UKRAINE: Pressing problems of youth with special needs

[21 March 2012] - ...According to official state statistics, there are around three million people [with special needs] in Ukraine, approximately 158,000 of whom are children. [But one can rarely comes across a person with special needs on the streets of the country's cities. This absence is not accidental, but is caused by a number of complicated reasons. 

Here is a list of some common problems faced by people with disabilities in Ukraine. The list is based on interviews with families who have children with special needs and also on the state research conducted by the Ukrainian National Institute of Human Development in 2009.

Financial Difficulties

This often means abject poverty, which is experienced by many Ukrainians nowadays. Disability grants fall far short of covering the cost of rehabilitation or even simple everyday life expenses. For instance, a typical person with a disability receives from the government around 1,000 hryvnyas per month (that’s around 124 US dollars). Clearly, with such little money one can hardly afford a course of rehabilitation massage that costs 200 hryvnyas (24 US dollars).

Health Care, Rehabilitation, Sport

There are, in fact, no rehabilitation or sports clubs for people with disabilities in Zaporizhzhia. Moreover, the city has a great lack of experienced rehabilitation coaches. And to top it all, Ukrainian rehabilitation prices are sky-high. For example, an average rehabilitation course for people with physical disabilities costs around 20,000 hryvnyas (that’s around 2,486 US dollars). It’s necessary to take at least two such courses a year (Read “Financial Difficulties” point above). Ukrainian sports fans with special needs can never really attend any sports events because the seats cannot accommodate wheelchairs.

Free movement and accessibility

Our city is totally inaccessible for any wheelchair users or visually-impaired people. The city’s ramps and other special facilities have no handrails and incline at improper angles. While there are some ramps at supermarkets and in front of the regional state administration building, none exist at such essentially important places as hospitals, district executive committees and social security departments. A person with disabilities is often not able to leave his\her home due to the lack of ramps [in public spaces]. There are just a few traffic lights that “can speak” for visually-impaired citizens of our city.

Here’s a short interview with a girl in a wheelchair: “I’d be pleased to go out to a club, but there’s a problem with getting there. And another issue: When I was at a health resort, I met a young guy who also uses a wheelchair. Now we dream of meeting each other. Does your organisation have any volunteer groups that would assist us, people in wheelchairs with travelling around, even a paid service? I feel utterly confused: it looks like I can only enjoy independence at a health resort, but I cannot financially afford it. And coming back home I am not even able to go anywhere outside my flat unaided…”

The whole civilised world solves this issue by means of social taxi services. This means a comparatively cheap transportation service for people with special needs. Although some Ukrainian cities already provide such services, Zaporizhzhia doesn’t do it yet.


There are some discussions about studies comparing children with disabilities to their healthy peers. Unfortunately, this discussion has not brought any results so far: there are no experienced teachers or special learning programmes and parents of healthy children are not ready for such a system. However, there’s a positive tendency of involving disabled children in different school events, parties, state and charity activities.

As a student of the sociological faculty said, “People often ask me if I can fulfil my professional needs in a wheelchair. I’m not quite sure how I will work after the graduation, but I love my studies. It’s not so easy to study at a correspondent department, but I am not able to attend the university every day. There are no ramps or lifts at my university. One of my teachers even had to carry me in his arms. It’d be great if I could have some additional English classes at home. People with disabilities spend most of their time at home and they feel like they’re in a vacuum. They long for communication. I’d also like to be a volunteer”.

There’s an example from a world practice of the mutual (so called inclusive education) studies of people with different abilities. In the USA and Israel, students help their classmates with special needs as volunteer-tutors. This volunteer system enables several problems to be solved at once: students with a disability adapt themselves to a new environment more easily and their healthy classmates also get used to the fact that some people are different.

The Ukranian government would save a great deal of its budget and many social workers if this volunteer system were implemented in Ukraine. Universities with such a volunteer system support students with special needs...

All socially-oriented countries realise that with an education a person with disabilities can actively take part in social life and even bring some benefits to the state. One should not underestimate the great potential of people with disabilities.

Psychological support of families with disabled children 

There is a real shortage of special centres and experts to provide psychological help to families who have children with disabilities.

Cultural Life and Hobbies

There are many different amateur clubs in our city, but they are not adapted to people with special needs. Basically, all the cinemas, philharmonics and night clubs are not available to wheelchair users in Zaporizhzhia. There are also no facilities for visually or hearing impaired people. The cultural situation gets much worse in remote villages.

Social Isolation

Loneliness or a jail sentence is the worst punishment for any human being. There are many “innocent” prisoners in our city. The lack of communication and compassion has an especially bad impact on a person, causing depression and emotional problems on the top of their existing health issues. The only available channel of communication is the Internet, but it’s no substitute for real-life communication.

How we can help

We should dramatically change our attitude towards people with special needs. Having a disability does not mean being DIS-abled. A great part of solving the social problems faced by people with disabilities goes beyond special programmes like treatment or professional education. The effectiveness of the solution depends on the attitude of ordinary members of our society towards this issue. The main condition of this process is the acceptance by the social consciousness of the idea of equal rights and opportunities for all the people and attitude change towards people with special needs.


[NB: this article may have been edited for stylistic reasons] 


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Owner: Anna Sinepolskayapdf:


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