In the Republic of Georgia, more than 4000 students have taken a university-level Democracy and Citizenship (Demokratia da Mokalakeoba) course designed to strengthen students’ understanding of governance, human rights, civic responsibility, to enhance critical thinking skills and to encourage participation in public life. The Democracy and Citizenship course is designed to be inclusive of all university-level students, including those with a disability.
As a result of the course, students were inspired to focus on disability rights issues and continued to be active in this area after completing the course. Notably, two course alumni helped to create an accessible section for persons who are blind or have low vision at a major university's library, and start a new youth-focused Disabled Persons' Organization (DPO).
Created in 2010 by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) and its Georgian partners with funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development, the course is now offered in 22 universities in seven major cities. Download the Strategies for Creating an Inclusive Civic Education Curriculum: Lessons Learned from Georgia document for details about the curriculum, strategies for making the course inclusive, and outcomes of the project.
The course is inclusive of persons with disabilities in three different ways:
1. Including Persons with Disabilities as Positive Examples in Course Materials
An important part of inclusion is making sure that the history and role of persons with disabilities are not ignored. At the beginning of the course book, there are six different scenarios showing how active citizenship can make a positive difference. One example focuses on the experience of persons with disabilities in the United States, where they advocated for their rights and eventually got the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a landmark disability rights law, passed. This example of disability mainstreaming is also supported by a section in the reader that focuses on the rights of persons with disabilities, as well as chapters on the rights of ethnic minorities and gender equality.
2. Ensuring Accessible Materials
Though IFES and its partners had planned to ensure that the course book was provided in accessible formats, students from Tbilisi State University took the initiative to produce an audio-book version on CD that was placed inside the back cover with a braille script. The support and active involvement of the course alumni allowed for the audio format of the book to be available to students much faster.
3. Becoming Leaders in Citizenship
While taking the course, two university students, Tato Papiashvili and Karaman Giorgi Beridze, designed an action plan to increase access to education for persons with disabilities. After completing the course, they continued development of the concept and created an accessible education area in the Tbilisi State University library. The new library section, the first of its kind in Georgia, offers resources for students who are blind or have low vision. These resources include audio books, computers with speech programs, a braille printer, and a scanner that converts books into audio files.
One course alum, a student with a physical disability named Ramini Matcharaschvili, used the experience and enthusiasm he gained from the course to take action. With support from a leader of a disabled person's organization, Matcharaschvili established an organization called "Change for Equal Rights" to advocate for persons with disabilities in Batumi, located in the Adjara region of Georgia. Through his organization, Matcharaschvili strives to create equal opportunities for persons with disabilities and to encourage youth with disabilities to become more active in civil society. The Change for Equal Rights organization works to education people with disabilities on their rights and responsibilities and support them in advocating for their interests.
IFES is a global leader in promoting democracy and good governance and supporting the right of all citizens to freely participate in electoral processes. Since 1998, IFES has worked to include persons with disabilities in its work, leading to the creation of www.ElectionAccess.org, a national online clearinghouse of information on disability rights and political participation. Website: www.ifes.org