think since a person is in a wheelchair
he or she can not earn money," says
Armen Alaverdyan, the head of "Unison"
organization for Support of People with
Special Needs. He disagrees with the term
applied to disabled as people with limited
Crippled. Handicapped. Invalid.
The words are a throwback to days before being
"politically correct" became the standard
by which the West invented such phrases as "physically
And they are the words most often still applied
to the impaired, by Armenian media.
This week a seminar, "Mass Media and Coverage
of Issues Concerning People With Disabilities",
aimed at presenting a more enlightened attitude.
Six non governmental organizations (NGO) were
gathered through the initiative of the Open Society
Institute and invited 20 journalists for a discussion
intended to establish a modernized vocabulary.
At issue is how to convey compassion and mercy
without humiliation. Further, NGOs voiced their
concerns that general coverage of disability issues
is often misinformed and lacking etiquette.
In particular, journalists were asked to avoid
terms such as "cripple" "victim"
"defect" "sick" but use instead
the terms such as "physically disabled"
or "people with special needs".
Though the organizers said they did not blame
journalists for information but rather society
for its inadequate attitude towards disabled,
the discussion turned into a hot debate. The journalists
in turn said that in most cases the organizations
dealing with disabled do not provide them with
appropriate information, but agreed that it is
a matter of inherited culture.
The 70 year history of the Soviet Union has left
its trace on the community attitude to disabled
people, who were segregated from the society.
The result is a society to which lives of the
disabled are a little-known and perhaps even frightening
aspect of life during independence.
The public interests in disability issues arose
in Armenia after the devastating earthquake in
1988, which killed 26,000, and made thousands
of others disabled.
Abhrahamyan thinks that journalists do not
consider the disabled as full members of
With independence came an initiative to bring
Armenia into compliance with international standards
of human rights, including attitudes toward the
Old attitudes haven't yielded, however, as outdated
labels are still commonly applied.
Whether called "disabled" or "people
with special needs", the wheel-chair bound
are still stared at and hardly a building or street
is designed with their needs in mind. (Officially,
there are more than 110,000 disabled in Armenia,
including veterans of the Afghan and Karabakh
Armen Alaverdyan, 39, one of the initiators of
the seminar, the head of "Unison" organization
for Support of People with Special Needs knows
his issue well.
He was 22 when his legs were paralyzed, and since
has been met with ignorance and curiosity.
"When I go to the market some merchants
are suggesting me fruits for free thinking they
are doing me a great favor. People think since
a person is in a wheelchair he or she can not
earn money," Alaverdyan says.
Alaverdyan says despite attempts to make Yerevan's
recently repaved streets more accessible, the
effort has not been a success.
"My transport is a taxi," he says,
"because no public bus nor the subway is
adapted for the wheelchair," he says.
Alaverdyan disagrees with the term applied to
disabled as "people with limited abilities",
saying "people with special needs" is
"If for example a disabled school child
in a wheelchair is a chess champion and his classmate
who is not disabled but a pupil with only the
lowest mark in his record, which of two is 'with
limited abilities'?" Alaverdyan questioned.
Another organizer of the round table, the head
of the "Salvation" union for disabled
children Arpine Abrahamyan said that the different
NGOs engaged in disability issues play an active
role in the development of civil society. However
the mass media can make their activity more effective.
"Many journalists are still unprepared to
appreciate people with disabilities as full members
of the community," Abrahamyan said.
"To make their story impressive they are
using wrong terminology and words which are an
insult to the disabled. The journalists can call
a person a 'fool' meaning an autistic person.
Of course they do not do it to purposefully insult,
simply they do not know the appropriate words,"
The organizers of the seminar distributed booklets
to journalists containing information about the
general rules of disability etiquette. They promised
to organize more seminars to help journalists
to challenge stereotypes and to acquaint the reader
with the accomplishments gained by the Armenian
disabled and their organizations for the last