A sociological critique of disability commissions and rehabilitation in Russia
Centre for Russian and East European Studies University of Birmingham Birmingham, United Kingdom
My paper looks at one of the most controversial institutions of Russian disability policy: the medical-social commissions that assess disability and the welfare needs of individuals with health impairments. I am interested in how their work contributes to the creation of disability as an official category and type of need in Russia. I also explore the consequences of this for the well-being of people with physical disabilities. These questions have gained importance following recent reforms that changed the legal definition of disability and introduced new procedures for obtaining welfare support and assistive devices.
My discussions are based on ten months of qualitative fieldwork about the role of social policy in the everyday lives of physically disabled people in Russia. I offer a bottom-up perspective on the Russian welfare system by discussing personal experiences of the medical commissions and juxtaposing them with official discourses and statements. The paper contextualises the current medical commissions by showing how they represent a reworking of earlier Soviet-era practices that were ostensibly overhauled in the 1995. Medical experts control the various procedures with very little input from non-health personnel, NGOs or disabled people themselves. Disability policy in Russia thus remains largely medicalised, focussed on individual 'rehabilitation' rather than social inclusion and independent living.