By Ani Paitjan
Officially, more than 6% of Armenians live with disability. In 2010, Armenia ratified a UN Convention committing the country to helping people with disability get fully integrated into society. Six years after, is there any progress?
Sitting in his wheelchair, Armen Alaverdyan is smoking a cigarette on the rooftop of the Erebuni Plaza, a hotel and business center in Yerevan. He just gave a lecture at the Youth Social Forum (YSF) about the importance of social inclusion. “There is certain improvement for people with disabilities (PWD) in Armenia. But we are far from being fully involved in this society,” says Alaverdyan, the Executive Director of Unison, an NGO supporting people with physical disabilities.
According to official statistics, 186 384 Armenians are PWD (people with disabilities), which means that 6,2% of the population lives with one or another form of disability. A 2013 report conducted by USAID and Save the Children NGO highlights an important detail, “the number of PWD is quite big for a small country like Armenia, considering the fact that this category includes only persons who were granted a disability group, i.e. persons with medium and severe forms of disability. Because of a somewhat restrictive interpretation of disability people with light and moderate forms of disability are not necessarily given a group of disability.” If we take into account a more encompassing definition of disability, the number of PWD in Armenia would amount around 12%.
Low impact convention
On 22 September 2010, Armenia ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. In brief, countries that joined the Convention engage themselves to develop and implement policies, laws and administrative measures securing the rights of people with disabilities as recognized in the Convention.
Six years after the ratification, what has changed in Armenia? “Honestly, nothing has occurred specifically due to the convention,” admits Armen. Few ramps or accessible forms of transport in the capital have been developed but it remains insufficient, “there is a critical lack of information accessibility for people with visual impairment, hearing issues, for example.”
“Whatever has been improved was thanks to the good will of some decision makers but overall thanks to the active role of NGOs and Disabled People’s Organizations (DPO’s) », continues Armen Alaverdyan.
PWD’s employment on track
Indeed, as a result of civil society lead initiatives, almost 700 people have been employed. “We are successful with banks like the Central Bank, Ameriabank or VivaCell-MTS. But it is not working only with big enterprises, middle and small enterprises are also hiring, because there are some mechanisms of positive discrimination. For instance, the government grants reimbursements to small companies for employing a PWD.”
According to Armen, the process is ongoing. Most employers and many people with disabilities are not aware of the available legislative incentives that promote PWD employment. Many disabled job seekers do not possess the basic skills of resume writing, tips for successful interviews, etc. Unison trains the PWD to raise their self-esteem in order to prove that they are as much capable to work as a person without disability.
If the process of inclusion of people with physical disabilities seems to be on a slow track, it is a whole other story for those affected by mental disabilities…