My mission to Turkmenistan is part of a larger project initiated by the CEE/CIS Regional Offfice of UNICEF in Geneva. The main purpose of project is to promote Inclusive Education in the region. One of the groups that has been marginalised consistently across all countries are children with disabilities. Many countries in the region have signed and ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and therewith took on the obligation of improving their systems, the life situation of people with disabilities and promote their rights.
Since the UN foresees the ICF (International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health, World Health Organisation) as a key instrument for implementation and monitoring, there is a need in member countries to become acquainted with the classification and its application. Being a member of the Functioning and Disability Reference Group and one of the six people who developed the ICF Version for Children and Youth, I am assisting UNICEF in promoting the classification and its philosophy in the CIS/CEE region. In the past – and to a certain extent still in the present – the region has been under the influence of the former Soviet Union and its philosophy towards people with disabilities, Defectology. This exclusively medical approach for “treating” children with disabilities has encouraged a system where children with disabilities were given away at birth and raised in orphanages. De-Institutionalisation has therefore been one of the priorities of UNICEF after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia.
The promotion of Inclusive Education is high on the agenda of UNICEF and the ICF seems a good tool to link the traditionally medical approach with a broader understanding which includes societal changes. My task in the programme is to support countries in considering other ways of assessment and service provision. We are in the process of developing teacher training modules for inclusive education and piloting them in several countries of the region. Macedonia (politically correct name is “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”) has been a pioneer in this work and we collaborate closely in the updating process. Turkmenistan is one of the countries that has expressed interest in learning more about the ICF. This is why the conference and the workshops were organised to bring external experts into the country and start a dialogue.