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A story of hope

Margaret: I’d like to introduce you to Marta. Marta is a student here at the University of Glasgow, and she’s studying for a master’s in inclusive education. Marta is herself disabled, and she is also a teacher of children and young people who are disabled. And she’s from Ukraine. Marta is going to share some of her experiences now with us. Marta, can you tell us a bit about Ukraine and about how Ukraine supports people who are disabled?
MARTA NYKOLAYEVA: Well, as you know, Ukraine was part of Soviet Union for many years. And in Soviet Union there was such a philosophy that disabled people do not exist. So when Ukraine became independent, there was still left this thinking. And I remember when I was born, and it was just first years after the independence. And it was really impossible to go to the kindergarten for me. And it was hard, but I can say for now that many years have gone since we are independent. There are lots of changes. Right now there is special schools. There is schools with inclusive education.
There are kindergartens where disabled children can go, and there is much more opportunities to go to study at the universities. So there is a lot of good changes, but as well, I should say that we have right now more buildings adjusted, because before we never had adjusted things. And some buses are adjusted, but unfortunately not as much as it is here in Scotland.
Margaret: Can you tell us something of your experiences of being in school education in Ukraine and any barriers that you feel you had to overcome?
MARTA NYKOLAYEVA: I went to school in 1996, and my school in my city was the first school in Ukraine with inclusive form of education which accepted disabled children. And I have to say that my teachers were brilliant. However, they have never had any education on how to teach disabled children. But they always did their best. But I could say that for me, it was pretty easy, but there are other children who, for example, wasn’t able to write. And there had to be done some changes into curriculum. So that was a barrier. And there was some architectural barriers, like we didn’t have an elevator.
And we had a boy who was helping my friend in a wheelchair to go from class to class during the break. So that’s basically the main barriers.
Margaret: Thank you. And how about being in higher education in Ukraine? What was that like?
MARTA NYKOLAYEVA: For me it was great. I had lots of friends. I should say that my classes were in the main building of the university, and this building had a lift, an elevator, so it was easy to get around. But all of the other university buildings weren’t adjusted, so I know that it’s pretty hard for disabled people to move around those buildings. And in my city, this is the only university which is adjusted and which has a lift. And also, I should mention that we had a library building which wasn’t adjusted at all and which was like on the hill. And no public buses were going from my home over there.
So I just should have asked somebody to give me a ride, or I asked my friends to get me book, or if it’s a high-demand book to make a copy and bring a copy for me. And I should say that I really enjoying a library over here in Glasgow, because I can go there with my scooter, and it is very adjusted. There is lifts, and I like it because right now in Ukraine, we have anti-terroristic operation, and there are lots of young boys injured, and they are disabled now, and they are in their 20s. And when they decide to get a higher education, I know that they will face the same barriers, and they should find people to help them.
And it would be good to have adjusted more and more places.
Margaret: OK, and do you see any evidence in schools of the international legislation? Can you see how schools are trying to implement that in Ukraine?
MARTA NYKOLAYEVA: Well, in Ukraine, in December 2009 was made a ratification of UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled People. And since the recent article on education, this document became the main document in Ukraine for inclusive education, and it is the basis. And actually, according to this, right now in Ukraine, we are getting more and more schools with the inclusive form of education.
Margaret: And what do you think are the main things that teachers did when you were in school that helped you to feel included in education?
MARTA NYKOLAYEVA: I think that the main was that, for example, I participated in different school plays. I went to some school trips with my class. And I always felt included, and it’s the best feeling when you feel a part of a community. But as I said, my teachers were great, but I know kids who are right now in inclusive schools, and they feel very excluded because teachers are not really willing to teach them. They are treating them like they just have to teach them because they are just in the class. And it is a little bit upsetting, but I believe it’s just because of the lack of teachers’ experience.
And I think there should be more done on teachers’ education in Ukraine, because, for example, my first degree is teacher of English language and literature, and I never was taught how to work with disabled children. And I know that no students who are thinking becoming teachers, they also weren’t taught. So I believe there should be made core courses in the Ukraine universities which would teach students how to later on work with children with different disabilities. And since Ukraine is developing country, we don’t have such courses there. So that’s why I am here in Glasgow. And I believe that I will gain a lot from my master’s degree.
And when I’ll be back home after my studies, I will be able to improve something to develop courses and to try to teach students maybe some.
Margaret: Thank you.

In 1996 mainstream school #82 in Lviv, Ukraine, accepted 6 children with disabilities to study in regular classrooms. It was the first school in Ukraine to do this.

Marta Nykolayeva was one of those 6 children. Since that day Marta has not looked back. She never felt excluded, she found friends among her classmates. She always participated in school plays and went on school trips. She describes her teachers as doing a great job to ensure that the disabled children felt included. Inspired by her teachers, Marta is now an educator working to ensure children and young people are included in school. She graduated with a Masters in Inclusive Education from the University of Glasgow in December 2016.

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