Built environment for disabled persons in Russia: Needs and problems

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Report of the CIB Expert Seminar on Building Non-Handicapping Environments, Budapest 1991


Built environment for disabled persons in the USSR: Needs and problems

Viatcheslav K. Stepanov, Club "Contacts", Moscow, Russia

For a long period of time (from 1917 to 1985/86), no private initiative to assist disabled people has been put into operation; no charity organizations have been formed. The needs and problems of disabled people were a responsibility of the State (the Ministry of Social Affairs) which had a very limited financial capacity.

Such a formal attitude and official ideology regarding the problems of disabled people - the basic formula of which was that in the near future all the Soviet people would be harmonically developed and healthy - resulted in public consciousness which completely neglected the rights and interests of disabled persons. During those years the State had not given any financial support to any considerable program aimed at developing building standards in which the demands of disabled people are taken into account. This, in combination with the lack of enterprises producing facilities for people with physical difficulties, has brought us to illusive well-being: in the streets of our cities and towns one rarely meets a person on crutches or using a wheelchair.

In the last five years, during the Perestroika period, the movement for the rights of disabled people has been remarkably active. Gosstroy of the USSR started, for the first time, to work out the complex program directed at creating barrier-free environment in towns and within buildings. A number of charity organizations and foundations, as well as organizations of disabled people have begun their work at different levels: state, republic, city, town, district, etc. But the process of solving the problems of disabled people is hindered because of the sluggishness of governmental institutions and the economic crisis facing the country. It is not by chance then that certain disabled people's organizations as well as private persons are taking active steps without waiting for the authorities to proceed regarding the needs and problems of disabled persons. For instance: the Ukrainian Organization of the Blind, initiated recommendations on building projects for people having weak sight; the author of the present report took part in the Project of the Rehabilitation Centre for children from Chernobyl, a collective work with professors of the Technical University, Berlin; the project of the university for disabled people is in work at the moment; technical recommendations for taking away barriers in order to create a barrier-free environment for wheelchair users has been elaborated, etc.

Experts dealing with the problem of the living environment for disabled persons are in acute necessity for cooperation with scientists and experts from other countries who have already gained great experience in this field. In my books, "Specialized Schools", "Educational-Medicinal Centres" and, in my latest book especially, "Architectural Environment for the Disabled and Old-Aged People", I strove for such cooperation in order to formulate major standards and give architectural-technical variants of realizing separate building elements which would promote the living situation of disabled persons, considering ages and types of diseases. These standards have an influence on both concrete building element constructions (entrances, staircases, apparels, elevators, etc.) and on the whole building structure, organization of room intercommunication, form organization, etc.

We can see an example in the specialized boarding schools for disabled children, which lately have been projected on the principle of the corridor system. Dull and formal school encirclement, long corridors, producing a negative psychological effect on children. What we suggest is the system of "study-living rooms", "large apartments", which include all necessary rooms: for medical care, study, recreation, and accommodation for children in smaller groups (8-12 children). The results of practical introduction of this system into specialized boarding schools confirmed all the benefits of the new system from educational, medical and economic points of view: migration scales of disabled children and personnel reduced; children got, for the first time in their lives, their own "home-cell" instead of barrack-like corridor section; and an opportunity to live within their own "families" under the care of medical-educational personnel.

The processes of creating and improving a material-technical basis for the living conditions of disabled people are impossible without applying scientific prognosis which, in turn, cannot be carried out without constant and continuing cooperation of experts from different countries. The information which we have an opportunity to gain at the seminar will be put to use in the USSR, both in elaborating norms regimenting the city environment, and in constructing concrete buildings for disabled persons.


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