Sport is changing public perception of disability as a human rights issue in Armenia. Marathons, flash-mobs, concerts, exhibitions, camps, and national and international sport competitions are demonstrating the strong willpower of people with disabilities, making their voices heard and bringing visibility to the issues they face.
Pyunic, a disability-focused NGO in Armenia’s capital city, is leveling the playing field for athletes with disabilities and creating equal opportunities for all disabled citizens of Armenia.
In May 2015, at the order of the President of the Republic of Armenia, the President’s scholarship award for achievement in sports now includes athletes with disabilities and their coaches.
Sports has held an important role in disability advocacy and rights advancement in Armenia. Pyunic NGO, describes here the actions that they have taken, both in and out of the sports arena, to contribute to the growth of opportunities for people with disabilities in Armenia.
- First, sport rehabilitation camps were held to train athletes with disabilities to participate in the international arena. After each event, television channels reported the results. This became an opportunity for advocates to speak-out about the importance of sports for people with disabilities. This was the first step to demonstrate the potential of athletes with disabilities.
- The second step was to hold meetings with decision makers to explain the role of sport in the life of people with disabilities and present related charters and papers. Policy makers sometimes do not consider people with disabilities as an important group and therefore do not incorporate their needs and concerns. As a participating member of the Yerevan City Council and the government ran National Council on the Issues of People with Disabilities, Pyunic has been able to represent the disability community and bring the important issues to the table.
- Pyunic also worked persistently with the Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs, which is responsible for the country’s sport policy. Finding allies in the Ministry was a pivotal moment in Pyunic's efforts.
- Numerous sport events were created and held to demonstrate the abilities of athletes with disabilities. Decision makers along with other guests were always invited to these events, which included:
- A National Sport Festival for people with disabilities, which has grown into a popular annual event
- Outdoor sport activities in the parks of the capital city
- Sport and game competitions with local community authorities
- Peaceful marches in front of the government buildings
“It is encouraging that changes have started to happen more quickly during the recent five years due to the great efforts of NGOs engaged in disability-related issues. Pyunic NGO is one of 22 member organizations of the Armenian Network of Independent Living and we find it to be much easier to raise issue when we have strong partners and a strong voice.” – Ruzanna Sargsyan of Pyunic NGO
Ruzanna Sargsyan has been working for the Armenian Association for the Disabled (Pyunic) since 1992 and the Armenian National Paralympic Committee (NPC) since 1994. Pyunic was created in February of 1989 to provide programs and services to children who were disabled by the 1988 earthquake, and has grown into a national non-profit advocacy and service organization. Since its inception, Pyunic has offered sports for people with disabilities, as a strategy for achieving its mission of integrating people with disabilities into society. Pyunic conducts summer and winter sport camps and year round athletic training in such sports as swimming, sailing, weightlifting, archery, basketball, tennis and skiing. Pyunic athletes have participated in the World and European championships and summer and winter Paralympic games. To learn more visit Pyunic’s website here at www.pyunic.com.