Inclusiveness and Accessibility on the Path to a Progressive Society
Separated by thousands of kilometres, united by a common cause – they both share a common vision. Both are advisers on ensuring the rights and improving the quality of life of people with disabilities. Zhannat Yessmaganbetova lives in Atyrau, a city in western Kazakhstan, Roza Akzharkenova lives in the southeast.
Today, about 750,000 people with disabilities live in Kazakhstan, of whom more than 101,000 are children under 18 years. Every day they face obstacles on the way to gaining equal access to education, health and employment, opportunities to realize their creative quests and sports talents.
Back in 2015, Kazakhstan ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Its mission is to create conditions under which persons with disabilities can participate in society on an equal basis with others – without discrimination.
At the initiative of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection of the Population of the Republic of Kazakhstan (MLSP RK), at the end of 2021, a project was launched to develop the institution of advisers to akims and ministers on disability issues. Currently, 13 akims of Kazakhstan’s regions, 4 ministers, the head of the "Atameken" National Chamber of Entrepreneurs and some akims of cities and regions have advisers.
“The adviser is the link between people with disabilities, the state and society,” Zhannat says.
Two women on a mission: the last shall be first
Since 2022, she has been advising the Governor of Atyrau region to create an inclusive environment for people with disabilities. Her task is to help local authorities develop effective solutions to ensure the rights and improve the quality of life of the inhabitants of the region.
Zhannat, like no one else, understands the problems of people with disabilities. For many years, she struggled with cancer and underwent a long rehabilitation. Now she has a Group I disability and a great desire to help people in matters of inclusiveness.
“Doctors diagnosed me with a tumor of the thymus. The disease took almost 10 years of my life - I had to learn how to walk again, pronounce words, eat. Only in 2019 did I return to a normal life,” Zhannat says.
She calls the opportunity to help people like herself a reward for her patience and will. Now she is known both as an adviser and a public figure.
In total, more than 24,000 people with disabilities live in the Atyrau region. Every day they face problems that need to be addressed not only by the state, but also by society. According to Zhannat, one of these problems is the availability of urban infrastructure and social space.
She notes that the issues of inclusiveness in the regions of Kazakhstan are still relevant and unresolved. Many state facilities are not equipped or insufficiently equipped to receive citizens with disabilities – there are no ramps, lifts, places for consultations and reception areas are not equipped.
“Together we need to work to create an inclusive and accessible environment where people can feel comfortable and socially protected. By opening up these opportunities for them, we will help each person become part of a progressive and equal society,” says Zhannat.
Roza concurs. She is an adviser to the akim of the Almaty region and works to achieve equal access for people with disabilities to services and infrastructure. Today there are more than 67,000 such persons in the region.
A sidelined group that needs broad social support
Despite the statistics, Roza believes that they do not sufficiently reflect the real picture in terms of ensuring inclusiveness.
“People with disabilities are not only groups 1 and 3. There is a need for a clear understanding of how to effectively create an inclusive environment for people with musculoskeletal problems, the blind, the hearing impaired and others. In my opinion, this issue should be studied in more detail,” Roza says.
She is confident that detailed monitoring and research will provide more accurate data about people in order to develop comprehensive and effective actions to solve existing problems, provide social support and ensure equal access to services and infrastructure of the city and region.
According to Roza, Kazakhstan is a more difficult place for people with disabilities to gain access to education and quality medical services, so she hopes that her work as an adviser will help to recognize urgent problems and to address them in a timely manner.
Today Rosa is actively involved in issues of childhood and accessibility of education for children with disabilities.
“I am very sorry that children, who have all the rights to study in general education schools, are now forced to study at home. Inclusion needs to be introduced from kindergartens so that children with disabilities have the opportunity to learn about this world on an equal basis with their peers,” says Roza.
As both Roza and Zhannat note, today in Kazakhstan there is an increase in the number of children with disabilities. If in 2010 there were just over 45,000, by 2022 the figure is expected to be over 100,000 children.
The reason for this negative trend, advisers say, is the lack of parental awareness, education and health care.
“Unfortunately, the presence of severe pathologies in children is not uncommon. One of the reasons is the lack of a unified system in the work of the three government departments that deal with health care, social protection and education,” Roza believes.
She believes a programme is needed that would inform and warn young parents about the risks of diseases, such as cerebral palsy, hearing loss and other complex diagnoses.
The clouds begin to disperse – a small place in the sun for PWDs
As an adviser, Zhannat traveled to many districts of the region and met children with various forms of disability. While sharing the results of this work, she is delighted to tell the story of the store to support talented children, which opened in the fall of 2022.
“Talented children live in the regions – many of them do needlework. The problem is that few people know about their work. This is how the idea came up to open a store without a seller, where any child with a disability can put their product up for sale, and the buyer can pay for the purchase online,” says Zhannat.
Zhannat also does not hide her joy from the results of working in an Atyrau taxi for the handicapped that provides transport for people with disabilities. According to her, many parents did not know about this opportunity for their children. Now in the city, 3 taxi services for the handicapped provide free transportation and another carrier gives a 50 percent discount. This is a huge step in the ability of people with disabilities, especially children, to socialize.
Now Zhannat is actively working to improve access to and quality of medical services. This year, she visited 25 medical institutions in the region and, using her personal example, noted the existing shortcomings in matters of inclusiveness. Zhannat has already submitted a proposal for the akimat to organize a specialized "green corridor" in the medical organizations of the city.
The "Green Corridor" is necessary so that persons with disabilities can receive timely medical care. “On the first floors of medical institutions, an office is needed in which samples for analysis will be collected, and doctors from different areas will receive patients with disabilities”, says Zannat.
Roza and Zhannat do not hide their feelings as they talk about the work of advisers. Today they invest a lot of time and effort in what they call a mission. Their motives are clear and straightforward: celebrating the UNDP project, they both agree that it brings advisors together and is a stimulus for real action. They are sure that this is only the beginning of the path to positive changes and the achievement of equal access and opportunities for persons with disabilities.