Progress? A Comparative Analysis of Disability Law in Former Soviet Countries

Author:Todd Carney
Position:Harvard Law School
e Indonesian Journal of International & Comparative Law
ISSN: 2338-7602; E-ISSN: 2338-770X
© 2020 e Institute for Migrant Rights Press
Todd Carney
Harvard Law School
is piece compares the rights of the disabled under the Soviet Union to the
rights of the disabled in modern-day Russia and Estonia. e paper included
Estonia because Estonia is the richest and most stable former Soviet Nation, so it
would create a good contrast to Russia because Estonia has been able to ourish
despite having to transition out of decades of Soviet control. e piece uses the
comparison between all three states to look at what role the rule of law has on
the rights of the disabled. Both the USSR and Russia had many issues with the
rule of law, while Estonia is a stable democracy. e paper also seeks to evaluate
whether disabled people have unequivocally better lives in post-Soviet Russia
compared with the Soviet Union. e paper concludes that despite Russia tech-
nically being freer than when it was under Soviet control, many of the issues for
the disabled in the Soviet Union remain in modern-day Russia due to Russia’s
deteriorating rule of law. Estonia, on the other hand, has created a myriad of
rights for the disabled because it has a responsive democracy.
Keywords: Human Rights, International Law, Law Reform, Transitional State.
VII Indonesian Journal of International & Comparative Law 587-639 (October 2020)
A brief Google search of the terms “Soviet Union” (USSR) and “disabil-
ities” will bring up the quote, “[t]here are no invalids in the USSR!”1
e quote comes from a reply that a USSR ocial gave when a jour-
nalist asked about the lives of people with disabilities in the USSR.2 e
quote, particularly the use of the word “invalid” to describe people with
disabilities, captures the attitude towards people with disabilities in the
USSR. e USSR oppressed many minority groups, including people
with disabilities.3 People with disabilities were oen kept hidden from
society in terrible conditions, where they did not have access to fun-
damental accommodations, such as someone who was paraplegic not
having access to a wheelchair.4 e USSR did this because they viewed
people with disabilities as inferior and not to be seen in society.5 De-
spite this broad view of people with disabilities in the USSR, a closer
look indicates that this was not consistently the case.6
e collapse of the USSR brought liberation for many, including
people with disabilities. In Russia, the lives of people with disabilities
have improved in some regard and people with disabilities have had at
least some power to advocate for themselves.7 Despite these positive
developments, people with disabilities still face discrimination and
are deprived of basic rights in Russia.8 Russia has had issues with
1. Sarah D. Phillips, “ere Are No Invalids in the USSR!”: A Missing Soviet
Chapter in the New Disability History, 29 D S. Q. 1 (2009).
2. Id.
3. Denisa Roza, People with Disabilities in Russia, Once Invisible, Find
eir Voice, O S F (June 22, 2015), https://www.
4. Id.
5. Id.
6. Id.
7. Id.
8. Children with Disabilities in Former Soviet Countries Face Discrimination,
U.N. N (Sept. 27, 2011),
children-disabilities-former-soviet-countries-face-discrimination-un; and
Russia: Adult Prospects Dim for Youth with Disabilities, H. R W (Dec.
Progress? A Comparative Analysis of Disability Law in Former Soviet Union Countries
stability and rule of law, which have impacted the governments ability
to provide vital services for people with disabilities and have made it
dicult to hold the government accountable.9 In contrast, Estonia,
another former state of the USSR, has provided a plethora of resources
for the disabled.10 Estonia is a stable democracy that has subjected itself
to far more accountability than Russia has.11 is has likely helped keep
Estonia on the path of providing disabled people with fundamental
e dierences and similarities between the USSR, modern day
Russia, and modern day Estonia raise a few questions. First, what role
has the rule of law and access to democracy played in the dierences
among the USSR, modern day Russia and modern day Estonias
treatment of the disabled? Is the most democratic option always the
best for the disabled? Are all people with disabilities on the same level
or are certain groups better o in Russia and Estonia? Moreover, has the
collapse of the USSR unequivocally led to a better life for people with
disabilities? Do any problems under the USSR remain or have even
gotten worse in Estonia and Russia? is paper seeks to provide further
analysis on these questions and help contribute to the conversation of
what role access to a responsive government plays in ensuring that
people with disabilities have access to needed support services and
legal protections. It also covers what role international law can play
in these matters, particularly through the Convention on the Rights
of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), a U.N. convention that provides
fundamental protections for people with disabilities.12
6, 2018),
9. Claire Bigg, Russia’s New Disability Rules Prompt Outrage as 500,000 Lose
Benets, T G (Mar. 18, 2016),
10. Infra note 178.
11. Infra notes 146, 148, and 149.
12. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), U N,

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