In Ukraine, a city adapts to the needs of children with disabilities and opens new doors for them
VINNYTSYA, Ukraine, 4 December 2012 - Oleksandra (Sasha) Berehuta, 13, recently went to school for the first time.
Sasha had had to study at home. She is wheelchair-bound, and school buildings were not fit for students like Sasha – children with disabilities.
“I wanted to study with other children”
Sasha’s days were dull. She lacked normal communication with her peers. It was particularly painful for her to hear exciting stories about school life from her best friend Nastya. She felt trapped outside interesting events and adventures. “I’ve been using a wheelchair since early childhood, but it wasn’t until the time to go to school that I realized: I won’t be able studying in the classroom, at school with other kids,” she explains. “Of course, I am very grateful to my first teacher, who gave me very good basic education to continue my learning, but I wanted to study with other children.”
A school adapts
This past summer, Vinnytsya school #33 was adapted to the needs of children with disabilities. A wheelchair ramp was built, and a street-level classroom and bathroom were modified.
These and other improvements were possible thanks to the Child Friendly Cities Initiative. Under the initiative, in partnership with local NGOs and municipalities, UNICEF contributes to changes that make children’s lives in cities more comfortable and safe, including the lives of children with special needs.
Partial or full integration of children with special needs into educational establishments, as well as introduction of inclusive education, are key areas for ensuring the right of these children to accessible quality education.
“You cannot even imagine how happy I am!” says Sasha. “I finally got an opportunity to meet my classmates, to study with them, to communicate...It is so delightful to be a part of the group…I started a new life as I became more independent: I can freely move around the school’s ground floor and eat in the cafeteria. When we have outdoor health and safety lessons, we all go to the stadium, and my classmates help me. Sometimes they ask me to help with homework, and I am always there for them.”
Sasha is actively involved in her school’s public activities. She is a member of the children’s advisory board of the Vinnytsya city council, where she raises issues that concern her, her friends and other children with special needs. She attends hobby groups at the Vinnytsya city palace for children and youth. Sasha also attends professional swimming practices.
Programme reaches dozens of children
According to Vinnytsya partners, during 2011, two projects – ‘Studying on equal terms’ and ‘Offer a hand to your classmate’ – reached more than 100 of the 226 children who study at home in Vinnytsya and integrated them into educational and pedagogical processes.
Monitoring conducted in October 2012 shows that, during academic year 2012–2013, similar numbers of children are partially attending classes and/or extracurricular activities at schools that provide general education. In addition, during 2012, more than 20 children with special needs have participated in various hobby groups and circles, organized at the palace for children and youth.
Eight educational buildings in the city of Vinnytsya are now equipped with wheelchair ramps. Two schools have modified street-level classrooms and toilet facilities to ensure free and easy access for children with disabilities. Special training sessions have been organized for teachers, parents and students to create a favourable school climate for children with special needs.
“There is nothing impossible!” says Sasha. “Do not stop. Do not lock yourself up at home with your problems, but move forward! There are many caring people around you who are ready to help and make our city more friendly to all children.” Sasha hopes that the opportunities that have emerged for her and other children in her hometown will be available throughout Ukraine.
Child Friendly Cities was launched in 1996 to act on the resolution passed during the second United Nations Conference on Human Settlements. The Conference declared that the well-being of children is the ultimate indicator of a healthy habitat, a democratic society and good governance.
Photos: © UNICEF UKRAINE/2012