Disability in Georgia – GE (2014)

During a week in Tbilisi in August 2014, I was able to meet a number of people involved in disability work.  I wish to thank all the people who shared their experiences and views about the situations of disabled people and developments that are taking place in Georgia.

Since the visit, a number of connections have been made:

  • Two mothers of daughters with learning needs were put in touch, as the Turkish mother speaks Georgian. Kevser Ruhi’s story “Herkes gibi” (“Like Everyone”, 2015) is to be puplished in Georgian (end of 2015).
  • People from four countries discussed the possibility of a joint summer camp on VI daily living skills, to be organised for VI children with an adult relative.
  • Şahin Bülbül lecturer in Science Education at Kafkas University (Kars, Turkey) visited the Tbilisi school for the blind.  Connections were established with Turkish VI STEM (Science Technology Engineering Maths) researchers.  A joint article in Turkish: “Formülleri Duvara Değil, Oyuncağa Yazalım!” (Write formulae on toys, not on the wall), by M. Şahin Bülbül, Mariam Mikiashvili & Ana Mikiashvili.
  • Connections regarding education and early VI daily living training are developing.


Tuesday 19.8.2014: “Partnership for Human Rights” (Anna Arganashvili and Lia Tabatadze): the GE disability movement and DPOs (Disabled People’s Organisations), perceived needs and resources used, steps being taken, possible cooperation.

Wednesday 20.8: Mariam Mikiashvili and Giorgi Enukidze.  Projects mentioned include rehabilitation of visually impaired and blind people, trainings for orientation and mobility instructors, lectures for Tbilisi State University students of the faculty of educational sciences with the Polish Foundation Ari Ari; audiobooks for blind children funded by the Polish ministry of foreign affairs and Polish embassy in Georgia. Cooperation with German Educational Institution Blista on training orientation and mobility instructors for blind and partially children.  An “independent living youth camp” for Georgian blind school students of grades 8 to 11; an EU Youth project in 2013, with 7 countries including: Georgia, Armenia, Ukraine, Moldova, Bolgaria, Latvia and Poland; August 2014, camps for VI children with a family member.

Thursday 21.8:  GE Ministry of Culture.  A request for information about accessible museums in Georgia.

Friday 22.8: Tbilisi State University (TSU) Disability Research Centre, Irina Zhvania: a centre based on years of academic expertise, professional psychological training, national exam board adaptations for disabled candidates, etc..

Situation of disabled people in GE:

  1. GE signed United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities in 2012.
  2. Over 70 disability NGOs, and several disabled women’s organisations. 20-30 active disability NGOs, some very active. Some of them have webpages. There is a disability organizations’ network.  All Georgian organizations share emails but there is no unified database.
  3. GE disability statistics (2012): Without exact statistics on disability, the only data is the number of people (120 000) who receive the “disability pension”.  This is low compared to what is seen in other countries.  geostat.ge,  www.molhsa.gov.ge
  4. Prime Ministry Council for Disability: Prime Minister + 7 ministers + 7 NGOs.  It should meet every 3 months, but in fact meets about once a year.  A 6 month project (in 2012) looked at ways to strengthen the Council.  What were the outcomes; has anything changed?
  5. Parents often hide their disabled children[1]. Much emotional energy is spent supporting the child, struggling with officials and attitudes of the public.  Disabled people and parents need to (be supported to) learn how to make effective requests and be able to collaborate with authorities.  How are these stakeholders included in processes that concern them?   While the government is not actively promoting public awareness, many non-governmental organizations have prepared materials, advertising campaigns, booklets, trainings, etc.
  6. A “fundamental right to education” exists on paper. How is this being implemented?  When a barrier is identified, how is it addressed?  People with mobility impairments cannot access buildings, many of which were built in Soviet times, so do not get education. Those who can graduate from school have no access to higher education because the physical environment of higher education institutions is inaccessible.  Visually mpaired people, the most educated disabled group in GE, have fewer problems entering universities, but they are challenged by lack of accessible study materials, lack of support and low competence of lecturers.  A project implemented by The Ministry of Education and Science on Inclusive Education in Vocational Education and Training Institutions and supported by the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research has raised the number of disabled students in VETs (see vet.ge).
  7. GE Ministry of Education’s “inclusive education” means putting children with special needs in regular classrooms, without extra support, adapted materials, suitable toilets, ramps… Schools are accessible at very basic levels. Trainings organised for teachers are insufficient to ensure that teachers are competent to deal with the range of differences that a student with special needs can present.  Although some teachers are very accepting and welcoming to children and students with disability, it cannot be guaranteed that a child with different needs will have equal access and experiences of education.
  8. Training of teachers regarding inclusion of disabled learners: only one university, Ilia State University in Tbilisi, offers a minor in Special Education at BA level and Master’s degree in Special Education. Students of Psychology, primary school Pedagogy and other humanities subjects can choose to study from a number of elective courses in Special Education. Mariam Mikiashvili gained her MSc in Special Educational needs from Oslo in 2011.   In 2009, with strong arguments for mainstreaming, teachers were trained by Georgian and Norwegian Ministry of Education and Science specialists. In the first series of trainings, Norwegian specialists trained trainers over a period of two years. Some Georgian teachers were trained following particular modules a month apart from each other, then they trained teachers in the state schools.  However, without the necessary environment and human resources, it was too early.  Teacher training and assessment for teachers’ certificate include disability and inclusion issues.
  9. Special schools (one school for the blind and two schools for the deaf, grades 1-12) take children with different degrees of disability and with multiple disabilities. Some teachers are very good, especially in Primary.  Maths is not well taught to VI (Visually Impaired students) because it is assumed that “blind people don’t need Maths” and “Blind can’t learn Geometry”[2].  At the school for the blind in 2013, there were two occupational therapists for 49 children in 2013.[3]  The Ministry of Education and Science has a multidisciplinary team that assesses children with special education needs and sends them to the appropriate school.  Vocational education: 12 colleges are being made more accessible (two Norwegian funded projects, since 2013): teachers are trained about students with special needs, methodology and supervision.
  10. Georgian Sign Language (GSL) is a new and developing language. During Soviet times most deaf people used Russian sign language, and Georgian tactile Sign Language was based on Russian letters. This causes problems, since shifting from the old to the new real Georgian sign language and tactile has taken a lot of effort from both the linguists and the deaf community.  GE Ministry of Education and Science and NO Ministry of Education and Research are working on development of new Signs and a Dictionary of technical Signs. How has transition from Soviet to Georgian Sign happened/been managed?
  11. Tbilisi school for the Deaf, and possibly Kutaisi School for Deaf have recorded the Signing of Georgian songs with GSL.
  12. The university entrance exam (organised by the GE National Assessment and Examination Centre, connected to the Ministry of Education) is available in Braille or large print, or with a reader; VI candidates are given double time. In 2012, 4 candidates wanted Braille and 3 large print.  There have not been any deaf candidates who were wanting to enter universities for many years.
  13. Disabled candidates apply for the university entrance exam online through a website. In 2014, more students with disabilities applied than previously.
  14. Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University “Disability Research / Studies Centre”: academic research skills and methodology to develop evidence base, education, trainings and recommendations for policy makers, so that both the university and the country can become more disability friendly. The centre is connected to the Institute for Political Studies (IPS) NGO and has a strong background of expertise as UNDP expert.  .  It is identifying current situation and needs, using consultation, media, education, etc.   Aims include how to make a university accessible and disability friendly.  In gender studies, quotas have been effective as temporary measure for empowering women so they can become strong when special environment no longer provided.  Could the same be done for disability?
  15. VI university students can have some documents in PDF format. Many are available online. Others are read for them by parents or friends.  There is a VI rehabilitation and education project with PL and DE
  16. Deaf people who get to university have to pay for their own Sign interpreters. Are there Sign interpreters who are competent in academic subjects?
  17. A USAID program is identifying children with disabilities in 9 regions of GE, through partner organisations. Early intervention programs for children 3 to 6 are being set up by the organization Child Family Society at special schools at 3 centres in eastern GE.  The centres prepare books adapted for deaf pupils.  Two experts are working on an expanded curriculum for VI and blind: one document covering pre-school (3-5 yrs) and Primary (6-9 yrs)
  18. Summer camps for 5-9 and 10-16 VI years olds with a family member: for independent mobility skills (daily living, eating, dressing, toilet-washing, listening skills, orientation via hearing, using residual vision) and empowerment of parents. Two camps (two age groups: 4 to 9 and 10 to 18) were organized by Child Family Society. A hippotherapy camp was organized in 2013 for 14-17 year olds.
  19. “Challenge for you, change from you” Youth in Action (July 2014) – SE, GE, BG, AM, AZ, Moldova, for VI youth and youth workers. http://www.facebook.com/NGOMariani
  20. Accessible Environment courses: How to make bank services accessible (Mariani NGO with the Bank of Georgia). GE banks did not allow blind customers to sign documents[4] but now allow them to sign independently. They are working on accessibility of services fully and accessibility of their branches for all. Mariani is cooperating with them closely.
  21. Brailled door signs at universities, hospitals and schools: 20-30cm above the door handle
  22. GE universal health insurance “for all” does not address the needs of disabled individuals. Doctors do not know how to treat them, and ask parents to abandon their children (See Anna Arganashvili’s video about hydrocephalic children, and R Gallego)
  23. A blind chemistry teacher, at a school in Western GE. How can we contact him?  A professor of Chemistry Education at Ataturk University (Erzurum, Turkey) is working on VI Chemistry – how to include visually impaired students in Chemistry classes.  Several people in Turkey are working on VI Physics.  A Math screen reader (infty reader) is being translated into Turkish.
  24. Could the State Museum of Theatre, Music, Cinema and Choreography artpalace.ge/eng  (Director Giorgi Kalandia) be interested in better accessibility at the museum?
  25. Walking in the street with a difference: how do people’s stares affect people, a parent? How to develop resilience?

Some possibilities

  • Assistive devices: what is available? How can VI students learn how to choose a suitable device?  A course?  What materials are low cost and easily transferable?
  • How is the exam at the end of high school (abitur?) adapted for disabled students? Is/ can this some of this approach be transferred to university level?
  • Information about how disabled students apply for and are supported at TR universities. Turkish Higher Education Council Directive on Disability (YÖK 2010 Engelli Komisyonu Yönetmeliği) translated into English and GE
  • Dropout rates of disabled students: where are systems are failing learners, and where children and their families could benefit from guidance? What data are kept, how are they used?
  • A meeting with Turkish National Examination Board ÖSYM, connection with Disability Committee of the Turkish HE Council, YÖK Engelli Komisyonu. Irene Zjvania is on GE’s National Examination Board
  • Exchanges of students (Erasmus mundus), PhD students, speech therapists and others with competence in working with disabled people.
  • EU projects: joint, or inspired by others’ work
  • Contacts with Azerbaijan AZ and Armenia AR can be shared – broaden networks. Eg AZ Blind Union of Azerbaijan.
  • Cooperation with schools for the blind (GE, TR, IR…)
  • Braille pen pals between pupils at schools for the blind in different countries.
  • Partnership with parents’ associations (TR, other).
  • Disability Awareness Training: training trainers. EBE instructions: Turkish Disability Awareness Training.
  • GE Embassy in TR: what possibilities
  • Connect with VIEWS, MIUSA, EGED, EnKaD (Turkish Disabled Women’s Association).
  • Join meetings, visits. Connection with Dr Sahin Bulbul, Kafkas University.
  • Non-violent communication and disability: to be developed.
  • Legal steps for the rights of disabled people: sharing common challenges, solutions that have been developed in one country and may work in others. Share TR disability legislation.
  • Impact of disability on families can be draining. Discussion about how to manage their energy, especially emotional energy, to raise awareness of the causes and consequences of energy loss.
  • Requests to ministries: “Please tell us which of your buildings / services… are accessible for disabled people” — Disability NGOs make lists (info available online) of accessible places, systems, materials…
  • Accessible tourism and culture in GE: start identifying accessible museums and monuments. Develop https://claireozel.wordpress.com/english/disability/accessible-travel-tourism/accessible-museums/ The National Museum has ramps (How steep?), an accessible toilet (male and female?) and a lift – to be confirmed!
  • Signed Songs to be shared between different countries.
  • Adaptation and survival: impact of war/ unstable conditions/ lack of stable human input. g. poor waste disposal.  How did people survive the end of the Soviet period?  How did this affect people with disabilities?  How do human priorities change in war?  Families that leave in emergency take nearly nothing; those who left Batumi in 1879 took plants, apple trees cuttings, vines…  What priorities are feasible possibilities? What happens to disabled people in emergencies?

Setting and reaching achievable targets:

  • Much progress comes from those who move beyond their comfort zones – for whatever reason. Julia Cassim “Work with the extreme to design for the mainstream”
  • Develop skills for independence. Rise above emotional reflexes, the causes of much energy loss, tiredness and exhaustion.  Beware of assumptions: they   How to prepare disabled children and adults for reality? “They didn’t tell me” is not a defence.  You could have anticipated…
  • Be adaptable, able to get used to new conditions: establishing different routines that fulfil needs with available resources. Learn how to work new systems, develop neuroplasticity.
  • Identify a broad range of resources: not just finances. Use resources effectively. “Go for low tech”, which costs less, needs less training and maintenance, and is easier and cheaper to repair.
  • Resilience: continuing when others do not want to hear about disability. Being prepared for negative attitudes and developments.  “Work with allies”, people who want to work with you.
  • Set achievable aims, plan realistic steps towards the goals. Improve step by step.
  • Aim for sustainability: Share what you know, publish your information. Give links and information online so that others who are interested can benefit from your ideas and your work.
  • Overcome hurdles by accurately evaluating situations, then taking appropriate decisions. In new situations, guidance and mentoring facilitate transitions with awareness of thresholds, so that people can take better decisions.  Who is involved in taking decisions: is the disabled person in control, are stakeholders giving information for good decisions to be reached?
  • Progress in a new environment by evaluating the range of risks
    • 0 risk, 0 change, 0 gain; potential is not developed
    • minimised risk: good for getting close enough to the target (e.g. getting in a taxi alone in Tbilisi: he took me close enough to the right place. He could have taken me to the wrong place, he possibly overcharged a bit.  No problem, I reached the office.
    • 50%50% equal chance of failing may be acceptable if the consequences are not serious.
    • 100%loss. Sometimes there is no choice, life offers no alternatives.

People met / mentioned

·         Anna Arganashvili, Partnership for Human Rights https://www.facebook.com/PHR.HumanRights

·         Anna Gaguadze, photographer.  Since 2004, organizer of Tbilisis’ accessible annual children’s festival; GE TEDtalks Jan 2014.

·         Inga Karaia,  GE Ministry for Culture and Monument Protection

·         Dr.Irina Zhvania, Disability Research Center, Tbilisi State UniversityProf. Tamar Makharadze was not in Tbilisi this week.

·         Prof Ketevan Chkuaseli, TSU Education Faculty.  Mentioned as interested in disability issues

·         Lia Tabatadze, Association of Professionals and Parents of Children with Down Syndrome “Our Children”. Inclusive Public Education (10.2014)

·         Maia Bibileishvili, chair of Child Family Society

·         Maia Shishniashvili Residential environment for disabled people to live with dignity.

·         Mariam Mikiashvili, project manager at Union Disabled Child Family Society
https://www.facebook.com/childfamilysociety  (with).    Cofounder of Mariani

·         Maka Charnkvetadze project manager in deaf education at Child Family Society  

·         Giorgi Enukidze, VI assistive technology

·         Tamar Macharashvili, working on sexual and reproductive health and disability.  Mentioned by Anna Arganashvili.


  • tiu.org.tr international information about disability provision at universities
  • Gallego: White on Black A book about a childhood with cerebral palsy in a Soviet children’s home.  Translated into Georgian by Nino Bekishvili, 2009
  • Black” Indian film about Deaf-Blindness
  • Colour of Paradise” (Range Khoda, Majid Majidi) Iranian film, social attitudes-blindness
  • After Thomas” British film on a family’s struggle for their child with autism
  • I am Sam” American film about parenting with learning impairment (UK)/ developmental disability (US)

[1] This is also seen in Turkey.  Many disabled people ‘appeared’ when the state began to give “disability payments” to families with a disabled person; families began to register them in order to qualify to the financial support.

[2] Similar to the situation at many schools for the blind (SfB), in Turkey and in other countries.

[3] A good ratio. What equivalent position exists at Turkish SfB?

[4] This was the situation in Turkey several years ago.  Discuss with EGED about how this problem was resolved.