Life can be particularly tough here in Armenia for people with disabilities. While the oft-mentioned playing field is not equal in the U.S., there is, in most cases, at least a field on which it is possible to play. Here, too many differently-abled children are still unable to go to school and thus as adults they are unprepared for the world of work. Unemployed, they live in isolation at home. Where ramps exist here, they are steep and narrow, more suitable for delivery dollies than for wheelchairs. There are steps everywhere and very few handrails. There is no sound at pedestrian crossings and I have never seen anyone walk with a guide dog or a white cane. I have seen signers on some news broadcasts and I met an Armenian using a hearing aid the other day. I also heard about a village with adult, male deaf twins who have successful lives and families, living at the heart of their community. At national government level there is now a move to make education more inclusive but the hard work is too often left to teachers with no training, resources or time. Change is coming though, and is supported by the soft diplomacy efforts of international organizations working here. The US Embassy recently paid for the Mihr theater dance troupe to tour Armenia, performing for free in theaters and public spaces in larger cities. The troupe featured dancers whose physical appearance usually causes a second look on the street– people who are not commonly seen on stage. One was perhaps 6’7 tall and another small and hunched. These men danced with a grace and beauty that was mesmerizing, moving in perfect harmony with lithe and muscled dancers whose bodies were of the type a spotlight always follows. I was told the two female dancers were deaf, using the vibration of the live music on stage (the fabulous Tiezerk band) to inspire their movement. The performance was captivating and proof that each of us has our own beauty if only those around us can stop to see it and celebrate.
This post is one of a series inspired by International Human Rights Day–look for others in the next few days.