Disabled in Azerbaijan
We are all afraid for the wheelchair. This video above was sent to me by a friend of the blog, Amy. It brings to light a stark problem here in Azerbaijan, which is that this is not a disabled-friendly place. And it doesn’t matter which disability you’re talking about. Much like America in decades past, Azerbaijan today is a place where disabilities are things to be embarrassed about, things to be shuttered away or pushed out. The video above is a progressive step towards changing attitudes about disabilities. I’ve only seen one actually usable wheelchair ramp in Azerbaijan, and it’s at a school for disabled children (there are ramps to the pedestrian underpasses in Baku, but they are constructed at such an angle as to hurtle your wheeled passenger at scary speeds through down into the dark, cavernous passages).
Here in Lənkəran, there is both an orphanage and a school for disabled children (which also sort of serves as a boarding school for families who don’t want to deal with their misbehaving kids). As Peace Corps Volunteers, we’ve gone to both of these places to do activities with the kids, doing crafts, playing games, face-painting, and more. And many in the Lənkəran community know about these places and some of the active students are excited to do these sorts of projects. Students who go to the American Center (a resource center at the library) have done multiple trips to the orphanage to do activities and give gifts to the children.
Yet, at the same time, stigmas prevail. Children with Down’s Syndrome or other disabilities are kept in the house and are not to be seen in public. Instead of good-faith efforts to take care of these childrens’ needs, it’s more common to try to keep it a secret. To be fair, it’s difficult to blame the Azeris for that; they don’t really even know what to do with these children, or what kind of disabilities they are dealing with. And they don’t have adequate resources to address those needs, either.
Fortunately, more socially-aware ads like the one above will help to change the stigmas and allow people to be less embarrassed about disabilities. There are also great organizations such as United Aid For Azerbaijan (UAFA), which seeks to help disabled children and their families. You can read more about their services here. Their Goal Statement reads:
The needs and value of disabled children and their families will be respected in society, as a result of increased support of vulnerable children, their families and necessary community-based services by Government and society as a whole.
It’s ambitious and is going to take a long time to shift the attitudes of people here regarding people with disabilities. Projects like UAFA’s and campaigns such as the one above (made in partnership with the European Commission and UAFA) are going to help with that, but it will still take quite a while. (For those of you curious, Bərabər hüquq və imkanlar üçün means For equal rights and opportunities.)