Interview with the President of “Paros” NGO Suren Ohanyan
What does your experience show? How the right to vote of disabled people is ensured in practice?
We have been engaged in the issues related to the right to vote of disabled people. The legislation and the actual practice do not correspond to each other.
Now we carry out a grant program in the framework of which we have been in all regions of Armenia and tried to understand what had been done after the previous elections whether there was a desire to do something or whether someone remembered about the disabled people. Unfortunately the results were not so satisfying, there was no positive dynamics. But within the last 1-2 months some interest was noticed by state bodies and political parties, there were some results which are inspiring for me.
Last year when the new Electoral Code was being discussed was there that interest? Were the organizations dealing with the problem of disability involved in the phase of discussing the law?
The representatives of other organizations dealing with the problems of disability and I took part in those discussions and tried to bring our recommendations to their attention. But unfortunately our interests and ideas and those of political parties are different.
What recommendations have you made?
We recommended to put the word “available” next to the word combination “equal elections” in the Code. Maybe it is not important for many people and they see “available” meaning in the word “equal” but the word “available” is clearly emphasized in the UN Convention of disable people so that “the procedures, places and means of voting are available and easy to understand and use”.
In our Electoral Code the word available is only in the Article 15.5 where the responsibility of availability is placed on the Local Government Bodies (LGB). But it is not written who will demand, how and what mechanisms are there and who will control.
During the meetings in regions we recorded that LGBs are not ready for that. The reasons are different starting from lack of finance. The law seems to regulate it but there is no initiative. We also met with the President of Central Electoral Commission and presented the problem. He said they would also try to carry out work for securing the availability of elections cooperating with the Local Government Bodies.
How many voters are there in Armenia with difficulty in moving?
In Armenia at this moment the number of registered disabled people is 173.356 of which 164 thousand people have the right to vote. 11.033 of them are the disabled people of first category who have difficulties in moving, the number of the second category disabled people is 85.783 a part of which have difficulties in moving. This is a serious number.
In 2003 the polling stations were 97 % unavailable, now there are 95 % unavailable those 2 percent we have made with the support of IFES. Nothing has been changed since 2003 and the general apathy concern not only elections.
How the problems of the disabled people are reflected in the programs of parties?
I looked through all the programs one by one. All of them touch upon every problem even global warming. But the word “disabled” is emphasized in the programs of 10 parties from more or less active 75 parties and it is listed among the elderly, repressed and homeless people. And those groups have quite different demands and problems. Only it is written about the disabled people in the program of “Prosperous Armenia” that equal conditions should be created for them for education, work and other conditions needed for their vital activity.
We do not have right approach to the issue. We do not even know who the disabled is. We identified the UN Convention of disabled people and our Legislation must be fully changed, we must refuse the medical model of the perception of disability. The problem of being informed still remains.
Do we have any positive changes compared to previous elections?
The positive is that there is some activity and interest which make me happy. With the support of one party (we do not mention the name to avoid political advertisement-M.A.) ramps were made in three polling stations and it is planned to make in another 37 polling stations. The choice of the polling stations is left on us we should choose the stations where there are more disabled voters. If this number is guaranteed the availability of the polling stations will be ensured by 2 percent. Maybe the number is small but if we can do that much in every elections that is quite a lot. What the LGB will do we do not know yet.
I pay much importance to the awareness of the President of Central Electoral Commission on the problems of disabled people. He also supported to get permission to built ramps. We couldn’t manage to build ramps in many places because of the retardation of the permission for construction.
You said they often give reasons for absence of means to build ramps, does it demand high expenditures?
Of course, no. 50 thousand Armenian drams are necessary to build a 1 meter long ramp of good quality which corresponds to international standards. The usual concrete ramp is much cheaper and if everyone brings a little construction material from their cellars no money may be neededThe desire is the most important.
I have been doing public work for more than 20 years. The biggest problem we have is the absence of desire we do not consider that problem important.
CEC made a decision that the head of the commission of the polling station must help those who have difficulties in moving and they can vote at the entrance.
Everything is possible, they may be taken to the polling station in arms, once I was suggested such a thing. But it is not a good deed, I demand my right. When I say let’s make it available I do not ask. There is a law which must be enforced, who is responsible for that and how should it be done?
In some places the entrance is convenient for disabled people with wheelchairs but they vote on the second floor. That is they should overcome 20 stairs which is suffering. One should take a team with them who know how to deal with the wheelchair. One person cannot raise it and get down.
What problems do the people with other types of disability have?
In 2007 for the first time in the history of Armenia we introduced a special model of election for the blind people which was identified by the CEC and it ensures the confidentiality of voting.
The elections are unavailable during the campaign for those with hearing problems that is when there is no translation into the language of gestures they cannot get acquainted with the programs of candidates. The reading of printed materials doesn’t fill the gap of their awareness because they do not understand and perceive some words and it should be explained to them what it is about. This is their demand.
The problem is not in finance, the problem is first of all in desire. There is an opinion that the disabled people do not go to elections. No, the disabled people go to elections more actively than non-disabled ones. We do not prepare the polling stations thinking they won’t come. But they come and many of them come. The country which doesn’t create conditions for voting, working and studying cannot be called a democratic one.
The Constitution clearly defines the right to vote. The state’s duty is to make that opportunity and whether the disabled people will go or not it is their right.
Interview by Mery Alexanyan