'The next generation of disabled people must have better opportunities'

Karina Wüttke was born blind in the former GDR 36 years ago. The way visually disabled people were treated there differed a lot from the way they live in an united Germany nowadays. Before she tells more about her youth during the East-German communist regime, we first learn more about her current life in free Berlin.
 
Karina lives in Berlin with her friend. ‘I met him at an ice skating event. Ice skating is one of my hobbies, just like reading and listening to music. At the moment, I don't have a job. I would like to work with a social organization as a PR-employee. I like to help other people with a disability. Not only the visual impaired, but also those who are in a wheelchair or otherwise disabled. I think disabled people should have to co-operate more to get things done. The next generation of disabled people and the one that comes after it must have better opportunities. Why don't we unite as European disabled people and contact the media or organize for instance a conference? Your project is very interesting in this.
 
Karina’s brother is disabled as well. He has got only one good leg. ‘Of course, in the beginning it was difficult for my parents to have two children with a disability. They learned how to cope with it by talking to grown-up people with a disability. Karina’s second eye-seeing dog Portgis is a great help to her. It’s a golden retriever. Before, she had a black labrador. ‘Portgis is more careful than the first one and very affectionate. I have had Portgis for three years. It approximately takes one year to get accustomed to the dog and the dog to me. It's the same process as with having a partner. He goes with me everywhere.’
 
As a person who can see normally, I wondered how Karina ‘looks’ at the world. How does she for instance experience the place where we have this interview or how does she choose her clothing? 'Although I never could see anything, I can make my own imagination of how things look like. I'm aware this cafe we're in now (cafe Einstein, Unter den Linden) is big. When I buy new clothes, I let them having described. What colours are they, what material are they made of etc.’
 
Too many barriers in Germany
 
I've been in Germany myself many times. It always strikes me everything is very well organized here. The Germans themselves do have a word for it,  'Gründlichkeit'.  In advance, I therefore assumed people with a disability would be taken care of properly. Nevertheless Karina tells me the integration of disabled Germans into normal society goes too slowly. 'Employers receive a sum of the government when they employ disabled people, for instance the blind. Of all the blind persons who wish to work, only two third actually has a job. Employers are frightened to employ blind people because of too much red tape, too much paper work.
 
'As far as accessibility is concerned, the situation often varies. New buildings like Berlin Central Station are perfectly accessible for blind people. Other train stations are not. In fact, the situation is that the disabled have to adjust themselves to their environment instead of the other way around. Policy makers are not aware yet it must be that other way around. There is a lot of good will among them, but there's always a lack of enough money.
 
'The awareness already has to start at school. Children should have to learn to work together with class mates who are disabled. Devices for disabled children should have to be available at schools. When the disabled child has grown up, it should have to be normal there's a job available for him/her as well. I followed higher education, direction pedagogy. I had normal contacts with my fellow students and used braille and a speech recognition device. Furthermore, I was assisted by someone who read out texts to me loudly.'
 
Glad the Berlin Wall fell down
 
When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, Karina was still visiting boarding school in Spremberg. Education for the blind in the former GDR was neither pleasant nor inspiring. 'The support was good. Everyone had work, including the disabled. But, there was no integration of the blind at all. We were raised through strict socialist principles at boarding school. No priest or other public figure was allowed to tell the students a different story from the outside world. We lived completely separated at school, from Monday till Saturday. We were not allowed to follow the West-German football or to take a Barbie doll with us. Already in the sixth year it was decided which profession the pupil would practice later. For us blind pupils there were not many jobs available. The choice consisted of either answering phone calls or work that could be done by hand. There was no creativity in choosing a future job. I was therefore very glad the wall fell down. I would personally tear down a new one, should there be any wall again at any time.'
 
Personal future
 
Besides her search for a suitable job, Karina does have more wishes with regard to her future. She's thinking about having a kid. I ask her whether it wouldn't be difficult to raise a child with her disability. 'No, I don't think so. My friend must take his part in raising the child as well. I think it's only good when a child learns it is not strange to have a mother who's blind.
 
'I would like to travel to Sweden once. A good friend of mine emigrated to that country. I already do speak Swedish. The language has many links to German. It has a nice speech melody.
 
'Together with helping other disabled people as much as possible, it's quite a long list. I'm aware I won't succeed in realizing this all at the same time. It must be done by taking little steps.'    
 
It's still waiting for Karina's favourite music video.
 
Copyright text: Johan Peters, June 5th - ...