Kazakhstan: A champion for people living with disabilities
Astana, Kazakhstan – 30 January, 2013 – Since the age of five, when Ali Amanbayev was diagnosed with a serious spinal injury, life has been a constant struggle.
"As a schoolboy, I began using crutches and had to do my homework lying on my back," he recalls. "As the years passed, I realized that life would only become more difficult. It is not easy being disabled in a society with limited social support systems."
But attitudes and mindsets are slowly changing in Kazakhstan. Today, at 65, Amanbayev leads the Kazakhstani Union for the Organization of People with Disabilities.
This summer, when he was appointed adviser to the Minister for Labour and Social Protection, he became the first person with a disability to hold this highly-ranked position in Kazakhstan.
Since 2008, UNDP has been working closely with the Ministry for Labour and Social Protection to support the rights of people living with disabilities.
As a result, the country’s social protection system has been extended to include 500,000 people with disabilities.
UNDP, in partnership with the Government, also produced a National Human Development Report that, for the first time in any Central Asian country, advocated an end to exclusion and the promotion of equal rights for people with disabilities.
More recently, UNDP has been working with the Government to promote national disability policies and the establishment of basic support services, such as opportunities to receive college degrees through distance learning, in addition to jobs training and rehabilitation services.
Improving social services
With UNDP’s advice, Kazakhstan amended key laws to improve social services for vulnerable groups, with special attention given to those with disabilities.
As a result, $200 million of government funding has been allocated, allowing over 2,000 people with disabilities to receive special services.
Mr. Amanbayev now has his own personal assistant who helps him in his wheelchair around the city and within his own home.
These days, more than 7,000 people with disabilities in Kazakhstan receive these critical services.
"It’s made such a difference," Amanbayev says of his assistant. "He’s the extra oomph to help me face the challenges of each day."
Thanks in part to lobbying efforts of Mr. Amanbayev and other NGO leaders, the Ministry for Transport and Communication has promised to make all railway platforms and trains accessible for wheelchair users within the next two years.
"You can’t imagine how vital this is," Amanbayev says.
Improving transport infrastructure is just one part of a wider national campaign to provide inclusive access to public spaces. This is bringing fundamental change to Kazakhstan, where more than 70 percent of public infrastructure is inaccessible to the disabled.
With UNDP’s help, the Government is surveying the accessibility of public buildings and services and making cost estimates for necessary upgrades.