Click to expand Image
A boy sits on a swing in the courtyard of an orphanage for children with disabilities, Yerevan, Armenia.
© 2016 Alexei Golubev for Human Rights Watch
On May 5, Armenia’s parliament adopted the law on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This is a long-awaited reform with the potential to change the lives of the roughly 200,000 people with disabilities in Armenia by protecting them from discrimination and creating opportunities for a more inclusive society. It is also a step towards implementing the state’s commitments under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which Armenia ratified in 2010.
The recent war with neighboring Azerbaijan left thousands of people with physical and psychosocial disabilities, prompting authorities to recognize the issue’s urgency. The government has initiated programs providing mental health support to war victims and the wider public and created centers of independent living for people who acquired disabilities because of the conflict.
But a more comprehensive, rights-based approach was needed to dismantle barriers and discriminatory policies. Eschewing a narrow, medical definition of disability, the new law defines disability as the result of interaction between environmental and societal barriers and a person's health condition which hinders their full realization of rights.
The law includes guarantees of accessibility, independent living, access to justice, and reasonable accommodation, all of which allow a person to fully enjoy their rights on an equal basis with others. It bans disability-based discrimination and treats refusal to provide reasonable accommodation as discrimination. The law also allows nongovernmental organizations to file anti-discrimination lawsuits on behalf of persons with disabilities who, due to their health or other circumstances, cannot represent themselves in person before a court.
The law’s adoption became possible due to decades of persistent advocacy by Armenia’s national disability rights organizations and activists. They have reason to celebrate this moment.
The challenge now will be implementing the law. Lawmakers did not include a provision to create a dedicated accessibility oversight body, so it is up to Armenian authorities to ensure the law’s standards become reality. They should incorporate those standards in existing policies and laws and enact further reforms that guarantee the legal capacity of persons with disabilities. In doing so, they should consult with and actively involve people with disabilities. In this way, they can ensure no one with a disability remains marginalized, isolated, and invisible.