June 2011 marked the completion of USAID’s and World Vision’s Building Disabled Persons Organizations’ Outreach for Greater Disability Inclusiveness Project, which aimed to foster a more inclusive and accessible society for Armenians with disabilities.
The three-year project promoted education for children with special needs and worked to strengthen the institutional capacity of Disabled Persons Organizations (DPO) and non-governmental organizations (NGO) to collaborate with government agencies and raise awareness of disability rights in Armenia.
Children with special needs have the legal right to education under Armenian law. Due to existing stigmas, however, many parents exclude their children from social activities and do not allow them to pursue an education in mainstream schools.
Surveys completed at the start of the Project revealed that there is widespread social prejudice in Armenia among parents and school personnel who believe that children with disabilities are unable to receive an education and can disrupt the learning environment.
In the past decade, Armenia has started to phase out special schools and is working to create inclusive mainstream schools that allow children with disabilities to attend classes.
The Project initially worked in four communities (Yerevan, Gyumri, Alaverdi and Stepanavan) and since January 2010, expanded to Kapan and Sissian, targeting 37 schools and 30 pre-schools in six cities.
The Project helped the partner DPOs enhance their organizational and networking skills and influence the decision-making process with local authorities and donor organizations that support children with special needs. Due to joint efforts, 73 children with disabilities have already enrolled in mainstream schools in their communities.
To reduce the stigma associated with disabilities in Armenia, the Project supported a widespread public information campaign to improve understanding and sensitivity to those with special needs, increase the awareness of available services, and promote community volunteerism.
The six partner DPOs organized and held over 1,000 trainings and educational events. 4,546 children (including 590 with disabilities), 1,099 teachers (including psychologists and special educators), and 1,856 parents benefited from these initiatives.
About 60,000 people in Armenia have learned about inclusive education through disability awareness campaigns, which has contributed to improved attitudes toward the disabled in their communities.
In collaboration with the Armenian government and NGOs, the project helped develop a National Strategy Paper on the Implementation of Inclusive Education, which has been submitted to Ministry of Education and Science of Armenia and will contribute to their prospective Action Plan.
With the project’s support, a website for the Disability National Commission (www.disabilityarmenia.am) was established to enable NGOs and DPOs to coordinate their efforts, and 1,503 children with disabilities were examined by a multi-disciplinary assessment team to determine their learning needs and create individual education plans.
The project supported the publication of five manuals on inclusive education as well as made twenty-five mainstream education facilities wheelchair accessible.
USAID is planning to launch a new activity that will promote equal employment opportunities in Armenia and support the integration of people with disabilities into the labor market.
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