Physical Accessibility in Russia

We understand that the modern Western world is consumed by political correctness. Drowning in it to be blunt. So, please pardon our use of terms like handicapped, physically challenged, disabled, and the like. We will make no apologies for stating the obvious.

This topic is introduced with the hope that perhaps someday Russia will join the rest of the modern world in caring about, and making it easier for her citizens with physical challenges to enjoy life with the same privileges as everyone else.

Visitors do not see a lot of folk with physical disabilities in everyday Russia. Apartment buildings, many of which are older buildings with no elevators, simply leave this segment of the population out in the cold. Or, locked up in an apartment with no access to leave other than family and friends who come to carry a wheelchair down several flights of stairs.

The Metro systems in Russia are some of the most efficient, carrying millions of passengers daily. But only recently have new Metro stations been equipped with public elevators. Despite promises from the government, those are so few, in a system with 200 stations in Moscow alone, to hardly be worth counting.

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Typical escalator in an underground Metro station has no access for those with disabilities.

Former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev had begun a programme to modernize Russian facilities and to adopt laws that would make it easier for the disabled to enjoy greater access to life in Russia. Just prior to leaving office May 2012, Medvedev signed into law the legislation that ratified Russia’s compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.

Regrettably, the current presidential administration seems to have no time for such matters and the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction.

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This ramp serves both wheelchairs and baby strollers at Moscow’s Volzhskaya station.

The issue of access is further complicated by the fact that there is more concern for families with baby strollers than for individuals who are restricted from using public services for lack of access. It is understandable that a baby stroller is pushed by someone who is an active consumer, but frankly those in wheelchairs could be active consumers too–if they had the mobility to become more involved in the day to day economy.

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This pharmacy on Chistova Street serves a large neighborhood in Southeast Moscow, but there is no access for those with disabilities.

Lack of mobility can be a prison for those who have no way to move more freely in their neighborhoods. Those whose apartments are accessible only by stairs can be practically trapped inside their homes for long periods of time.

Sometimes the large institutions that might be expected to serve the entire community, such as banks and medical facilities, either provide no access at all, or something so restrictive as to make it almost useless.

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The Bank of Moscow branch near Domodedovskaya Metro offers access, but at such an angle that only the most athletic person in a wheelchair could make the effort without assistance.

Moscow is not the only Russian city with such pathetic conditions; and in fact is one of the more accessible cities across Russia. That in itself is depressing. To be sure, some commercial and state enterprises have made attempts to provide more convenient access to those with physical disabilities, but they are a minority.

In Saint Petersburg the State museums such as the Hermitage, Catherine’s Palace, Saint Isaac’s Cathedral, and the Mariinsky Theatre have made accessibility a priority in more recent years. Those facilities have added elevators, wide doors, and special bathroom stalls for handicapped access.

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While not perfect, this wheelchair ramp is a newer addition inside Moscow’s Kozhukhovskaya Metro station.

Hotels and other tourist oriented facilities seem to be taking the lead in introducing Russia to the ideas of providing greater access to handicapped visitors, but frankly those are facilities not often frequented by Russian citizens.

Local businesses, those which might benefit from attracting a wider clientele, seem hardly interested at all. It is understandable when those with disabilities might wonder as to what is the point?

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At this home products store near Dubrovka, not only is the incline steep, but a trash can is placed in the way. The right door is locked, and even were someone in a wheelchair to somehow accomplish the incline and maneuver around the trash container, the left door is too narrow.

Russians with limited mobility face tremendous restrictions not only via physical access, but in what can only be described as medieval attitudes from some Russians. In late 2015, one Russian apartment owner’s association blocked developers from adding a wheelchair ramp out of fears the ramp would decrease real estate valuations.

John Morris, writing for WheelchairTravel.org, recalls the infamous expression of “There are no invalids in the U.S.S.R.!” Sadly, that insane and cruel pronouncement was made by a Soviet official when refusing to host the Paralympic Games alongside the 1980 Olympic games in Moscow.  Instead, the Paralympics were hosted in The Netherlands, a nation with more civilized attitudes on the issue.

When it comes to accessibility, Russia remains out in the cold.

Ashan supermarkets a