Young Ukrainians Design Civic Education Student Action Project on Disability Rights
Building on a successful civic education program it implemented in Georgia, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) piloted an innovative and interactive university-level civic education course, Democracy: From Theory to Practice, in Ukraine. The pilot, which initially covered eight universities across the country in 2018, was expanded to 22 universities in 12 regions of Ukraine. The goal of the course is to foster students’ democratic values and attitudes while equipping them with the knowledge and skills that are essential for effective democratic citizenship. The knowledge-based components of the course cover topics such as human rights, democratic governance, civil society and citizen engagement. Social inclusion, disability rights and accessibility are among the course’s priority cross-cutting areas.
As part of the course, students work in small groups on a capstone project to identify one important societal issue or problem of their choice, conduct comprehensive research and create an action plan to address the issue in their city or community. At Lviv Polytechnic University, one capstone group created “The Right to Life” project on disability rights and social inclusion. The project identified barriers that people with disabilities face in their everyday life and challenged negative stereotypes and stigma related to disability. The students in this group included Dmytro Rokos, Khrystyna Shorubura, Anastasiia Kovalchuk, Vlad Pavlyuchenko, Inna Snishchuk and Liliia Sika.
The team conducted public surveys with random Lviv residents and representatives of the disability rights community, including people with auditory, physical and visual disabilities. Students partnered with local Deaf organization Lviv Happiness Workshop, which enabled them to learn more about the organization’s work. The study found that people with disabilities face numerous infrastructural and architectural barriers, yet negative public perception, stigma and the lack of sufficient societal support remain the biggest barriers to inclusion.
As part of their action plan, the capstone group advocated with university and government officials and raised awareness among the public. They shared the research results with the vice rector of their university and advocated to make the university buildings and grounds more accessible. Meeting with City Council officials, they raised the issue of discriminatory practices and insufficient financial support to reduce infrastructural barriers. The project also provided a platform for members of Lviv Happiness Workshop to present to the Lviv City Council on specific barriers to inclusion faced by the Deaf community and supported a fundraising event for the organization.
Notably, the students produced the awareness-raising film below, called The Right to Life, featuring people of different ages and genders with various types of disabilities who shared their stories of barriers and opportunities they face participating in public life. The film also highlights the main findings from their survey. Both the film and survey research report were shared with local media outlets to increase awareness of disability rights among the public. As a result of this awareness raising, City Council officials recently voted to increase the number of accessible parking spaces at the Lviv Police Department to expand access for persons with disabilities.
Through this project, the students learned to identify problems in their community and take action, an essential part of civic conscience and social responsibility.
IFES’ activities in Ukraine are made possible with support from USAID through the Consortium for Elections and Political Process Strengthening (CEPPS), GAC and UK aid. Established in 1995, CEPPS pools the expertise of three premier international organizations dedicated to democratic development: IFES, the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute. CEPPS has a 20-year track record of collaboration and leadership in democracy, human rights and governance support, learning from experience, and adopting new approaches and tools based on the ever-evolving technological landscape.