Inga Paichadze, Communications Officer in the World Bank Georgia Office, offers this story.
Trapped at home, shut out of jobs, physically disabled Georgians are among the most marginalized people in the country, disability rights advocates say. Society is not receptive to their needs, laws do not work in their favor, and it's almost impossible to get around cities, towns and public buildings, including schools and government offices.
The Georgian government is taking steps to remove the most obvious barriers—physical, legal and societal.
The country signed the UN convention on rights for the disabled in 2009 but has not ratified it, saying legal ramifications need to be thought through. However, Georgia launched a plan for social integration of disabled people, which includes almost all obligations laid out in the convention.
Building on those efforts, Georgia's World Bank office funded organizations that focus on social inclusion of vulnerable and disabled youth. Through its Civil Society Fund Program, 10 organizations received grants in 2011 for their efforts to fight for rights for the disabled and change society's attitudes towards them. The World Bank contributed $45,000, with the Open Society Georgia Foundation and Eurasia Partnership Foundation adding $20,000.
Together to the Future is one of the grantees working to inform Georgian society about the disabled and their rights, though education and media campaigns. It also seeks to integrate the disabled—especially youth-- in local communities of Western Georgia.
Co-founder David Ediberidze says, "People are not aware of our problems. One of the most important questions, such as, for example, moving around in the streets or within different public and state organizations has not been addressed. Sometimes when I need to go to the pharmacy or to buy an essential thing, I need to seek assistance. I cannot do it by myself." His story is a typical one in rural Georgia where no allowances are made for people who struggle to move around.
The group has devised a curriculum for "tolerance classes" in schools and created an expanded database of children and youth with disabilities in the Imereti region. It has funded, produced and aired public announcements on TV and radio to draw society's attention to the pressing issues of disability in the region. It has also set up a Facebook page with photos, videos and social networking information. Around 20,000 citizens, teachers and students in five regional schools have been reached through their project.
Because so many physically disabled remain at home and out of view, the able-bodied do not often consider their challenges. Education helps. Tenth grader Mariam Bochorishvili attended a tolerance class and said afterwards," I did not know that disabled people were able to do so many things. I think schools should have lectures to help change our perception of them and create a more adaptable environment."
Gocha Chapichadze is in tenth grade in a small village school in Imereti. His classmates have to carry him and his wheelchair up and down the stairs because there is no elevator and there are no ramps in the school building. Together to the Future has helped him get computer classes and learn English.
"Life is very hard for disabled people in every country, but especially in a small region like ours. Hopefully, this project funded by the World Bank will improve things, if only with regard to the changed attitude of society towards us," Chapichadze says.
Other grantees include the Library Cultural Center Tanadgoma, which has been working on inclusive education programs for a decade and serves as a model for the ministry of education. It has trained teachers in inclusive education methods, and worked with parents and children in wheelchairs, supporting and encouraging them to attend mainstream school.
Even though the grants given through the CSF program are small, they complement and validate huge efforts made by civil society organizations.