Monday, May 18, 2009

Kazakhstani Group Learns From Pittsburgh About Disability Rights Through Open World Program

A delegation of social service administrators from the former Soviet Republic of Kazakhstan recently spent a week in Pittsburgh to study the latest practices and programs for assisting people with disabilities.

“We are very interested to learn the kinds of programs that are available to people with disabilities, and we can try to create this kind of program in Kazakhstan,” said group member Lyubov Alekseyevna Dudchenko, deputy chair of the Rehabilitation Center for Persons with Disabilities, a non-governmental organization in the city of Karaganda.

Speaking through a translator during a visit to Life’s Work of Western Pennsylvania, a vocational training and employment program for people with mental and physical disabilities, Dudchenko said that many programs serving the disabled were discontinued after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

“We have nothing like this [in Kazakhstan],” Dudchenko said, referring to the vocational training programs at Life’s Work.

Sponsored by the Open World Leadership Center at the Library of Congress, and hosted by the Pittsburgh Council for International Visitors, which designed and implemented the itinerary to address the visitors’ goals and interests, the seven group members and their traveling contingent visited several local companies, government agencies and non-profit organizations to discuss and observe different approaches to accommodating people with disabilities.

During its May 9-17 visit, the delegation also visited the Allegheny County Department of Human Services; 501(c)(3)2, a nonprofit consulting company; PNC Park, the most accessible major league sporting facility in the U.S.; a clinic for patients with special needs at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Dental Medicine, supported by the FISA Foundation; Every Child, Inc., which serves children and parents with disabilities and special health care needs; Three Rivers Adaptive Sports; The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh; The Children’s Institute; Pitt’s Center for Assistive Technology; Three Rivers Center for Independent Living; United Cerebral Palsy of Pittsburgh and Blind & Vision Rehabilitation Services of Pittsburgh.

The Open World Program is a nonpartisan initiative of the U.S. Congress designed to build mutual understanding between the United States and Eurasia. Over 12,000 Open World participants have been hosted in all 50 U.S. states since the program’s inception in 1999. Delegates range from members of parliament to mayors, from nonprofit directors to journalists, and from political party activists to regional administrators.

Kazakhstan became a Soviet Republic in 1936. The country’s population is currently 15.3 million people.

Home stays with local residents allowed the Kazakhstani delegates to experience American family life. They also took part in several cultural and community activities, including visits to the Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History, and dinner at the Hard Rock Café in Station Square.

For more information about Open World, visit

For information about the Pittsburgh Council for International Visitors, including home stay hosting opportunities, go to

By Thomas Buell, Jr.

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