Sipan is one of around 16.5 million people with disabilities in Eastern Europe and Central Asia who strive for more comfortable, dignified and fulfilling lives.
People with disabilities are still among the most marginalized groups across the region. Policies and attitudes still perpetuate their exclusion.
In post-Socialist countries, charity was traditionally considered an adequate way of improving their quality of life, with needs met in closed, segregated environments such as specialized institutions.
In countries like Armenia and Kyrgyzstan, the rate of unemployment for people with disabilities exceeds 90 percent. A vast majority of persons with disabilities in those countries have to rely on external support in order to live a decent life. As a result, many persons with disabilities live in poverty.
A shift in attitudes is required to make sure persons with disabilities are the masters of their own future. This means addressing the issue from multiple angles: accessibility, rights, employment and perceptions.
Persons with disabilities face numerous visible and invisible barriers. Buying bread, getting a haircut, having a medical checkup or voting can become impossible because of a sidewalk, a staircase or the absence of Braille language. Confronted with these barriers, persons with disabilities often depend on the support of family members.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Around the region, activists and organizations are using technology to make cities accessible for everyone.
In Armenia, activists like Varuhi Aramyan are collaborating with UNDP to use mapping tools and crowdsourced information in compiling lists of accessibility-friendly locations. The app they developed rates locations and gives awards based on specific user experiences, putting pressure on businesses and public institutions to structure their spaces in a more inclusive manner.