Aaron in Azerbaijan

Just another blog about Azerbaijan.

Disabled in Azerbaijan

with 2 comments

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.)


Written by Aaron

June 14, 2011 at 7:20 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses

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  1. For things to change for people with disabilities in Azerbaijan, it will take a massive policy shift by the government. There seems to be no equivalent to the Disability Discrimination Act in the UK or the American With Disabilities Act.

    The DDA in the UK ensures that not only is it be illegal to discriminate against people with any kind of disability [physical, mental or social] in the workplace or with regard to services but also that all public buildings [and the urban environment] must be wheelchair accessible.

    Where are the dropped curves in Baku? These would be useful for mothers with pushchairs [not that you see many of those here] as well as people with disabilities.

    As someone who has several years professional experience working with people with disabilities and who has acted as a consultant to the British Council [Namibia] on disability access issues, I can safely say that I have come across few modern cities as unfriendly to wheelchair users as Baku. Even brand new shops have steps up to the doors, making them no-go areas for wheelchair users.

    In my opinion, city planners need to visit some European or American cities with an eye on access issues…


    June 15, 2011 at 4:50 am

  2. Hey Aaron, 3 months after I COSd from Azerbaijan, I got hired at an office that provides independent living skills training and advocacy for people with disabilities. I forwarded the PSA and your blog post to my entire office. Good job!

    Raechelle Baghirov

    June 15, 2011 at 6:14 pm

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