Belarus Youth With Disabilities Overcomes Misperceptions to Enter College

By ChildFund Belarus staff

Eighteen-year-old Vlad was born with cerebral palsy. His speech is unclear, and he cannot handle a pen or use a computer keyboard. And, yet, Vlad is a brilliant student.

Teachers educated Vlad at his Belarus home. Though the boy couldn’t write, he easily solved math problems in his head. By the age of 15, he had read many literature classics and could easily cite quotes by Dumas or analyze Dostoyevsky’s and Tolstoy’s works.

boy with cerebral palsy

Vlad, an 18-year-old boy with cerebral palsy, attends university.

Vlad dreamed about becoming a lawyer who advocates for the rights of people with disabilities. But he faced a serious roadblock: Belarus’ system of entrance exams to its universities does not consider the special needs of a person with disabilities. The examination must be written, and parents are not allowed to be in a classroom during the exam. Personal assistants to help with writing or reading are typically unavailable.

In a quest to get their son admitted to college, Vlad’s parents petitioned several universities to allow him special assistance to take entrance exams, but they were turned down by most. In 2012, Vera, a vice rector at Baranovichi University, received training in inclusive education, a program conducted by ChildFund through the USAID-funded project Community Services to Vulnerable Groups.

Before the training program, Vera, like many other Belorussian educators, believed that children with communication problems also suffered from cognitive disability, often a misconception. But at the training, Vera was deeply impressed by the examples of academic achievements and talents that American children with disabilities have developed through proper support and teaching.

As a result, Vera decided to change the rigid entrance procedure at her university. She shared her new knowledge with her colleagues and obtained their full support. A special team was arranged to provide Vlad with adequate assistance during the testing process.

At the exams, Vlad gave his answers verbally, and a faculty member wrote it down. This minor adjustment allowed Vlad to pass the tests.

“The results inspired all of my colleagues,” Vera says. “The rector of our university and the members of the state educational board that inspected the exams applauded. Vlad showed brilliant results! He got the highest scores among all the applicants. We are very proud that the boy will become our student. Vlad is very persistent, and there is no doubt he will became a successful advocate for the rights of people with disabilities.”

Because of widespread media coverage, Vlad’s story became known all over Belarus and was praised by the minister of education, who said that 2013 will bring reforms to the entrance examination process at all Belarussian universities.

At Vera’s university, she has continued advocacy efforts by designing a course on inclusive education for students in preschool education. The course was recently approved by the Ministry of Education for university curriculums all over the country.

Read yesterday’s post about a Belorussian girl reunited with her father.

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