Accessibility Comes to Yekaterinburg

Perspektiva billboard
Perspektiva’s billboard promoting inclusive education on the way from the airport into Moscow. Translation: “Children should learn together.”

Over the last decade, I’ve had opportunities to meet disabled people around the world and hear about their work to make the places where they live more accessible to and inclusive of people with disabilities. Sometimes their work is focused on the development of disability rights laws and policies, and sometimes their work takes place where disability laws exist but there is little enforcement. In October, the Eurasia Foundation, through its US-Russia Social Expertise Exchange (SEE) Disability Partnership Platform program provided me the opportunity to witness the work of Russian professionals in Moscow and Yekaterinburg who  focus on using Russian laws on barrier free design to further inclusion of people with disabilities in Russia. I traveled to Russia with my Bay Area colleagues Brian Bashin, CEO of The Lighthouse for the Blind and Abby Cochran, a graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley.

Our colleagues at Perspektiva, a non-governmental organization based in Moscow that promotes independence for persons with disabilities explained to me that while the 1995 Federal Act on Social Protection for Persons with Disabilities (SPPD Act) required access to public infrastructure, buildings, and public transit, there were no mechanisms for monitoring or enforcement. It wasn’t until two years after Russia ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2012, that a bill amending and aligning the SPPD Act defined conditions for ensuring the physical access by endowing authorities with enforcement powers, and putting in place a mechanism for the gradual creation of an accessible environment.

Susan and members of the Center for Inclusive Tourism

In Yekaterinburg, I had the pleasure of meeting people from the Center for Inclusive Tourism in the Sverdlovsk Region who are taking advantage of the amended law and the CRPD to ensure physical access in construction throughout the new “smart city” district of Akademia City on the edges of the city. The day I arrived in Yekaterinburg, Olga, Yulia (who lives in Akademia City), Konstantin, and Alexey N. and Alexey S., led me on our tour of the new district.

Akademia City from above.
Birdseye view of Akademia City, Yekaterinburg, Russia

The district is a planned residential neighborhood that will eventually house 350,000 people in apartment tower clusters. Each cluster includes kindergartens, elementary and middle schools, parks, open space, recreation facilities, stores, offices, and medical services. Construction of Akademia began in 2006, and by mid-2017 the population was 45,000.

People pushing baby strollers on pedestrian paths with green space amid high rise apartment buildings on a sunny day.

As we strolled through Akademia, Olga compared the accessible walkways to Yekaterinburg’s aging and broken pedestrian paths.

Yekaterinburg Street and old pedestrian path

Olga and others met many times over the years with city planners, architects, and contractors to provide guidance on what makes an environment barrier-free and welcoming to disabled people. Their work ensured that apartment buildings have accessible entrances and include apartments designed for people who use wheelchairs; that the schools have ramps, elevators, and accessible restrooms; and that the district’s property management companies maintain accessibility as the buildings age.

The Yekaterinburg professionals are also addressing the challenge of improving access in the older streets of their city. The Center for Inclusive Tourism is working in tandem with Accessible Yekaterinburg, and Yekaterinburg city officials as the city undergoes massive infrastructure improvements in preparation for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. As a host city, Yekaterinburg is required to provide equitable access to all football fans and is leveraging what was learned in preparation for the 2014 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games held in Sochi.

Russian laws, the CRPD, the building of a smart city, the 2018 World Cup and a dedicated group of professionals working on disability issues have led Yekaterinburg to a tipping point of becoming a city that provides freedom of movement and inclusion for disabled people.

November 30, 2017

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *