Journey to Russia

Ed Pottharst, DO-IT Mentor

The riotously colored onion-shaped domes of St. Basil's Cathedral in immense bronze statue of Lenin gazing sternly out over thousands of young Russians dancing to rap music...smiles bursting out on the faces of deaf children as we visited their classrooms. These are three memories I cherish from my two-week trip to Russia in September 1993.

I traveled with a delegation of 54 educators, audiologists, psychologists, hearing instrument specialists, and adults who are hearing impaired. The purpose of the trip, sponsored by the Spokane-based Citizen Ambassador Program of People to People, was to give our delegates a look at education of children with hearing impairments in Moscow, Stavropol, and St. Petersburg. The trip also gave us an opportunity to share American education methods of teaching deaf children.

We learned that the challenges faced by Russian educators of the deaf are daunting. There is a general lack of good amplification for most students. Hearing aids are scarce and costly. Trained teachers are in short supply. Mainstreaming as we know it is a rarely used option.

Nonetheless, Russian teachers of the deaf are highly dedicated. The hearing-impaired children we saw look just like American school children: bright, warm, cheerful. Deaf Russian teens and young adults are ambitious. They are eager to take advantage of the technology available elsewhere (e.g., TTYs, telephone relay services).

The Russians we met, from educators to tour bus guides and drivers, were brimming with pride and optimism about the recent momentous changes in their country. They were worried, too, about the difficulties that have accompanied these political and economic changes. But they expressed confidence that the changes are irreversible. They shared with us their dreams for themselves, their children, and their country.

My trip inspired me. It also made me more appreciative of the opportunities that people with disabilities have in our country. I hope that we can have more exchanges of this kind. This way, people with disabilities all over the world will have the best opportunity to live happy and productive lives.