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What is hiding behind the doors of Belarusian institutional care facilities for disabled?


Institutional care facilities for disabled are the legacy of USSR. They are some kind of clinics, because historically disability was understood as an “irreversible diagnosis” and a person with a disability as a patient who can’t live without the constant medical treatment. Today all around the world and in Belarus those social practices are considered more successful that assist the independent living of persons with disabilities. The existence of institutions contradicts this approach. Besides, foreign experience shows that it is possible to organize independent living in local community, for example, in Denmark people don’t even remember what institutions are. Sergey Drozdovskiy, the coordinator of the Office for the rights of persons with disabilities says what we have and what we want to achieve.

Institution – the last step of social protection.

Institutional care facilities for disabled are called – stationary institutions of social service, and they are a type of social service for disabled which is of a very special character. It is explained by the fact that it takes a person out of his habitual social life only because he can’t completely take care of himself because of disability or elderly age.

Institution is not a kind of some parallel functioning structure which would support the descent living standard of a person in the society and provide the access to a standard set of services. Belarusian system of social protection renders services for persons with disabilities till some definite degree. When the local bodies of social protection can’t cope with the needs of a disabled person he has to choose: either institution or to live on his own counting on his abilities which are sometimes limited. Unfortunately, institution is the last resort in the system of social support.

In the closed world.

Yes, we don’t have such examples as in Russia, where institutions burn down with its residents, there are no evidence of hunger deaths. But we have another danger: the way of life is an obstacle for the personal development.

The first threat is “pulling out” of a person from the usual environment and transferring to a completely new one. And the new environment presents the concentrated gathering of people having some health limitations which prevent them from living at home. Such concentration of people with similar problems, from the point of view of psychology and psychiatry, leads to mutual pressure. It means that all the problems sum up, aggravate and intensify.

Besides, the character of the closed institution makes a person live in a “closed world”. Such closed world very often leads to degradation like it happens in prisons and army.

No job, no theatre.

Very often people who live in institutions have no possibility to work. First of all, such institutions are situated in rural area far from big cities that is why it is difficult to organize some employment or production. Secondly, employment in the conditions of institution doesn’t bring enough benefit for a person to be motivated and willing to work. All the salary or the part of it would be spent for staying at the institution. Thirdly – the complexity of creation of profitable working places in institutions.

For young people there is a problem with getting education. It is very difficult to enter educational establishments and to study there, because, for example, universities are situated in big cities and it is not so easy to get there.

People living in institutions very rare take part in public and cultural life: they practically do not visit cinemas, theatres and exhibitions. Everything is limited by cultural work inside the institutions. There are rare exceptions, for example in Minsk and some other big cities.

Institutional universalism.

Very different people get to institutions – young, elderly. They have different interests and different perception of the world. But all of them have to learn to live according to the set regime immediately. The needs of a person are almost not taken into account. There are some average norms of clothing, food which do not depend from a person, his wishes and tastes.

Europe and America are getting rid of “universal” institutions, considering that there is no need to put a person to stationary conditions. They are trying to create the set of services which would let a person with disability live in comfort without isolating him from “reality”. The conditions for every person are being improved: for example, if it is difficult for him to live in small town or mountains, he can move to a city where it would be easier for him to live. And all the institutions are open. That is how the process of deinstitutionalization is developing.

There are a lot of rather successful initiatives of introduction the elements of social organization in favour of deinstitutionalization (promotion of assisted living, institute of individual assistant, building in institutional conditions the houses for independent living, holding educational projects and others). But all these activities do not carry program character. Uncoordinated efforts of many activists do not bring the needed result. Mainly it depends from the lack of the vision of the final result, plan of the changes for deinstitutionalization.

Relying on the experience of our colleagues from Denmark we are planning to prepare the project of a plan for Belarus to move in this direction. In the frames of the campaign “Inclusion of persons with disabilities to local community” we are planning to prepare the road map which will show the sequence of actions leading to positive changes in this sphere. We consider the realization of such a road map is possible only with the efforts by all the society and the first thing we are going to do is to offer open format of discussion by people who are interested by achieving in our country the possibility for persons with disabilities to choose the independent way of life, in habitual environment and without institutional alternative.