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In-demand and unaccommodated Russia is turning to people with disabilities to fill its labor shortage. But deep-seated accessibility issues are undermining its efforts.

Source: Verstka
Katty Elizarova / Shutterstock

Since the start of the full-scale war in Ukraine, over 300,000 Russian men have been pulled out of the workforce and sent to fight. Additionally, hundreds of thousands of people have fled Russia out of fear they could be mobilized or face repression. All this has created a historic labor shortage — one the authorities are looking to fill in any way possible, lest the fragile wartime economy reach a tipping point. One potential untapped source of labor is the disability community. Russians with disabilities have long faced discrimination and a lack of accommodations in the workplace. With a shortage of qualified workers, employers are becoming more open to the idea of hiring people with disabilities. However, this doesn’t mean that companies truly understand what that entails or are willing to accommodate people’s needs. The independent outlet Verstka looked at the numbers and talked to job seekers with disabilities to find out how the situation has really changed. Meduza shares an abridged version in English.

The no-bodies problem

When filtering job searches on Russian employment websites by “open to people with disabilities,” a variety of positions come up:

Army Ration Packer (part-time). Packaging and assembly of military products for the Russian army. The work is not difficult — anyone can handle it. Flexible schedule: 12-hour shifts, day or night, as preferred. Open to applicants with disabilities.

Mathematics Instructor. 20,000–30,000 rubles [$215–$320]. Job responsibilities will be clarified by the employer during the interview. Pedagogical education required. Further expectations for candidates will be discussed during the interview. Vacancy under the quota for disabled individuals.

Tractor Operator, category four. 22,129–27,216 rubles [$237–$292]. Class A, B, C, D, E driver’s license. Minimum of five years’ experience required. Education: Vocational. Specialization: High-voltage power engineering and electrical engineering. Vacancy under the quota for disabled individuals.

In 2023, unemployment in Russia reached a record low of 3.2 percent in the domestic labor market — the lowest it’s been since 1992. According to various estimates, 800,000 to 900,000 thousand Russians left the country in 2022–2023, fearing repression and mobilization. At least 300,000 men were taken out of the workforce and sent to the front. All of this led to a shortage of qualified workers in many sectors by the end of 2023.

According to data from the recruiting agency HeadHunter, the situation has only worsened in 2024. In February, there was an average of 3.4 resumes submitted for every vacancy, meaning there’s very low competition in the job market.

limiting opportunities

Despite a nationwide labor shortage, Russian regions are further restricting the types of jobs migrants can hold

limiting opportunities

Despite a nationwide labor shortage, Russian regions are further restricting the types of jobs migrants can hold

In a bid to solve the labor shortage, Russian officials are trying to attract pensioners, women with young children, and people with disabilities, including veterans of the war in Ukraine, to the workforce. One way they’re doing this is by offering free retraining programs for positions such as hotel administrator, sales manager, or tour guide. In 2024, the government aims to increase the employment rate of people with disabilities by 10 percent compared to the previous year. Judging by official statistics, that should be an achievable goal: in 2022, 1.5 million people with disabilities were employed in Russia, and in 2023, that figure increased by 6.2 percent, to 1.6 million.

The number of people with disabilities in Russia is also rising. According to data from Russia’s Pension and Social Insurance Fund, in 2022, there were 10,932,620 Russians receiving disability payments. In 2023, that number grew by 108,000, to 11,040,864. The increase is due, at least in part, to the war in Ukraine.

In order to reach their target, the Russian authorities have tightened legislation on job quotas for people with disabilities. Starting September 1, all companies with more than 35 employees will be required to hire people with disabilities. (Previously, regions could independently decide whether or not to introduce quotas.)

For now, though, the number of jobs available under quotas is limited. In Moscow, where almost one million people with disabilities live, a government recruiting service listed only about 4,000 such vacancies this spring. In Krasnodar Krai, which has the second-highest number of people with disabilities in Russia, there were a little over 3,000 quota vacancies.

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However, even companies that aren’t required to meet any quotas are increasingly opening up positions to a wider variety of candidates. “Employers are more willing to consider disabled individuals, soon-to-be retirees, retirees, teenagers, and candidates without experience,” an employee from a non-governmental recruiting agency told Verstka on condition of anonymity. “Due to the shortage, there’s increased demand for any available personnel.”

Statistics from HeadHunter also show this. The “open to people with disabilities” tag appears most often next to jobs in sectors suffering from the most acute personnel shortages. For example, such vacancies in transportation and logistics grew by a third from 2023 to 2024, and the number of employers willing to hire individuals with disabilities for retail positions more than doubled over that same period.

education and disability in Russia

Unequal access As the Russian school year begins, it’s clear that laws aren’t enough to ensure students with disabilities receive fair treatment

education and disability in Russia

Unequal access As the Russian school year begins, it’s clear that laws aren’t enough to ensure students with disabilities receive fair treatment

Clueless and unaccommodating

Employees of NGOs that support people with disabilities say they’ve seen some changes in the labor market, but not enough. “There are more vacancies now, but mainly for people with acquired disabilities, such as those resulting from injuries,” says an employment consultant for people with disabilities from a Siberian NGO, who requested anonymity.

According to her, there are still aren’t many opportunities for those with congenital disabilities. “There are very few offers for people with [developmental disabilities],” she explains. “People with hearing impairments are mostly offered jobs as janitors. Finding work is challenging for people with cerebral palsy, especially wheelchair users. Offices aren’t equipped to accommodate mobility needs, and there just aren’t remote online jobs with simple tasks in the market.”

Even when employers are willing to consider candidates with disabilities, they frequently don’t take necessary accommodations into account. “We often run into situations where vacancies marked as ‘for people with disabilities’ don’t actually consider the candidates’ [physical limitations],” says the employment consultant. 

Artyom Amelyushkin, a 44-year-old from St. Petersburg who suffered a stroke 10 years ago, has had little success in the job market. He told Verstka that before the stroke, he worked as a mechanic, repairing machines in the food industry. Despite the fact that manual labor professions are among the most in-demand in Russia, he can’t find full-time employment. Many employers have eagerly invited him for interviews, but when they begin to delve into the specifics of working conditions for people with disabilities, they ultimately choose not to hire him.

“I get asked in constantly, I go to interviews literally every day, but every time it turns out that I also need to work night shifts — and the law prohibits employing disabled individuals for night work,” Artyom explains. “I tell them: ‘Maybe you can turn a blind eye to the fact that I’m disabled; I’m willing to work at night.’ But they don’t want to.”

forced sterilizations

‘My tubes are tied now’ Victims recount 10 years of forced sterilizations at an assisted living facility in Yekaterinburg

forced sterilizations

‘My tubes are tied now’ Victims recount 10 years of forced sterilizations at an assisted living facility in Yekaterinburg

Employers also rarely consider the fact that it might be difficult for a person with a disability to get to work. Roman Ermolaev, а 29-year-old from St. Petersburg who suffers from spinal problems, told Verstka that he had to turn down two job offers from the employment center because of transportation issues. In 2021, Russia’s Federal State Statistics Service (Rosstat) found that a quarter of adults with disabilities are forced to decline job offers because the workplace is too far from home.

Due to the lack of accessible infrastructure in Russia, remote jobs are highly sought after within the disability community. “It’s convenient for people with disabilities, especially from a physical point of view,” explains 35-year-old Pavel Afanasyev, who has hearing and vision impairments. He works as a massage therapist in St. Petersburg but dreams of retraining in another field that would allow him to work remotely and avoid the daily difficulties of getting around the city. According to him, more remote work opportunities for people with disabilities have appeared over the past two years, but all of them require high-level skills like programming and data analysis.

However, education doesn’t guarantee employment. Thirty-one-year-old Oleg Tumarkin, who has cerebral palsy, graduated with a master’s degree in economics from St. Petersburg State University of Economics in 2020. He registered with the local employment center but couldn’t find a job. Then, he completed an online data analysis course. In August, he started sending out his resume again, but he wasn’t able to get a single interview for over six months. “When I apply for jobs in my field, I inform employers about my condition, and each time they refuse me with the same wording, just saying they’re currently not prepared to invite me for an interview, without specifying the reason,” he says.

“Even with two degrees [in management and accounting], it’s impossible to find a decent remote job,” concurs Aliya Gallyamova, a 39-year-old from Tatarstan. “A wheelchair user like me receives a decent amount [in disability benefits]: 23,000 [rubles, or $247]. I get 6,000 [$65] in benefits for my child. You can live on that amount if you don’t splurge and you stretch it as much as you can. Still, I have two degrees, and I’d like to work to fulfill myself somehow. Because a person trapped at home with a disability wants some kind of social interaction.”

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Story by Darya Kucherenko for Verstka

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