In the United States, we tend to take a certain level of accessibility for granted. Things are not perfect, but thanks to legislation like the ADA, Americans with disabilities can get around with relative ease. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case in all parts of the world. In St. Petersburg, Russia, authorities have begun enforcing a ban that effectively prevents people in wheelchairs from using the metro trains. All but nine of the city’s 64 metro stations require riders to descend underground on an escalator, and an escalator accident involving a chair-user prompted the drastic move of prohibiting wheelchairs from the 55 stations that make use of the moving staircases.
Cities have long served as a haven for Russians with disabilities. Traveling in the provinces in practically impossible in wheelchair, so urban areas have become beacon of opportunity and self-sufficiency within the disability community. This move St. Petersburg authorities threatens all that. The metro had been one of the only means for people in wheelchairs to move about the city (albeit somewhat precariously, as the aforementioned accident demonstrates). Without it, people like Alexei Kuzmin are effectively stranded. “They are humiliating us,” he told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. “It’s discrimination. It is as if the metro is only for the fit.”
The issue has entered the public consciousness after a Moscow newspaper published a letter from a chair-using student who was turned away at the turnstiles. The Public Chamber, a state advisory board, reacted by calling the ban a violation of federal law and Aleksei Kozyrev, St. Petersburg’s rights ombudsman, has pledged action.
Accessibility appears to be a countrywide problem. While Moscow offers a special taxi service for its citizens with disabilities, trips must be scheduled two weeks in advance. Hopefully the attention spurred by these problems will prompt more equitable legislation in Russia, a country where people with disabilities are still referred to as “invalids.” BlazeSports is currently entering into a partnership with USAID that will bring us to Russia. It is inequities like this that prove our presence is needed, and we look forward to working to help improve the lives of Russians with disabilities.