses and different demands regarding the product to be installed.
Dmitry Medvedev: Do we have the money for this, for the Internet?
Tatyana Golikova: Yes.
Acting Head of the Presidential Experts Directorate Arkady Dvorkovich: This is just the institutions, but we are talking about the situation for children who are at home.
Dmitry Medvedev: Do we have a preliminary estimate of how many children are at home?
Tatyana Golikova: Unfortunately, we do not have such statistics, they are not kept.
Dmitry Medvedev: Then we need to organise these statistics and get an idea of how many children are involved. Then we could look at a separate programme for them.
The Internet is developing very fast today. We have already brought it into the schools and this turned out to be not such a difficult task. Money was needed for it, of course. Now we are working on getting other education establishments connected to the Internet. Perhaps we can take a decision on simply connecting homes where disabled children live to the Internet too, but we would need to know how many homes we are talking about, so the state can calculate the funds required. This would be a good idea.
Education and Science Minister Andrei Fursenko: According to our estimates, approximately 50,000 children are officially being educated at home at the moment.
There is another aspect to consider, and that is the federal list of rehabilitation measures and rehabilitation equipment.
Dmitry Medvedev: I am right in understanding that 50,000, this is the number of children we actually know about?
Tatyana Golikova: Yes, acting on the remainder principle, that is, subtracting those currently in education.
Dmitry Medvedev: I fear that the real figure is higher.
Andrei Fursenko: No, this is officially registered data for children being educated at home.
Dmitry Medvedev: Let’s do things this way. We will draft my instruction after this meeting and carry out analysis to see how many of these children there are, and I think that we could take this figure and include it in a programme, either a federal programme or perhaps a programme co-funded by the regions. This is not such a huge figure as to require astronomical sums of money.
There are some technical difficulties, of course, but overall, it is possible today to settle these matters anywhere in the country, especially in regions with satellite access and so on. We realise that for all people, whether they take everything from life or face greater problems in this sense, access to the Internet is a window to the world for everyone, whether in good health or not, and this is something very important.
Andrei Fursenko: There is a federal list of rehabilitation measures and technical equipment and services provided to disabled people. This list contains very little that concerns education. It includes the Braille alphabet for the blind and the visually impaired, and computer technology. Some regions already implement its provisions, Moscow and Kursk, if I remember correctly.
If this federal list was expanded, at least as far as mandatory rehabilitation equipment is concerned, this would probably settle a whole number of issues.
Dmitry Medvedev: Let’s calculate this too. Good.
Alexander Lomakin-Rumyantsev: Dmitry Anatolyevich, distance learning is a good thing today, now when schools are not ready to take disabled children it is something essential. But you said quite rightly that people should be able to take full part in life, and this means that children should be able to grow up and go to school together with their peers.
Perhaps the first instruction could be to examine the distance learning issue, but overall, the whole system of education for disabled people needs to be examined. We should not rush from one extreme to the other. We should not try to get everyone into the general school system straight away, because the schools are not ready and the parents are also not ready.
Most important of all, we need to think above all about the families of disabled children.
All disabled children receive the same benefit at the moment. But about half of these children have severe problems and are in bed the whole time, and practically all of them are in single-parent families, and then there are children in a better situation. The time has probably come to look at providing benefits targeted according to individual circumstances.