Recently, the media reported truly sensational news, at least for Ukraine – a wheelchair-bound lawyer Dmytro Zhary won his court case against a pharmacy chain, the first disability discrimination case to be won in Ukraine, and this is really encouraging. Zhary’s story is hardly unique, since people with disabilities face physical discrimination daily, unable to use public transportation or get to stores, pharmacies and other establishments which lack special ramps. By the way, such rampless establishments are similarly hardly accessible for the elderly, women with baby carriages, pregnant women and other citizens with limited mobility. In the case of Zhary, he could not get to a pharmacy, and the store’s manager refused his request for a ramp to be installed.
Zhary launched his court battle against disability discrimination in July 2010. He has won after several years of litigation. However, what have been the practical consequences of his victory? The pharmacy chain’s license has been recalled, the offending establishment has vacated the premises, but the ramp is still nowhere to be seen. We need to see the issue in a wider context. According to the executive director of the National Assembly of Disabled of Ukraine Natalia Skrypka, Ukraine’s disabled people have to contend with a strong “mentality barrier of the wider society,” among other things. This mentality is what prevents business owners from spending some money on ramps, despite the expenses needed being quite modest.
“We are not asking the government to install ramps throughout Ukraine, because it is cash-strapped and unable to do it everywhere. However, the state can require business owners to serve the disabled persons, too, and to be socially responsible,” Zhary tells The Day.
“Should such requirements be enacted and enforced by the government, Ukraine will become one of the most disability-accessible nations in five years.” According to the lawyer, business owners see no wheelchair-bound people on the streets, and therefore do not consider ramp construction a priority, but wheelchair-bound people are absent from the streets exactly because they cannot get out without ramps “It is a vicious circle. More than 300,000 Ukrainians are wheelchair-bound,” Zhary says. “Why don’t they fight for their rights? Firstly, they do not expect the court to come on their side. Secondly, high-quality legal services are quite expensive. The system of legal aid has been just launched, and it is covering mostly criminal trials currently, while the law-enforcement agencies which should protect the disabled persons’ rights often do not have time available to enforce accessibility.” However, the lawyer adds there are several accessibility lawsuits underway now.
“The things have got going, we have a precedent which one can cite as a successful case, and maybe, it will help other judges to make impartial decisions that will take into account interests of persons with disabilities in accordance with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities,” Zhary says. He predicts that “soon, we will have a trend, not just isolated cases, and I am sure that we will have five to seven lawsuits launched in 2013, and up to twenty in 2014.” He cites first victories won in the fight against not just physical barriers, but mental ones, too.” My apartment building’s stairs have quite high steps. My request for a ramp to be installed was refused by the housing office. I did it at my own expense then, in accordance with the building code. My neighbors saw it and, having used it and appreciated how convenient it is, have raised funds on their own initiative and reimbursed me for some of the expenses,” the lawyer sums up.
The Day’s policy is to cover such small victories that have great impact in overcoming both physical and mental barriers in Ukraine.