Wheelchair Users Find Doors Closed in Armenia
Wheelchair users in Armenia say they are shut out of shops, museums and government offices because accessibility provision is poor everywhere except in the capital Yerevan.
Disabled rights activists say it is up to the government to solve the problem. Local officials, meanwhile, say the central authorities do not give them the money to fund access ramps and other amenities.
“The private sector doesn’t view disabled people as potential consumers. If galleries, cafes and other attractions are accessible to disabled people, it’s purely by accident,” said Zara Batoyan, who is works on disabled rights at the Bridge of Hope charity. “The environment is not designed for people with these difficulties.”
Batoyan, a wheelchair user herself, says, “I like to hang out with my friends in my spare time. There are various places I go where the atmosphere is welcoming and, most importantly, which I can access freely.”
She lives in Yerevan, which she says is “more or less possible”, but adds that “there is a lot to be done in the provinces”.
Yerevan mayor Taron Margaryan has instructed that plans for all new buildings must incorporate wheelchair ramps. Officials elsewhere have done the same, but Adam Shahnazaryan, head of social support in the Syunik regional government in southern Armenia, said there was just no money to install ramps.
Shahnazaryan said that in the region’s main town Kapan, schools, cultural centre, hospital and clinic all have ramps, although admittedly they only provided access to the ground floor.
The limitations in Syunik will be familiar to wheelchair users in the city of Gyumri, where most public buildings are inaccessible to them.
According to Karine Grigoryan, head of the Agat centre, a charity for disabled women, “People in wheelchairs who need to visit the [local government] administration can’t go by themselves, since the wheelchair ramps there aren’t up to the required standards and there isn’t a lift.”
She added, “Our own organisation always faces problems when we want to hold a large event in a cultural centre of some kind. The only possible venue is the Gyumri Drama Theatre, where the back door has a wheelchair ramp. But even that is inadequate since there aren’t the appropriate facilities inside – special toilets and seats, and so on.”
Armine Nikoghosyan, head of the Gyumri office of the Phoenix NGO, said all cafes and restaurants in the city were barred to people like him.
“It’s even more shameful that shops are blocked to us, as well. We look in with envy, but we can’t go in to buy anything,” he said.
Carmen Petrosyan, head of the department for disabled and elderly people at the labour ministry in Yerevan, said that at the end of 2012, the government made provision of wheelchair ramps a priority.
“I have to acknowledge that it’s going to take a lot of time, and of course a lot of money, to make state facilities more accessible for people with physical limitations,” she said.
Armenia has 181,000 registered disabled, although it is unclear how many use wheelchairs.
This year, about 42 per cent of government spending will go on health, welfare and education, but Petrosyan was unable to say how much of that was earmarked for disabled needs.
“We don’t have information on how many ramps are being installed every year, but we can say that even more institutions will have them fitted this year,” she said. “Every education and health institution will take its own decisions on installing ramps.”
Gayane Asryan is a reporter with www.eMedia.am.