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Meet people from across the region living and working with disabilities. We'll be adding a new short story every week in October and November. 


Nicolae, Moldova

A man with blonde hair and a colorful shirt looks at his laptop screen
Nicolae, 27, at his job in Chisinau. Photo: UNFPA Moldova/Adriana Bîzgu, 2022.

Nicolae Mironov is 27 years old, comes from Hincesti, southwest of Chisinau, the capital of Moldova, and he uses a wheelchair. He started work as a customer agent operator at Orange in Chisinau in 2019.

“I appreciate the employer’s openness to offer me the opportunity to be part of a team and I feel equal to others,” said Nicolae. “It’s important for me that the employer always gives us the opportunity to participate in certain development training to improve our knowledge and skills in terms of our personal capacities and potential. This makes me gain new experiences and feel like a really useful employee.”

When Nicolae joined Orange, he noticed that the workplace had already been adapted to wheelchair users.

A man using a wheelchair enters his workplace. A woman is seen walking in behind him.
Nicolae at his office in Moldova. Photo: UNFPA Moldova/Adriana Bîzgu, 2022.

“The office was fully accessible for people with disabilities. This surprised me, because I had never seen this during previous interviews at other institutions I had visited.”

Nicolae says stereotypes of people who live with a disability in Moldova can hold people back, but it is not a problem he has experienced in the workplace.

“There may still be a few stereotypes left in our society, but I am glad that they are gradually disappearing. People with disabilities should not be labelled as people at the mercy of the state. In the team I am part of, I haven’t felt any stereotypes or prejudices from my colleagues or the employer.”

Nicolae has some hobbies which may surprise more able bodied people.

“I had the opportunity to fly a small plane,” he said. “It was a wonderful life experience. Then I took part in a 10 km marathon. I have also participated in various competitions such as paralympic powerlifting. I also like vlogging about my life and I even made a short film.”

He dreams of a time when people living with disabilities can be accepted in all walks of life.

“My biggest hope is that everything will be accessible in the future and we will no longer feel the difference when we speak about people with disabilities and those with full abilities. I still hope to start a family in the near future, to be happy and to skydive.”

 


Mariana, Moldova

A woman in a black shirt sits at a table with a cup of tea, smiling.
Mariana Arsene at work in Chisinau, Moldova. Photo: Adriana Bîzgu/UNFPA Moldova, 2022.

Mariana Arsene, 27 years old, grew up in Ciuciuleni village, west of Chisinau. She has a speech impairment and a movement disability, although she does not need a wheelchair. She started to experience discrimination from an early age.

“The state differentiates children with disabilities both at kindergarten and at school and children encounter various barriers,“ she said. “As I had speech difficulties, my classmates needed some time to get used to me. Some of them tried to make inappropriate jokes in certain situations, but after a while they stopped.”

She works as a Customer Operations Agent at Orange in Chisinau. Fortunately, her teachers did not stigmatize or stereotype her.

“My teachers stood by my side,” she said. “They encouraged me and offered support. I didn’t always manage to overcome the challenges, but my goal was to try, to push my limits, both physical and verbal.”

A woman in a black shirt wears a protective face mask and works at a laptop.
Mariana at work at Orange, Moldova. Photo: Adriana Bîzgu/UNFPA Moldova, 2022.

However, after completing a bachelor’s degree in communication technology and a master’s in psychology, Mariana found that discrimination followed her as she tried to enter the labour market.

“After graduation, when I started looking for a job, the real challenges emerged,” she said. “Whenever I attended a job interview, the employers made various excuses that the job was not suitable for me, that other employees would not agree to work with a person with special needs like me. Once, I called a company to check that I met their requirements. They noticed my speech problem and told me that the position was already taken. However, when a friend called the company five minutes later, they were very open to her and set up an interview. It is clear that this was discriminatory towards me – a person with disabilities.”

Mariana believes that many people misinterpret disability.

“We have to admit that there are many social inclusion shortcomings in our country,” she said. “I think that people with disabilities in Moldova struggle a lot in the workplace. Some people still have stereotypes. They often associate disability with a lack of intellectual skills. I have met people who believe that those living with disabilities should stay at home, that we can’t work, that we are not useful for society.”

Fortunately, her current employer is positive about employing people with disabilities.

“I was surprised,” she said. “As an employee with special needs, I benefit from a shorter working week.”

In Moldova, people living with a disability have the right to work six hours per day instead of the standard eight.

“Like any other employee, I benefit from training, a free mobile package, health insurance, performance bonus, lunch vouchers, and during the pandemic, remote working.”

Mariana is adamant that, given the right circumstances, people living with disabilities can integrate into the workplace.

“People with disabilities can be successfully integrated into the labour market if there is an accessible and favourable environment,” she said. “Our rights count. Nobody provides them unless we ask. Nobody respects them unless we want it. Nobody offers them to us unless we prove their necessity. Of course, it is important to be supported!”

 


Karine, Armenia


Karine Grigoryan, 40, with her son in Armenia. Photo: UNFPA Armenia, 2022.

“Have you come to be sterilized?” the doctor asked Karine. “No,” she said. “The opposite.”

Karine Grigoryan, from Armenia, was 40 years old, recently married and wanted to start a family.

“I dreamt of having a child and I realized that I didn’t have much time. I decided not to wait," she said. "I visited a provider of reproductive and family planning services to start in-vitro fertilization.”

That’s when the doctor asked about sterilization.

“Many doctors don't know that not all disabilities are passed on genetically,” she said. “I knew my disability would not be passed on to my child, and I knew that nobody can tell me whether I should or should not have a child.”

“However, I wonder how many women with disabilities decide not to have children because of doctors like that.”

“Everyone was saying that, at a mature age and with a disability, having a child will be a risk for life,” Karine said. “But, I had a perfect pregnancy. Every month I would go and have my regular check-up and many people I knew were surprised that I was going through pregnancy so lightly. Seeing me at the hospital being so positive and optimistic, and also seeing that my child did not have any disability also surprised them very much.”

Like any family, the arrival of a child meant many changes in her life.

“Little by little I started changing my daily schedule,” she said. “I work when my child is asleep. Fortunately, I live in a big Armenian family and my mother and sister help me. My office is close by, so I can just run to the office and work until night-time when the baby is sleeping.”

Karine was already a campaigner for people living with disabilities. Inspired by a course she attended in Oregon in 2007, she became a civil society activist and founded Agate, a non-governmental organization with a mission to unite women with disabilities in Armenia. However, she was surprised how becoming a mother herself empowered other women living with disabilities.

“In the past, I tried to empower women with disabilities by saying: you have a right to love and to be loved, you have a right to become mothers,” she said. “But, the example I set in my own life proved to be much stronger than my words.”

“I wondered how many women with disabilities - who are not well-informed - back down on their decision to have a child because of such doctors,” she said. “No-one can tell us whether we should or should not have a child.”

Today, Karine continues to campaign to empower women living with disabilities so that they can overcome stigmas and stereotypes and start families of their own.

“I have spoken to many healthcare providers at reproductive health centres and changed their opinion about women with disabilities,” Karine said. “Stereotypes against people with disabilities put us in a box as if for our whole life we have to prove that we are able.”


Iuliana, Moldova

A woman wearing a red shirt and using a wheelchair sits at a desk in her home.
Iuliana Tabacari, 33, works at her home office in Moldova. Photo: UNFPA Moldova/Adriana Bîzgu, 2022.

“Landing this job is like a science-fiction story to me,” said Iuliana Tabacari, 33, from Hîncești in Moldova, who works as a Customer Operations Agent in Chișinău.
As a child, Iuliana only ever sat in a classroom next to classmates one time. The rest of her education was done at home and was very limited - and it stopped altogether when the school her teachers worked for closed down. However, Iuliana was determined to take her exams as she knew it was important for her future.
“I completed my lower secondary education when I was 23 years old," she said. "I passed the exams without attending any formal lessons. I knew an education certificate was the first thing an employer would ask for."
As challenging as getting an education was, Iuliana said it was even more difficult to join the workforce and this led to a crisis in confidence.
“Employers rejected me right away because of my education and lack of work experience,” she said. “Plus, people with disabilities often feel marginalized and discriminated against by either colleagues or employers. The special needs caused by the disability and the lack of support from family members led to low self-confidence.”
Iuliana believes that the key to overcoming these stereotypes and stigmas is to talk about them.
“Communication and openness towards people with disabilities at the workplace helps to avoid such situations a lot,” she said.
She persevered and eventually found the right job for her. However, other changes proved more important in her life.
“Living independently, renting a place to live, far from family – all of that is a true challenge for me as a user of a wheelchair,” she said. “I think this was the greatest change in my life.”
Facing up to this challenge and living independently helped Iuliana grow and regain that all-important self-confidence.
“I took the risk to try things that I'd never done before,” she said. “I chose to rent a place to live and to manage my expenses independently. I discovered the joy of going shopping on my own, of learning how to pay bills online. These changes made me stronger and more mature and, probably, more responsible.”
 

Anna, Georgia

“I was four or five when I realized there were some things I couldn’t do: I could run but not jump up and play French skipping,” said Anna Maisuradze, 34 years old, from Georgia. “When I grew up, I felt it even more, because of the way others treated me.”
Anna lives in Tbilisi with her husband and daughter. Her disability is the result of neonatal sepsis. Today, Anna has two artificial joints. She has experienced stigma and stereotypes throughout her life.
“When it comes to starting a family, it is believed that [people living with disabilities] cannot have children,” said Anna. “Many in my country cannot imagine how a wheelchair user can become a parent. But it isn’t impossible. There are just too many stereotypes.”
It’s not just stereotypes that are a problem; the environment in Tbilisi is difficult to navigate. Anna found this was only exacerbated after giving birth.


Anna Maisuradze at home with her daughter. Photo: UNFPA Georgia/Dina Oganova, 2022.

“It is not easy being a mother with a disability in Georgia, as the environment is not well-suited to our needs,” she said. “When I walk into a building and find a staircase without a railing, I can’t go up. And, someone with a disability can’t carry a pushchair very easily.”
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Anna, a keen reader and book lover, worked in a bookstore. However, when she was younger, she had other dreams.
“I really wanted to be a detective,” she said. “But they wouldn’t allow me to enrol in the police academy. I did my Master’s degree in criminal law, but the only job I’ve ever had was in a bookstore.”
Anna says she does not require praise for being a mother living with a disability.
“The fact that I gave birth to a child does not mean that I did something beyond my abilities,” she said. “It was not an act of heroism or something special on my part.”
Despite the stereotypes and difficulties navigating the city as a mother with disabilities, Anna is far from giving up: “I definitely want another child.”