Designs for the disabled

July 7, 2003

Brussels, 04 Jul 2003

Halfway through the European Year of People with Disabilities, Research Headlines profiles a Russian organisation dedicated to empowering and helping improve the lives of the handicapped.

Russia's Centre of Social Design has been engaged for over a decade in research projects and initiatives that aim to help disabled people meet their health, social and vocational needs. Part of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences, it carries out pilot research and independent experimental investigations into medical, economic, psychological, social and legal disability issues. Although its current name is only three years old, the Centre has been around since 1991 in a variety of different incarnations. It describes itself as an independent, not-for-profit research and advisory organisation working towards the professional and social integration of people with disabilities.

In recent weeks, the Centre has held a conference on information systems and technologies in health care. It has also set up a special endowment fund to finance IT projects aimed at providing handicapped people with equal opportunities.

Power to the people

Just because a person is disabled that does not mean others should act on his or her behalf. The Centre of Social Design stresses the importance of empowering handicapped people to take charge of their own destiny: "It is essential to remember that a handicapped person is not a passive target... [They] must enjoy full rights of participat[ion]."

The EU is of a similar view. One in ten Union citizens has a disability of some sort and, throughout 2003, the European Commission, in association with the European Disability Forum, has been and will continue to work to raise awareness of the rights of disabled people to full equality and participation in all areas of life.

Research programmes and campaigns aimed at promoting an 'information society for all' draw their inspiration from several trends in society, including shifting demographics, human rights issues, participation versus discrimination, future technologies and convergence, sustainability issues, and multidimensional policy-making. This is discussed in more detail in a forthcoming publication, 'Research for people with disabilities', produced by the Research Directorate-General's information and communication unit.

People with impairments are at the centre of the Year's activities and have been acting as their own envoys through such initiatives as 'Get on Board': a bus that carried representatives from the disabled community across the 15 Member States.

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