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(Moscow) – Children with disabilities in Russia face serious obstacles to accessing quality education, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The Russian government should build on progress to date to make sure that children with disabilities are not shut out from quality, inclusive education at all levels of the education system.

The 45-page report, “Left Out? Obstacles to Education for People with Disabilities in Russia,” found many barriers that can prevent children with disabilities from studying in mainstream schools. These include a lack of ramps or lifts to help children enter and move within buildings and the absence of accommodations such as large-print textbooks for children with low vision, assistive technology, or teachers’ aides. Infrastructure barriers and limited accessible transportation prevent some children from leaving their homes and reaching school.

“As millions of children across Russia go back to school today, children with disabilities are also entitled to be in the classroom to learn together with their peers, not shut out from a quality education,” said Jane Buchanan, associate Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Russian government has said that education for people with disabilities is a priority. Now it’s time to follow through on this pledge to include children with disabilities in schools and in their communities.”

Inclusive education ensures that people with and without disabilities study in classrooms together on an equal basis, without barriers, and that people with disabilities have adequate support in their learning. Inclusive education is essential for full participation of people with disabilities in the community, and for countering their isolation and segregation, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch research in Russia found that some school administrators have refused to admit children with disabilities based on assumptions that they are unable to learn, are unsafe around other children, or engage in disruptive behavior. Russian law guarantees everyone the right to education, and amendments to Russian law ban disability-based discrimination in all spheres of life beginning on January 1, 2016.

Many children with disabilities remain segregated in specialized schools for children with certain types of disabilities. These schools are often located far from children’s homes and may offer limited academic programs. Other children with disabilities stay isolated in their homes, with very limited interaction with peers and visits from teachers a few times a week.

Yuliana G., a young woman with low vision, would have preferred to study at a mainstream school near her home. But, because her local school did not have accommodations to support her needs, her only option was to enroll in a specialized boarding school. “I had friends from the courtyard where I lived, whom I missed when I went [away] to school.” She said. “How do you keep a friendship if you don’t live in the community? I missed my family, too.”

The tens of thousands of children with disabilities living in state orphanages often receive poor quality or little education, and many receive no education at all. Human Rights Watch researchers visited 10 state orphanages for children with disabilities in Russia in 2013-2014 and found that many children suffered serious abuse and neglect on the part of institution staff.

Because they have not received quality education, upon reaching adulthood, people with disabilities frequently struggle to enroll in universities or gain meaningful professional skills necessary to secure employment.

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which Russia ratified in 2012, requires providing people with disabilities access to local, quality inclusive primary and secondary education, as well as higher education, vocational training, and adult education on an equal basis with others. The government should also ensure that people with disabilities receive supplementary services that will allow them to achieve their full potential.

“For decades, children with disabilities have been categorized and segregated according to their disabilities and their perceived ability to learn,” Buchanan said. “It’s crucially important for the government to focus on the individual needs of each learner, to determine what the government can do to support each child to realize his or her full academic and social potential in their own communities.”   

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