PFP Alumni Advocate Disability Rights at Inclusive Education Conference

April 03, 2014

In March, alumni of the Professional Fellows Program (PFP) from Arkhangelsk, Saratov, and Grozny conducted the second Russian Alumni Accelerator workshop, which gathers community leaders to discuss inclusive education and innovative ways to address transportation problems faced by people with disabili

In March, alumni of the Professional Fellows Program (PFP) from Arkhangelsk, Saratov, and Grozny conducted the second Russian Alumni Accelerator workshop, which gathers community leaders to discuss inclusive education and innovative ways to address transportation problems faced by people with disabilities. Hosted by the Northern Arctic Federal University (NArFU), and sponsored by the US Embassy in Russia, the Alumni Accelerator attracted 45 stakeholders including high schools, universities, local communities of entrepreneurs, the nonprofit sector, and government. Andrey Tikhonov ('13), a PFP alumnus who is blind, organized the educational seminar and roundtable discussion portions of the event.

The seminar attracted 20 teachers and principals from all over the Arkhangelsk region, as well as by 15 students majoring in inclusive education psychology and pedagogy. Natalya Flotskaya, director of the Institute of Pedagogy and Psychology at NArFU, delivered the welcoming remarks, providing a comprehensive overview of the Institute's efforts to promote inclusive education and current methodologies in educating students with special needs. Following her speech, PFP alumna Elena Vodyanenko ('13), a European law instructor at the Saratov State Law Academy, gave an informative presentation about the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which Russia has recently ratified.

Following Elena's presentation, Andrey shared his experience as a young person with a disability and as a fellow on the PFP program. Andrey spoke about his time working at The Chicago Lighthouse, a nonprofit agency committed to providing quality educational, clinical, vocational, and rehabilitation services for children, youth, and adults who are blind, visually impaired, or multi-disabled. He also stressed the importance of grassroots initiatives in creating a more inclusive society. After his remarks, the participants split into small teams and discussed how to advocate on inclusive or specialized schooling.

During a roundtable discussion, held at another facility on the other side of the city, participants debated transportation problems that affect people with disabilities in Arkhangelsk. Local government representatives, entrepreneurs, workers in the nonprofit sector, press, and concerned citizens in Arkhangelsk attended the event. Elena began with remarks on the legal mechanisms and requirements, which are intended to provide disabled people with accessible public transport. PFP alumnus Musa Magomadov ('10), an entrepreneur from Grozny, followed with observations about the accessibility and user-friendly transport in the US Musa then presented innovative technologies that have been developed to tackle transportation problems in cities around the world.

The PFP Alumni Accelerator was supplemented with a visit to a local inclusive school, where PFP alumni were joined by three local FLEX program alumni, to interact and connect with students, both disabled and non-disabled. Alumni shared their US experiences and encouraged students to apply for the FLEX program, which offers adapted testing materials to accommodate disabilities. The visit concluded with Elena, Andrey, and several blind students treating the audience to a fantastic concert to promote, encourage and champion less fortunate but no less talented children.

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