17 Mar 2014

Paralympic legacy: what is it like to be disabled in Russia?

During the past week Russia has been celebrating its Paralympians. And so it should. They finished top of the table, winning more medals than any other nation.

During the torch relay, many of the torch bearers carried the flame by wheelchair. The Paralympics embraced Russians of all abilities.

But it hasn’t always been like this. When Moscow hosted the Olympics in 1980, they refused to also host the Paralympics. The reason they gave: there were no disabled people in the Soviet Union.

So what has changed since then?

Russia recently signed the UN convention on the rights of disabled people – and has passed many local disability equality laws.

But has it made any difference?

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Where there’s a will

Channel 4 News travelled from Russia’s frozen north to its balmy south, to ask disabled Russians what Paralympic legacy means to them.

Like 20-year-old Kolia, who’s dying from a muscle wasting disease in a satellite town just outside Moscow. Kolia’s family are locked in a Kafka-esque legal dispute with the local council to move to appropriate housing.

Blind disability advocate Nikolai, who successfully makes his way to work on the capital’s manic metro system by touch and feel.

And deaf-blind Ludmilla, stranded in her Soviet apartment block not far from the Finnish border.

The conclusions? There are many. But the most important – where there is a will, there is a way.

Local authorities and local mayors who take Russia’s new disability laws seriously consistently make a massive impact on accessibility and inclusion. And those who don’t are quite simply failing.

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