Public Defender’s Statement on International Day of Persons with Disabilities

December 3 marks International Day of Persons with Disabilities on the initiative of the United Nations. Its purpose is to promote the protection of the rights of persons with disabilities, as well as to raise public awareness in order to ensure the proper involvement of these persons in social, political, economic and cultural life. Every year, the celebration of this day is related to a specific theme. This year's theme is "Transformative solutions for inclusive development – the role of innovation in fueling an accessible and equitable world”.

Despite some progress, realization of the rights of persons with disabilities in various directions remains a problem in Georgia. It is important for the Government to ensure the effectiveness of the Interagency Coordination Committee for the Implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The fact that there has been no transition to a social model and that the existing approaches and services are still based on the medical model should be negatively evaluated. It is welcome that as a result of amending the Decree of the Government of Georgia on Social Package, persons with disabilities are no longer restricted from receiving a social package during the period of their public activities, however, the said provision is still ineffective and cannot meet the needs of each individual.

Despite the fact that the Tbilisi Infant Orphanage and Kojri Orphanage have been closed, the activities aimed at deinstitutionalization are still being carried out in a fragmented manner, without an appropriate plan. There is a grave situation in specialized institutions for adults with disabilities. Poor infrastructure, problems with safety and sanitary norms, lack of personnel, absence of multidisciplinary approach, lack of training of personnel on complex behavior management - these are a small list of problems in similar institutions. The lack of individual approach and necessary educational and rehabilitation services lead to the formation of the syndrome of dependence on the institution, which reduces the beneficiariespossibilities for independent living. Considering the current situation, it is necessary to take timely measures both for developing alternative services and strengthening mechanisms for the prevention of institutionalization.

Accessibility of physical environment, access to information, means of communication and various services remain serious challenges. A national accessibility action plan has not been developed, and online usability and web accessibility standards have not yet been approved.

The homelessness policy is unchanged, which has a particularly heavy impact on persons with disabilities. The monitoring carried out by the Public Defender in 2022 revealed that persons with disabilities and their families often remain outside the service due to various barriers. In addition, none of the shelters are fully accessible for wheelchair users or persons with mobility difficulties, as well as people with visual impairments. The situation is also difficult in terms of using the soap kitchen service. Access to adequate food is hindered by inaccessible physical environment and municipal transport, failure to consider the nutritional needs of beneficiaries with disabilities, lack of appropriate rations, and lack of proper support in the feeding process. It should also be noted that municipalities do not produce statistics on persons with disabilities using the service.

Services provided by the state programme for social rehabilitation and child care have not changed substantially. The geographic coverage of the services remains problematic. It is important to take steps for promoting the independent living of persons with disabilities, to provide rehabilitation opportunities for adults and to launch a personal assistant service in a timely manner.

It is necessary to emphasize the gaps in inclusive education. Problems are encountered both at pre-school and general, vocational and higher education levels. The challenge is to study the needs of students with disabilities, availability of infrastructure/materials and provision of institutions with qualified human resources. Children left behind pre-school and formal education are not properly identified. Continuity of inclusive education is also a special problem. Therefore, it is important to explore the hindering factors that prevent persons with disabilities from continuing their studies in higher education institutions after completing the general level.

Persons with disabilities still face difficulties in terms of employment. Stigmatizing attitudes of employers and lack of awareness of reasonable accommodation measures serve as barriers. Employment promotion programmes are ineffective, which is proved by the statistics on employed persons with disabilities. In particular, only 452 people were employed within the framework of the mentioned programmes in 2017-2021. The data does not increase dynamically over the years. It should also be emphasized that the number of people looking for a job is much higher than the number of people actually employed.

Systemic problems relating to somatic and mental health are still relevant. Difficulties related to access to medical institutions and services, as well as the use of appropriate forms of communication by medical personnel, should be highlighted. It remains a challenge to develop outpatient services based on therapy and rehabilitation for persons with mental health problems, to provide the field of psychiatry with necessary human resources, and to reduce the stigma in society.

The State still does not have a systemic vision for improving the condition of women and girls with disabilities in all spheres of life. In this direction, the following are particularly problematic: absence of segregated statistics, prevention of violence against women with disabilities, protection of their sexual and reproductive health and rights.

The substantial participation of persons with disabilities and organizations of persons with disabilities in decision-making processes at different levels remains a challenge, as well as creation of solid guarantees, appropriate standards and mechanisms in this regard.

Based on all of the above, the Public Defender of Georgia calls on the State to take effective measures to ensure the proper protection of the rights of persons with disabilities and their involvement in the decision-making process, as well as to raise awareness of the population.

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