In July, CPWD staff participated in and spearheaded an International Conference on disabilities in Armenia. The conference was also supported by the European Union, the Armenian Association of Social Workers, and included a partnership with Unison, the only Armenian Center for Independent Living, and Warm Hearth, the first Armenian long-term group home for people with disabilities. The trip was a collaboration between CPWD and the Inclusion Collective.
The conference was attended by people with disabilities, social workers, and other representatives from organizations that serve people with disabilities. The aim of the conference was to bring information and best practices to key players and health and human service providers in Armenia.
As a country, Armenia has been slow to adopt person-centered and community based programs for people with disabilities. Children with disabilities live in orphanages, but once they reach 18, they typically are institutionalized, and have very low life expectancy. More than 6% of the population of Armenia are people with disabilities, and only 18% of children with disabilities attend school. This trip and conference, and similar efforts, hopes to educate and influence key players in Armenia to shift the model of caring for people with disabilities from a discriminating and antiquated on of institutionalization to one of community support and independent living. Currently, there is little or no public funding for community based living, although a few organizations, including the long-term group home Warm Hearth, do exist.
This conference was hailed as the first of its kind, and drew participation from various groups who would like to see a shift in the disability culture in Armenia. It was unique in that it promoted an atmosphere of sharing and cooperation, whereas the nonprofit culture there is typically one of competition. Participants are hopeful that the spirit of cooperation will help create joint efforts to improve and change policies.
On the ground, a crew of 6 from Colorado and 1 from Los Angeles taught best practices for setting and achieving independent living goals and modeled skills training by taking persons with disabilities shopping and assisting them with public transportation. Additionally, the Armenian Vice Minister of Human Services attended and was an opening speaker. His administration is excited to work with nonprofits like Warm Hearth in hopes of opening another 20 centers for Community Based Living next five years.
Participants are hopeful that this is a step towards a shift in how people with disabilities in Armenia are treated, including increasing awareness about alternatives such as community based living that could be adopted by the state in the near future.
The Center for People With Disabilities is a Center for Independent Living based out of Boulder, CO. Since 1977, CPWD has providing services for people with disabilities to assist them in overcoming barriers to independent living.