Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Disabled Georgians Struggle for Equality
Natalia Sadradze has sued the company that operates Tbilisi's parking spaces for giving her a parking fine. She argues that she should receive a free permit because of her disability. (Photo: Beso Darchia)
Physically-disabled Georgians are among the most marginalised people in the country, trapped in their homes by their conditions, and unable to find work, activists say.
The government says it is starting to take action to remove the most obvious barriers but that is too late for Iamze Mania, a 67-year-old from the village of Ingiri in the Zugdidi region, whose wheelchair can barely navigate the lanes around her house.
“My wheelchair was given to me by a non-governmental organisation, but it’s not very practical if you take into account that there is no asphalt in the village and there’s mud everywhere. Since I live on my own, often I cannot get into the chair and I have to go from room to room on all fours,” she said.
Mania said she used to work as a teacher, but had to stop 16 years ago when she ceased being able to walk, “I don’t remember when I last went to a shop. Normally, if I have some money I asked my neighbours to bring me food.”
She said she can only visit a doctor if an NGO gives her a lift since public transport is not accessible for her. “From the state this year I have received just one-off assistance of 100 laris (60 US dollars). Otherwise, I have not received any attention from them. My money comes from my pension – 87 laris – and my social support – 30 laris. And that only just covers my medicine and food,” she said.
Her story is a typical one in rural Georgia where no allowances are made for people who struggle to move around.
“Movement for disabled people is almost completely restricted, including in government facilities. They have rights, but because the appropriate bodies are not adapted to their needs, they cannot enjoy those rights,” Ana Aganashvili, a representative of the office of the Public Defender, said.
They are further marginalised by the difficulties they face in getting drivers’ licenses and the lack of special parking places for disabled drivers, who often depend on their cars in the absence of accessible public transport.
Georgian lawyers say the country’s laws are far behind the best international practice when it comes to securing disabled rights. Specifically, Georgia has still not ratified the United Nations convention on the issue, which it signed in July 2009. The authorities say that they need to analyse the legal changes that would be required if they ratified the convention, but that does not satisfy expert observers.
“The Public Defender’s office can’t understand why ratification is being delayed. In 2009-11, Georgia launched its plan for the social integration of people with limited possibilities, which includes almost all obligations laid out in the convention. Therefore, an argument that the convention would oblige the state to take on fresh responsibilities is unsustainable,” Aganashvili said.
Lawyer Lia Mukhashavria said disabled people “are practically thrown to the mercy of fate. Pensions are very low, and they can’t afford medical insurance. Apart from this, they cannot find work, since the current legislation does not lay out any benefits for their employers, who are therefore not interested in giving them jobs”.
The authorities in turn say they plan to do what they can to adapt public infrastructure to the needs of disabled people. Mamuka Katsaradze, head of the Invalids Council at Tbilisi City Hall, said all future projects would need disabled access before officials would approve them.
Older buildings and facilities would be adapted if it was possible.
“Although underground passages don’t have ramps for wheelchairs, the possibility of their installation has been considered everywhere and when there is enough money in the budget, we will install them. As for public transport, in future when we buy new buses, we will take into account the needs of disabled people,” he said.
He also said that special parking places would be reserved for disabled drivers in future, and that the private companies in charge of parking had already agreed to arrange this.
Amiran Datashvili, an official from the social support department at the labour ministry, said the state has several programmes to support disabled Georgians.
“We have preventative programmes for children. One of the most in demand is one to provide wheelchairs and prosthetics. There is a programme to support deaf-mutes,” he said.
But Madona Kharebava, head of the DEA association, which provides help to women and disabled children, said society was still not receptive to disabled people and the government needed to do more to change the general approach.
“There is some progress, however. In particular, the authorities have started to think about a state policy to support these people. In 2009, the government’s 2010-12 plan of action for social integration of disabled people was approved, and recently the media have got active as well, and started to report the problems of these people,” she said.
Shorena Latatia is a freelance journalist.
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