A conspiracy that cures the fear of wheelchairs in RussiaPrint
MObile STudents (a.k.a. MOST, in Russian the word “MOST” also means “BRIDGE”) is a group of student volunteers from IBS-Moscow, RANEPA, whose goal is to create an accepting environment for people with restricted mobility in the Russian student community and beyond.
MOST was founded by Anna Dragina, who uses a wheelchair, and her classmates in 2015. Anna was among the first students with restricted mobility in RANEPA, which is now one of the largest universities in Eastern Europe. While successfully educating the IBS-Moscow business school staff how to best cater to her specific needs, she realized that the thousands of students studying in RANEPA's Moscow campus alone can be an instrument to make a huge impact on accepting people with disabilities in Russia.
Today, Russia remains one of the least accessible countries for people with disabilities. Numerous governmental and private initiatives have been launched during the last decade to try to improve the facilities’ accessibility for people in wheelchairs, however this only solves some of the surface problems. The larger part of the iceberg is the difficulty for people in wheelchairs to integrate into society: both people with limited mobility and the rest of Russian society don't know how to interact. Because there is no interaction between these groups during childhood and student years, they feel awkward in each other’s company later in life. As a result, people in wheelchairs are afraid to attend daytime educational programs, choosing instead specialized universities and online courses, where educational quality isn’t as high compared to TOP universities. This leads to the problem of Russian companies, which encourage people with disabilities to apply for jobs, but are not able to find qualified and willing candidates.
MOST was created in order to organize events where students could organically interact with successful and interesting people who just happen to be on wheelchairs. In the spirit of the best conspiracies, we «embed wheelchairs» into student life: beauty queens, politicians, and world champions are systematically invited to host educational, entertainment, and sporting events. Our principle is never to alert the student participants that the guest speaker or the sports team they are about to see will be moving in wheelchairs. These are not social responsibility events, but just fun ones. Another innovative approach is the fully integrative nature of the events: e.g., the students are encouraged to try moving in wheelchairs and competing against world champions of wheelchair rugby or Foosball. Races and games including wheelchairs help fight the negative associations people have with them.
Our integrative events are unique in Russia and already helped us gain the media’s attention and initial acclaim from social organizations and programs in the country. Currently, we are a dozen people (students, professors) with big plans for the future of MOST, and we hope that media exposure will help take our unique events outside to broader parts of Russia and the world.