“Change the Environment and not the Person” – this was the message to the governement of persons with disabilities.. The problem of disability is very acute in Georgia. The environment is not adapted to the needs of persons with disabilities. The defenders of the rights of persons with disability say that if the environment is adapted to the needs of disabled persons the problem of disability as such will not exist anymore. They say that persons with disabilities cannot enjoy the same opportunities for education and employment as people with no health related problems. People with disabilities cannot even use public transport because the facilities are not adapted to their needs.
On May 21, 2009 Aleksandre Lomaia, the Georgian ambassador to the UN, signed a Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, but it not yet has been ratified by the Parliament of Georgia. The purpose of the Convention is “to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.” The Convention recognizes the right of persons with disabilities to employment and career advancement on an equal basis with others. Despite the fact that the Parliament of Georgia has not ratified the Convention, the Georgian law on the social protection of persons with disabilities gives persons with disabilities the right to work in industries and organizations in ordinary conditions; however, there is no mechanism in this country for employing persons with disabilities.
“There is no body in the country coordinating employment. We could not find any body or authorized person to whom we (persons with disabilities) could apply for work. We think that employment programs should be created according to the ministries, but nothing practical is done in this regard at present,” says Zaza Sikharulidze, the President of Union of God’s Children of Georgia.”
Nino Mardaleishvili, the Chairperson of Alliance of Georgian Invalids many times applied for hel;p to the President of Georgia and various governmental bodies but in vain. She prepared a project which aims at establishing a club for persons with disabilities. The club would enable the persons with disabilities to develop their professional skills and advance in their career. The primary obstacle to the development of the club is lack of funds. “We have applied to the Tbilisi City Hall, the Ministries of Health and Economics and even to the President of Georgia for the money or space for the club but our requests for both were refused by all. I have prepared another project which aims at employing persons with disabilities together with healthy people. Even though everyone likes the donors still refrain from funding it,” states Nino Mardaleishvili.
The primary issue on the agenda of the NGOs that work for persons with disabilities is to achieve the ratification by the Parliament of Georgia of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities . They hope that when Georgia ratifies the Convention the reality for persons with disabilities will change for the better. Despite the fact that the Ministry of Economics did not work fast in this regard, this process is reaching its end. The Convention will be ratified in September but then another problem will appear – there is no mechanism for implementing the Convention. The government executive must elaborate a 3- year Social Integration Action Plan for persons with disabilities which should be ready by September when the Parliament of Georgia must discuss it. The action plan will be elaborated based on the concept that was prepared by NGO Coalition for Independent Life with the support of USAID and Save the Children. The plan will include the levers for employing persons with disabilities. Rati Ionatamishvili, the manager of Coalition for Independent Life,says that this is the best time for an effective system protecting persons. “The Convention is very important for us. The Convention is a real lever for starting up and continuing the process of protecting the rights of persons successfully,” says Rati Ionatamishvili.
In 2007 a coordinating council of NGOs working for persons with disabilities was established within the Ministry of Labor, Health and Social Affairs. However, the council worked for only one year. Last month the Prime Minister of Georgia established a state coordinating council which works on the affairs of persons with disabilities. The council members are Nikoloz Rurua, Davit Tkeshelashvili, Nikoloz Gvaramia, Kakha Baindurashvili, Nikoloz Gilauri, Aleksandre Kvitashvili, Lasha Zhvania, Sozar Subari and Otar Toidze. On July 20 a meeting of NGOs that work for persons with disabilities was held in the Hotel Sheraton Metekhi Palace. Many people in these NGOs are disabled themselves. In the meetingt he 7 representatives were selected who will become the members of the state coordinating council. These 7 persons represent persons with the most common disabilities. The criteria for the selection of NGO representatives for the council membership and dates of their service were defined during the meeting.
There are about 200 000 persons with disabilities in Georgia and only 1 % of them is employed. 18 persons with hearing problems were employed by the City Hall in the Cleaning Department, 6 persons with hearing problems were employed by Geocell, mobile operator company. The Union of Deafs trained 50 persons with hearing problems as constructors, painters and plumbers with the support of USAID. 17 persons with physical disabilities have been working in the Public Registry Agency for one year now. Due to the problems with transportation they work from home.
In 2009 4 500 000 GEL was allotted from the social support state program for persons with disabilities for the rehabilitation programs. This money will be spent on the creation of various programs for persons with disabilities, such as: social integration programs, medical service programs, programs for the creation of day centers and renovation of resorts and other places for rest and healthand also for the provision of persons with disabilities with prosthesis and other supporting objects. Despite this the rights of persons with disabilities are seriously violated in our country. There is no mechanism for the protection of the rights of these people. The quality of supporting objects is low. The issue of registration of persons with disabilities is also a serious problem as well. The exact number of persons with disablities is not know available. The projects for persons with disabilities basically are funded by international donors. In Georgia these people (persons with disabilities) are socially excluded and live in grave conditions. They are invisible in our country.
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