This week, to raise awareness around the International Day of Person’s with Disabilities which took place on December 3rd, we are highlighting the topic through a series of posts. This is a challenge and opportunity that Universities, and PRME Signatories take very seriously. In the case of IBS-Moscow, this is being driven in part by MOST, a student club targeted at creating friendly environment and accessible facilities in the sphere of higher education for people with restricted mobility. MOST organized educational, entertaining and sports events engaging thousands of students and encouraging them to interact freely with successful, interesting and inspiring people with disabilities.
The initiative came about as a professor-student initiative to spread the best practices, which IBS-Moscow had in organizing inclusive education and extra-curriculum activities for their first students with restricted mobility in order to change the traditional mindset with regard to inclusive education among Russian youth. I spoke with Danil Muravskii, Senior lecturer at IBS-Moscow, and
Assistant professor at Graduate school of management SPU, about this programme.
Why is it important for universities to be wheelchair accessible?
In Russia, it is hard for people on wheelchairs to integrate into society: because there is no interaction between them and the rest of society during childhood and the student years, they feel awkward in the company of each other later in life. As a result, people on wheelchairs are afraid to attend daytime educational programmes, choosing instead specialized universities and remote courses, which loose in education quality in comparison to the TOP universities. This leads to the problem of Russian companies, which encourage people with disabilities to apply for jobs, but are not able to find qualified and willing candidates.
People with restricted mobility need to be inspired to attend daytime education programmes in the best universities and later to apply for daytime full jobs in the top companies. At the same time the general society needs to get used to people on wheelchairs, and not think of interaction with them as charity or social responsibility. I believe that targeting the student community by creating integrative events, where they would interact with people on wheelchairs in an informal environment will foster the process of solving that problem.
What did the club do on campus?
MOST organized events, where students could organically interact with successful and interesting people, who just happen to be on wheelchairs. We «imbedded wheelchairs» into student life: beauty queens, politicians and world champions in sports were invited by us to host educational, entertainment and sportive events.
Our principle is never to focus on the fact that the student participants, the guest speaker or the sports team they are about to see will be moving on wheelchairs. These are not social responsibility events, but are just fun events. The other innovative approach is the fully integrative nature of the events.
Do you have a specific example?
I have one favorite project of which I am very proud – it’s the hard metal themed “Murderball tournament” (wheelchair rugby tournament) dedicated to the national holiday of men and country defenders in Russia. We had world champions in wheelchair rugby playing against ordinary RANEPA students. Volunteers from the crowd tried on special sports wheelchairs for the first time in their life and played against professionals. They mercilessly lost, off course – but the clashing of metal wheelchairs and the overall atmosphere was very intense and I would even say – magnificent. We made a very involving show, that helped showcase the beauty of the situation we all have found ourselves in.
What has been the impact of MOST on the school?
Firstly we can talk about the general development of the underestimated market of daytime education for people with restricted mobility. Under our efforts ramps and other infrastructure elements at the cost of $10k was installed by RANEPA. We increased the awareness among people with disabilities about the options for daytime education by printing out and handing informational brochures at rehabilitation centres across Moscow. MOST also organized a special section of the annual RANEPA open doors day aimed at increasing the number of people with disabilities applying to educational programmes. About 60 000 people learned about our events from social media (648+ reposts, 956 likes), press (3 TV reports from events) and posters by that increasing general awareness of the possibilities for people with disabilities to study in TOP universities.
Secondly, its involving youth in voluntary activities. The increase in volunteers was 30% after every conducted event. Each next event brought more participants and viewers.
Lastly its international recognition of the concept behind our events. The accomplishments of MOST were recognized by the Russian Governmental Agency of Strategic initiatives, which awarded us for “Best social impact”; MOST’s “Don’t be afraid of the wheelchair!” campaign also got the team to the semi-finales of the Social resolution project competition, which were held in Boston, US, at the Harvard National Model UN.
What have been some of the challenges?
One of the major challenges was to change the way people think about people with limited mobility and their attitude towards events organized for them. Typical people perceive these sort of events as charity and come expecting to feel sad for the participants and return home with a proud feeling of making a contribution to society. But our events are always fun and sincerely joyful, they don’t involve money collection or talks about discrimination. And this sometimes made the viewers and guests uncomfortable – they didn’t know how to behave and what reaction is appropriate. The only way to fight this is to constantly interact with people with limited mobility in normal day-to-day contexts. The idea of MOST is to make the people forget about their differences from people with limited mobility rather than reminding of those differences.
What advice would you have for other schools thinking of putting something similar into place?
Try to make such events fun for everybody involved. If a student activity in the end of the day is not enjoyable, it won’t last. Avoid associations with charity: help assimilate the different groups of people rather than contribute to further anxiety between them.
What’s next for the initiative?
All of the founders have now moved to permanent jobs in various industries, such as banking, cosmetics, and others. Many of them, including me, managed to find new ways to contribute to this cause and expend their activities to other causes as well. We still actively engage in various MOST-style initiatives. And it is very pleasant to realize that although many of us are currently not in the walls of IBS-Moscow, we are constantly remembered and are being integrated again and again into the life of our school