Kazakhstan Builds Just State, Empowering Inclusive Society

ASTANA – Lyazzat Kaltayeva, a member of Kazakhstan’s Senate, assumed the chairmanship of the Senate’s Council on Inclusion last year. In an interview with Kazinform news agency, she discussed the key aspects of an inclusive Kazakhstan and the recent advancements for people with disabilities.

Lyazzat Kaltayeva, a deputy of the Senate, an upper house of the Kazakh Parliament. Photo credit: azattyq-ruhy.kz

In 2023, Kazakhstan established the Inclusive Parliament parliamentary group and the Senate’s Council on Inclusion. What issues do they address?

The Inclusive Parliament, functioning as an inter-chamber group, was established following the election of nine deputies with disabilities to the Mazhilis (the lower chamber of Parliament) last year. It focuses on legislative matters impacting the rights of people with disabilities, including the assessment of laws for their impact, and the oversight of budget allocations. The group efficiently handles disability-related complaints from citizens, summoning responsible agencies to address these issues.

 In contrast, the Senate’s Council on Inclusion, comprising ten deputies, government agencies, and experts, tackles systemic issues. For instance, the council’s first meeting addressed the rise in childhood disabilities, collaborating with maslikhats (local representative bodies) to understand and compare causes. Ongoing efforts target childhood disabilities through budgeting, specialist training, and creating interdepartmental groups for early intervention. Research has indicated that disabilities in children can be effectively managed and corrected, particularly before the age of three.

The subsequent council’s meeting addressed the employment of people with disabilities, identifying systemic causes and assigning responsibilities beyond the Ministry of Labor. Via the council, we tackle issues related to IT technologies and printed information accessibility for those with visual impairments. Successful ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty this year facilitates access to published works for the blind and visually impaired. Standards hindering information adaptation for visual impairments on websites and mobile applications have evolved.

Do you think that people with disabilities need a kind of political lobby to address inclusion issues?

In a society fostering tolerance and inclusion, where people with disabilities are seen as a natural part of the community, their interests should automatically be considered in decision-making and lawmaking processes. However, the prevalence of long-standing stereotypes has historically positioned people with disabilities as requiring protection and assistance, leaving decisions to be made by specialists, and hindering the voices of those with disabilities. Therefore, at this stage of our society’s development, people with disabilities should advocate for themselves in Parliament, advancing their interests without the need for a separate political lobby.

What significance does Kazakhstan’s ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities hold?

The Ratification of the Optional Protocol allows individuals the right to file complaints with the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Geneva if they are unable to find legal remedies within their country’s courts and authorities. This Committee can then request the government’s consideration, conduct its investigations, and provide recommendations in each case.

Our country took eight years to ratify the Optional Protocol following the Convention. By doing so, Kazakhstan has taken a significant step forward, providing people with disabilities a greater sense of protection under international law. Moreover, it offers an opportunity for our country to enhance both legislation and law enforcement practices.

How has the Social Code, effective since last year, affected the lives of people with disabilities?

The Social Code aims to simplify legislation on social rights and guarantees for Kazakh citizens, outlining support throughout a person’s life, from birth to the end. It categorized citizens, including youth, pensioners, kandas (ethnic Kazakhs), and people with disabilities, along with the social guarantees provided to each group in Kazakhstan.

For people with disabilities, the Social Code introduced a non-discrimination norm, prohibiting discrimination in the social sphere and specifying the criteria. It also included changes to allowances and payments, increasing payments for people with disabilities and introducing additional payments from the state insurance fund.

Opening small-capacity homes for children with disabilities marks a significant development, ensuring they receive better care and a more comfortable living environment.

What steps are necessary for inclusive education to become the norm in Kazakhstan? 

I believe that society will become inclusive when children with disabilities and those without disabilities attend the same kindergartens and study in the same schools. However, creating inclusive education conditions involves more than just physical infrastructure like ramps and accessible restrooms. It requires organizing the educational process, training specialists and teachers, securing funding, and implementing programs adapted to the special needs of students with disabilities. 

Inclusive schooling also goes beyond physical accommodations to encompass organizational aspects, such as space and distance.

Achieving equal conditions in inclusive education means understanding the unique needs of each child and adopting the best global practices while adapting them to local realities. Sufficient funding is essential to support these efforts.

How do you assess the government’s measures for employing individuals with disabilities?

Job placement quotas in businesses have long existed, alongside standards for workplace accommodations for those with visual or hearing impairments, as well as subsidies for wages for workers with disabilities. However, these measures are considered insufficient as they lack effectiveness, with employers facing no penalties unless a complaint is filed, which is rare. Additionally, employers’ concerns about dismissing workers with disabilities who are unable to cope add further complexity to the issue.

The Senate has been deliberating on the need for new mechanisms, such as compensatory payments, akin to those in Germany and Japan, where employers not hiring individuals with disabilities contribute to a fund. This fund in turn rewards employers who hire workers with disabilities. The Ministry of Labor and Social Protection is crafting such a mechanism, with completion expected by the end of the year. Additional strategies to incentivize both employers and people with disabilities to work include addressing the needs of those with intellectual and mental health disabilities, who are often excluded from employment programs by law.

What are your thoughts on the Institute of Commissioner for the Rights of Socially Vulnerable Categories of the Population?

The recent establishment of this institute underscores a shift in focus toward addressing the rights of socially vulnerable groups, including people with disabilities. While Kazakhstan has the National Human Rights Center, its activities predominantly involve work with human rights organizations and activists. There were significant gaps in addressing issues like child rights protection. Hence, the Institute of the Commissioner for the Rights of the Child was formed. Recognizing increased complaints from individuals with disabilities and other marginalized groups, it was imperative to establish the Institute of Commissioner for the Rights of Socially Vulnerable Categories of the Population. This branch, part of an overarching ombudsman framework, aims to safeguard the rights of entrepreneurs, children, and other vulnerable populations.

How do you generally assess the inclusive policy of the country’s leadership?

Over the past three decades, Kazakhstan’s leadership has primarily represented the same groups, with limited inclusivity for youth, women, and individuals with disabilities. However, recent statements from the President indicate a changing narrative, emphasizing the need for diversity and inclusion in governance. Measures such as quotas in political parties and elections have facilitated increased participation from women, people with disabilities, and youth at various levels of government.

In my view, an inclusive Kazakhstan is defined by a society and a state where individuals of different ages, genders, and social statuses enjoy equal opportunities to participate across all levels and spheres. I believe efforts are being made to foster such conditions.

The article was originally published in Kazinform. 

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