Wednesday 20 June 2018 | 13:52

“They think if the legs don’t function, neither functions the head.”

14.06.2018  |  Society   |  Yauheniya Burshtyn, EuroBelarus,  
“They think if the legs don’t function, neither functions the head.” Photo by "EuroBelarus" information service

In Babruysk, wheelchair users are fighting discrimination.

How to behave with people in wheelchairs? Do we need to help them? And how to do it properly? They talk themselves what we are ashamed to ask them about.

The spine has been broken, but not the life.

After Belarus joined the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, in a number of cities of the country the campaign "Agenda 50" has been launched, which helps to implement in practice the provisions of the document in local communities. In Babruysk, all of three projects contribute to this goal; one of them is called “Spytaj miane” ("Ask me"). It’s goal is to change the attitude of Babruysk residents towards wheelchair users. Under the project, primarily, educational work is planned: across central streets of the city, banners were hung with photos of wheelchair users playing sports, driving cars, living active life. Booklets with information on how to behave with a wheelchair user can be found in government offices, schools, public transport. But no booklets will replace living meetings with people who do - honestly and with humor - talk about how to deal with them. One of such sessions was visited by a correspondent of the "EuroBelarus" Information Service.

Every session has a full house. Photo by the "EuroBelarus" Information Service.

- People lack knowledge about wheelchair users. I myself has faced such an attitude when sometimes people think if your legs do not function, neither functions your head, says one of the project organizers Liliya Lamanosava, chairman of the Babruysk Joint Organization PA “Republican Association of Wheelchair Users”.

Therefore, the project is an opportunity to tell everyone that people in wheelchairs are the same as everybody else. They live, work, acquire homes and families and face all the problems that other people do. But sometimes the society simply does not perceive them adequately.

- We want to be treated as equals; we want to be perceived not as disabled, but first of all - as people. The spine has been broken, but not the life, says Liliya.

Liliya Lamanosava. Photo by the "EuroBelarus" Information Service.

The woman confesses that previously, she did not know either how to interact with people in wheelchairs. And she got to know it only when she became one of them.  

And for Maryja Kapustsina, head of the Day care department for people with disabilities of the Territorial social services center (TSSC) of Pershamayski district of Babruysk, the project implemented by her together with Liliya became in a sense a way of family reunification. A second cousin of Maryja was injured in his youth, and he became a wheelchair user.

- Since then, we did not communicate. I do not know why. I thought, "How to talk to him now? Would it be normal?" He, for his part, was not sure, whether he would be understood and accepted in his new state. And we accidentally met on a tour for people in wheelchairs and got acquainted all over again, says Maryja.

Maryja Kapustsina. Photo by the "EuroBelarus" Information Service.

They work, they travel, they love

The first part of the session was dedicated to the wheelchair users’ stories about their ways of living with disabilities. They voiced their stories, and did it with such sincerity and humour that any awkwardness at present, if any, disappeared by itself.

- I "was broken" at the age of 21, says Kanstantsin. But I had no depression at all. I began to pull myself out, to go out, joined the wheelchair association, and began to look for a job. In 2006, I bought a car, now I’m travelling across Europe - I can not sit at home.

Kanstantsin. Photo by the "EuroBelarus" Information Service.

Pavel was injured 3.5 years ago. Now he calls himself a "house husband", but he doesn’t sit still at home: he educates and takes care of the three children, plays sports.

Pavel. Photo by the "EuroBelarus" Information Service.

Siarhey, Maryja's brother, got married and became a father already as a wheelchair user.

Siarhey and Liliya Lamanosava’s husband Jacau. Photo by the "EuroBelarus" Information Service.

Volha was injured in 25 years. 1.5 years after she got divorced with her husband. But the woman did cross herself off; she began to look for employment. In social networks she met her future chief - Aliaxandar Makarčuk who is completely paralyzed himself and manages his computer using voice programs. He has his own educational online project for people with disabilities; he has also established a recruit company, which he invited Volha to. By the way, she moved to Babruysk by the occasion: the woman met a loved one there who is also a wheelchair user.

Volha. Photo by the "EuroBelarus" Information Service.

A story of love after being injured happened to Liliya Lamanosava and her husband Jacau, as well. They married when both of them were wheelchairs users. The couple lives independently; they work, drive a car.

What is permissible and what is not

So, how to behave when you meet a person in a wheelchair? The session participants told about this on the example of their own stories. According to them, often a help without warning, even with the best intentions, ends up with the fall of a wheelchair. So, the first and the most important rule is to ask questions. Here again, you need not apply not to an accompanying person, but directly to the wheelchair user.

You don’t have to touch the wheelchair and, if any, the table conjugated with it - it's a part of one's personal space, he or she can take it as a violation of personal boundaries. It’s also inadmissible to roll a wheel of a wheelchair by the leg and to stroke the head of a wheelchair user with the words of sympathy - it would seem indecent to bother with such manifestations of regret even an ordinary person on the street, yet it happens.

The instructor’s story was complemented by personal stories of the wheelchair users. Photo by the "EuroBelarus" Information Service.

Yet, what you really need is to relax.

- If a person in a wheelchair sees your discomfort, he or she begins to feel it, too, shares these seemingly truisms Maryja Kapustsina.

For yourself and for future generations

The sessions of the project "Spytaj miane" turned out to be popular among Babruysk residents. The first session was attended by 68 people, the second one - by 50, the third one - also by over 60. The organizers confess that they themselves did not expect this. Among those present, the majority were representatives of social and medical institutions. Someone came thanks to the professional interest, and someone is planning to transfer the acquired knowledge to his/her children.

A community of valueologists. Photo by the "EuroBelarus" Information Service.

- In healthcare organizations, we meet people with disabilities, and sometimes we feel ourselves uncomfortable thinking about how not to hurt them as we would want to build a relationship on equal terms, confesses an instructor-valeologist of the Babruysk central hospital Sviatlana Aharodnik.

- It is very necessary for the new generations who, at times, do not know the basic rules of etiquette, shares her impressions from the session still a young woman herself, an instructor-valeologist of the Babruysk maternity hospital Uladzislava Abuzarava-Dabrynskaya. Our future depends on the younger generation. What we give them, what we invest in them, that is what we acquire in the end.

One of the billboards that have appeared in the streets of Babruysk under the project "Spytaj miane”. Photo by the "EuroBelarus" Information Service.

***

The material was prepared in the framework of the international project "Rights of People with Disabilities: agenda for Belarus (Agenda 50)".

The campaign "Agenda 50" is being implemented with the support of the European Union in partnership with the Fundacja TUS (Poland) and the PA "European House" (Denmark)Office for the Rights of People with Disabilities, International Consortium "EuroBelarus" and Center for European Transformation participate in the campaign implementation in Belarus.

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