Magda Bezhanishvili, 25, Telavi

“Enrolling in a university has been the biggest barrier for me, which, unfortunately I haven’t been able to overcome because of the teachers and due to the financial issues. The thing is, most teachers in Telavi do not have an appropriate qualification. In my last year at school, I transferred from a specialized school for the visually impaired to the public school of Telavi. I would go to that school only when my friend was there, because I did not feel at ease without Lana. I don’t think either my teacher of Chemistry or my teacher of the Georgian language are to blame. The problem lies in the non-adapted school, state and… pretty much everything else. Communication alone cannot teach you school subjects, communication alone will not help you become a student, receive a certificate and, later, a diploma. First of all, the teachers need to be fully adapted, they should be familiar with the braille system. A lot more things are necessary for a school to be fully inclusive. The sad truth is that, there is not a single school that could be called ‘inclusive’ in Georgia today, because none of them has a trained teacher for visually impaired children.

As for the strangers’ attitude, sometimes they make me feel like walking through the corridor of shame. When I am outside, I can at times hear “tsk-tsk-tsk!” This would affect most people, but not me! I just disregard them and let it go. I spent my most vulnerable years, the time I was most prone to depression, within four walls, among other visually impaired people. I don’t even remember what I was like outside. Now, there is no such thing as pressure and depression for me. I have had some incidents, such as calling a taxi company and asking them to bring the taxi exactly to the destination, because I am visually impaired, and receiving the answer: “If you are can’t see, stop wandering around and stay at home!” I’ve never let them get me down, I have an answer prepared for such people and I have never let limitations dictate me how to live!

Sometimes I resort to humor to deal with my condition. I worked for a TV channel Tanamgzavri (Satellite) for one year, hosting my own show about art. Our General Director forbade me to wear trousers when filming. One day I turned up in red tights, opened the door and he was there. ‘What are your wearing?” – He asked. I was at a loss, but finally I told him: “No idea, Mr. Enri, I am visually impaired, you know, I just wore what I found!” He never dared complain about my clothes any more.

Employment is getting increasingly difficult for people with disabilities in Georgia. Before starting work for TV, I had tried to get a job as a call center operator. I thought it was the kind of job that would be easier for me to find and easier for the employer to realize that I could be the right person for it. However, when I called the hotlines, informed them that I was a person with the ‘first degree visual disability’ and asked them if I could send my résumé, they would reply: “Oh, no!” Does it make any difference if the person answering the phone can see or not?! I have tried to explain to them that there is such a thing as a speech synthesizer and I am computer literate… Other countries have laws obliging both private and public sector employers to hire people with disabilities. I myself have met a person with disabilities who worked as a waiter in a Polish café. No café would hire such person in Georgia, would they?!

If you ask who is to blame in this non-adapted environment, all tracks will lead to the government.”