About a week ago I had an opportunity to talk about disability related challenges in Armenia at the Self Advocacy Summit, held by my host organization, the Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota. The summit was mainly focused on coordination of advocacy efforts within the organization, expressing the organization’s stand on photo-id requirements for voting, which will possibly be a on the ballot in Minnesota at the upcoming elections.

My part at the summit was fairly simple – to present current issues that individuals with disabilities are facing in my country. My presentation and report contained some general information on qualifying for disability, state benefits and programs, some statistics – but the main part was based upon the results of extensive life quality survey, that our mom-profit, Full Life NGO, has conducted in December 2011-February 2012 among 526 respondents with various disabilities, residing in 19 communities across the country.

The questionnaire had about 25 questions related to different components of life quality – living conditions, accessibility of education, employment opportunities, abuse of rights and freedoms, awareness of state programs and policies, healthcare, mobility, participation in elections. All respondents were informed on confidentiality of provided information. The database of responses was stripped of any personal information, allowing tracing a response back to the individual. Responses were rendered according to the region of residence, disability groups, age and gender.

The overall picture was predictably grim, and it was rather accurately displaying a reality. Among other responses and graphs there was a specific one which I would like to share and reflect upon. The question was: If you feel that your rights have been abused, who/what institution do you think you could apply to for advocacy and assistance? Respondents were asked to identify an institution or person of formal/non-formal authority from the drop-down list of available options, or to provide their own opinion under “Other responses” category. Results are presented below.

37% of respondents see no one they can turn into for help and support. I would take the liberty to claim that this particular answer can pretty well describe overall frustration, daunting people with or without disabilities alike. And it is so tragically ironic (in my personal opinion) that the last three lines of trustworthiness or public credibility in this case are shared by our government, law enforcement authorities and the mob.

Probably, the picture would be similar in many other countries, stuck somewhere on the transitional path towards democracy and civil society. However, my colleagues at the LSS were slightly shocked. And then, in order to offset the sad aura of hopelessness, I concluded my presentation by sharing more uplifting news from our last parliamentary elections in Armenia, in May 2012. A young and promising lawyer, Edmon Marukyan, a 2009-2010 Humphrey Alum from the University of Minnesota Law School, an inspiring leader of new generation and a well-respected civil activist – he run for his 1st parliament office and had a brilliant victory!

I believe that his victory, alongside of being a unique precedent in our domestic politics, became a turning point of hope for many – and it certainly was for me. It proved that in spite of any doom and gloom there is always a hope and chance for a change. If there is a will, there is a way! So good luck, Edmon Marukyan! Surely his name will keep on rocking in Armenian politics, so I would kindly ask my fellow readers to remember it.

P.S.
If anyone interested, I will be happy to share the report and powerpoint on disability issues in Armenia.

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