Monday, October 31, 2011

In Armenia, disabled people stage protest to illustrate failures, frustrations of capital municipality

From ArmeniaNow:

Last week, a group of wheelchair-bound citizens showed the public and the authorities that in Yerevan neither public transportation, streets nor even state offices are accessible for about 4,000 people who are affected by the slight.

During a campaign Oct. 26, initiated by a number of NGOs dealing with the rights of the disabled, and the Ombudsman’s Office of Armenia, a group of disabled people tried to reach from the Metro’s Republic Square station to the Yerevan Municipality building, in order to pass their letter to Mayor Karen Karapetyan.

In the letter, referring to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (enforced in Armenia since 2010) and the RA Law ‘On Social Protection of the Disabled People’, they ask to make the public transportation and constructions, roads, the entrances of open-air and closed institutions, including schools, residences, medical institutions and offices available for the disabled.

Members of Empyray rock band, showman Egor Glumov, editor of ‘Yes’ (I) magazine Ani Kochar, who accompanied her husband, sitting in a wheelchair, joined the campaign.

“Whatever is available for everybody must be available for the disabled. But in Armenia cinemas, cultural institutions, a great part of state buildings, are not for the disabled, there is no accessible transport. So many laws, constructional norms were adopted, government decisions were made, however, no headway was made in the matter, and we feel no changes in our life yet. We will stay dependent on our assistants as we were before, unless real steps are taken,” says head of Unison NGO Armen Alaverdyan who, himself, use a wheelchair.

Member of the campaign, 34-year-old Shushan Nahapetyan (paralyzed since age 12 when a balcony collapsed), who lives in one of Yerevan suburbs, told ArmeniaNow that there are few places in Yerevan, which are available for her, and in case of attending those places she is always accompanied by someone to help her.

“Even if there is no problem in an institution I attend, I meet obstacles outdoors. I hope that the issue of transport will finally be settled. We are not tired of repeating that all people have equal rights, and available environment is for everybody,” says Nahapetyan, who has no independence outside her home.

Alaverdyan says that adjusting the public transport to the disabled does not need as much money and much time as authorities say. He brought London’s example, where in 2000 the adjusted transport made only five percent of public transpiration, whereas in 2006, thanks to the enforced law, the last unsuitable bus was removed to a museum.

“You may say that Great Britain is a rich country, and Armenia is not, but if we compare the transpiration parks of London and all of Armenia, we will see that they are incomparable. So it is possible to do that, it is simply necessary to have a will and definite laws,” Alaverdyan says.

The attempt of the disabled to travel freely failed immediately, as the steep, narrow ramp to the central station of Yerevan was unsuitable and even dangerous for their use.

Ombudsman Karen Andreasyan pointed at the steep ramps saying that even fully-capable person would be challenged by them. Andreasyan accompanied a wheelchair-bound person, in an attempt to board a city bus, only to find that the bus door was too narrow to let the wheelchair in, nor was there a place to store it.

The disabled also tried to enter the office of Prosecutor General, and found that there was no ramp. The demonstrators found a ramp at the reception hall in Yerevan Municipality; however, the participants of the campaign were not invited inside.

Head of the Department of Transport at Yerevan Municipality Henrik Navasardyan came out instead and said that 66 busses which will be imported to Yerevan in mid-December are also not adjusted to the disabled. He promised that they would be adjusted to disabled people by the municipality’s funds next year.

Navasardyan said that as of now there are only two trolleybuses accessible to the disabled in Yerevan. Head of Unison NGO Alaverdyan is not sure that the imported busses will be available for them.

“The municipality’s answer was not something new for us. Let’s understand correctly – common buses will be imported, however, we hope that some of them will be adjusted [to the disabled], and we must actively participate in this process so that the adjustment is not formal and buses become really usable,” he said.