The overall view of accessibility in Armenia has been evidently changed for the last decade due to the hard work of civil society and DPOs. The government and municipalities have started paying attention on accessibility of each newly built or reconstructed building and public places.
Skarp, a disability-led NGO, shares it's strategy that resulted in the construction of 50 ramps in public spaces and the affect its had on public perceptions of disability
In 2008, Skarp launched a project titled “Independent Life: From Present to Future Opportunities” with the goal to create equal opportunities for people with mobility disabilities to fully integrate into society. Within the scope of this project, Skarp initiated construction of ramps in the central parks of the country’s capitol city, Yerevan.
At the onset of the project, Skarp fostered its cooperation with local authorities who were responsible and authorized to approve city constructions. Local authorities perceived this to be an innovative approach, thus giving Skarp the responsibility to present international accessibility standards and solutions for adaptive ramps.
As a result, more than 50 ramps were constructed in public spaces. This action also demonstrated to authorities that the construction of ramps is not limited by significant financial resources, but rather a lack of commitment and willingness from civil society and government. It also initiated changes among the business community, and business owners of restaurants and cafes in the parks started ensuring accessible conditions for people with disabilities in their private facilities and buildings.
Skarp has also been able to raise the voices of people with disabilities at the highest levels of government by recognizing the power and importance of coalition groups. Skarp was one of six disabled people's organizations (DPOs) who formed the National Disability Advocacy Coalition in 2006 after recognizing their lack of influence at the government level as individual entities but their potential to band together and fight for one goal that the government would have to recon with.
Now a coalition of 23 organizations from around the country, members tackle issues of all kinds taking into consideration the needs of people with any disability. They work collaboratively with municipalities to ensure accessibility and to foster the well-being of their inhabitants’ with disabilities. Monthly Board meetings are held to discuss priority issues, and suggestions for solutions are presented to the appropriate municipality or regional committees.
Physical accessibility is a major focal point of Skarp’s work as it mainly serves people with spinal injuries and others with mobility disabilities. Thus one of its objectives is to make Armenia accessible for people with mobility disabilities. Skarp NGO continues to construct ramps in public places and always invites local authority representatives to be involved. In recent years, Skarp has focused its efforts on the accessibility of vocational educational buildings to fostering inclusive education in Armenia. To learn more about Skarp visit their website at www.skarp.am/english/about_english.html.
Author: Ashot Mkrtchyan, President of Skarp Health Center NGO