Advocacy and raising awareness
People with special needs must navigate not only the physical and/or mental challenges they were born with, but also how they are treated within society. It is not unusual for the emotions and abilities of a person with disabilities to be misjudged or misunderstood.
For a number of reasons, including Soviet system legacies and cultural stigmas, Georgian society has a steep learning curve ahead, before it becomes more open and responsive to adults and children with disabilities.
First Step Georgia has positioned itself at the forefront of efforts to improve the understanding, compassion, attitudes and responsibilities of Georgian society to those with disabilities.
First Step Georgia has a number of initiatives designed to help society better understand and be compassionate towards disabilities, including:
- Providing society with information about issues and problems associated with disability
- Demonstrating ways to handle disability and providing information about the rights of people with special needs.
- Creating a more comfortable environment for people with special needs
- Supporting other organizations working in this field
- Mobilizing social resources for society to help people with special needs become valuable members of Georgian life
Specific initiatives to reach these goals have included:
- Widely disseminated calendars and posters with the slogan, ‘Help me make the First Step"
- On air discussions once a week for a month every year on Georgia's Radio One network
- A series of TV spots aimed at educating the public about disabilities
In 2005 the Government of Georgia launched the Child Welfare and De-institutionalization State Reform initiative. The Government's aim was to improve the policies and practices of all agencies and institutions working to protect vulnerable children at the national and regional level.
The Reform seeks to ensure that as many children as possible are prevented from being placed in residential institutions. A crucial part of the drive to keep children out of institutions is providing alternative care options. These include supporting families to care for children with disabilities at home or placing such children in community-like environments which can serve as a substitute for the family.
Since 2011, the Georgian government has been working with First Step Georgia as one of the leaders in deinstitutionalization policy for children with disabilities. First Step Georgia has established various types of service for such children and their families: residential, day care, outreach programs and other family support programs. The Government of Georgia uses First Step Georgia's services as models to be replicated at country level.
First Step Georgia also contributes to the Governments Reform through its comprehensive training programs, which build the capacities, skills and knowledge of professionals and organizations working with people with special needs, thus contributing to the development of entire field of disability services.
In addition, First Step Georgia works in existing state residential institutions to provide the best possible living conditions for residents until they can be returned to their families or alternative homes in a community where they can be cared for.