“Our society is not fully ready to understand and accept that there can be kids with disabilities among us [who] need help and human interaction,” explains the 35-year-old therapist. “The main reason is lack of awareness. People are always afraid of what they don’t know. And sometimes this fear is expressed in aggression.”
A 2014assessment conducted in Abkhazia by World Vision, a US-based non-governmental organization, highlighted that most medically diagnosed disabilities are related to physical impairment, whereas the identification of intellectual, emotional, and behavioral disabilities remains “highly controversial.”
In focus groups, 60 percent of the study’s 100 respondents maintained that children with mental health or intellectual difficulties, including autism, are not able to participate fully in life. Roughly half held this view about people with physical, vision, hearing or speech disabilities.
Chanba thinks this attitude will not change in the near future. No Abkhaz institution specifically works with children with Down syndrome. Government support for including the disabled in mainstream society does not exist, nor does a specialized curriculum or public preschool.
The lack of such preschools prevents children from beginning a regular education.
The State Rehabilitation Center is the only chance disabled children have to start that process in Abkhazia. According to the head nurse of the center, Esma Adleiba, 485 registered children regularly visit the facility for check-ups and rehabilitation sessions, depending on their conditions. A few remain in the facility for up to 14 days to receive needed medical assistance.
Only two have Down syndrome -- arguably, a potential reflection of many parents’ disinclination to take such children out in public. The rest have various disabilities, including cerebral palsy and autism.