Public Meeting on Access to Education for the Blind
On 15 October 2019, in connection with the international White Cane Safety Day, Public Defender Nino Lomjaria held a public meeting on access to education for blind people. The event was moderated by Deputy Public Defender Ekaterine Skhiladze.
Mariam Mikiashvili, Deputy Director of Tbilisi Public School No 202, as well as members of the Public Defender's Consultative Council, Davit Bibileishvili and Esma Gumberidze, delivered speeches at the meeting.
Speaking of the blind and partially sighted persons, the Public Defender noted that Georgia still faces many challenges in terms of ensuring equal enjoyment of human rights by these persons and that the challenges remain the same over the years – even the cane provided by the state programme is not adjusted to individual needs and often cannot be used by the blind. In addition, they are not provided with any other auxiliary aids (eye prosthesis, special household appliances or medical items).
“We do not have a rehabilitation center in the country, where blind and partially sighted people would be able to develop skills neccessary for space orientation and mobility, audio software programmes, braille font, etc. There is no physical environment in public places, roads, public transport. TV, electronic and print media also fail to meet the standard of availability," Nino Lomjaria said.
The Public Defender particularly emphasized the problem that blind and partially sighted people have no possibility to file applications in braille or other alternative forms with public or private agencies, including during the banking services. The agencies do not have information in the format available for blind persons, which is why they refuse to provide services independently.
The right to education cannot be properly realized either; the quality of teaching, access to educational institutions and educational materials is low. The situation of needs-oriented teaching is particularly difficult in the regions, which makes Tbilisi the only option for the blind children to get education. Despite their involvement in vocational education programmes, their employment is problematic and the options offered is scarce. Getting higher education is also a challenge.
The inclusion of children with disabilities in preschool education is extremely low. According to the National Statistics Office, 161 931 children were enrolled in preschools in 2018-2019. According to the information provided by the municipalities of Georgia, they had registered only 805 children with disabilities. As for public schools, 524,000 students were registered in 2018-2019 and only 750 students with disabilities were identified in the electronic base, which is 0.14% of the total number of students.
The inadequate numbers of staff of educational institutions, special education teachers and other inclusive education specialists (psychologists, occupational therapists, orientation and mobility specialists), as well as the lack of individual assistants, their insufficient qualifications and practical skills, inadequate preparedness of school teachers for satisfying the needs of students' educational needs, are also problematic.
People with both visual and hearing impairments, who require constant support, social care and individual health care, have to face diverse challenges. The problems of persons who lost sight later and gaps in their access to education are also issues of concern.
The Public Defender called on the authorities to take effective steps to ensure the equal protection and realization of the rights of the blind.
Deputy Public Defender Ekaterine Skhiladze talked about the problems of employment of the blind people, apart from the problems of education.
A discussion was held at the end of the meeting.