Living in a “Parallel World”: Disability in Post-Soviet Ukraine
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Phillips, Sarah D.
[Excerpt] These are challenges that are familiar to disabled people all over the world. Challenges such as these make many persons with disabilities in Ukraine feel as if they live in a “parallel world,” one separate from that enjoyed by “able-bodied” people. The disabled in Ukraine face both hidden and open discrimination in their daily lives, and they are stigmatized through popular stereotypes of disabled persons as inferior, deformed, and even contaminating. These attitudes stem in part from the Soviet-era policies towards the disabled, which perpetuated such harmful stereotypes. Persons with visible disabilities (i.e., spinal injuries, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, mental problems, and others) were isolated in their homes, hidden from the public and thus made seemingly invisible. Since disability was seen as a defect and as a tragedy, the Soviet regime pursued a policy of compensation. The invisibility of disabled persons positioned them as a non-problem. Their lives were not discussed, and there was practically no public debate about their needs. When attempts were made to rehabilitate people with disabilities, rehabilitation was primarily medical and vocational in nature, an approach that reflects the ideology that the problem is located within the individual, who needs to be changed/improved (i.e., given maximum physical functioning or gainful employment).
disability; Ukraine; discrimination; poverty; stereotypes