Two disability-led organizations headed by alumni of our Women’s Institute on Leadership and Disability (WILD) have changed the landscape and course of independent living in Armenia. Since 2021, Agate and EREO have been operating two Independent Living Resource Centers (ILRCs) in two regions; Gyumri, Shirak Region, and Vanadzor, Lori Region.
Leading up to the launch of each center, Agate and EREO undertook a series of consultations with MIUSA and U.S. independent living experts to immerse themselves in the Independent Living philosophy (disability-led!), sharpen their technical skills on IL core service delivery (consumer-driven!), and enhance their human resource management systems. Modeled from the U.S. IL philosophy that centers are run by and for people with disabilities, both organizations created ILRC staff positions that are now filled by people with disabilities, and developed internal personnel documents that strengthened their capacity to effectively run their ILRCs.
“We were able to develop these tools, especially the Employee Handbook with the support and guidance from the MIUSA Team and U.S. IL Experts. The Technical Assistance sessions and the resources shared were very valuable in helping us design these program and evaluation tools.”-EREO ILRC Staff
Weathering the impact of COVID-19 in additional to local and regional wars, our partners have carried out their work with incredible resilience and an unyielding commitment to respond to the demands and requests of their community members with and without disabilities. To date, the impact of the ILRC include:
- Over 1,160 people have utilized services of the ILRCs, of which 75% are people with disabilities and 75% are women
- Over 2,220 services have been provided, including information & referral, peer support sessions, and workshops on independent living skills for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities
- 46 people with disabilities completed a 12-week virtual training on disability rights advocacy and implementing the independent living philosophy
- Over 80 people with disabilities obtained meaningful employment
- 40 government, private and non-profit organizations are active members of the ILRC Independent Living Community Resource Network (ILRCN), contributing:
- Legal services for women with disabilities
- Trainings on legislation and guarantees of social security for service people and their families
- Meeting space for ILRC activities, and the provision of mobility devices for ILRC consumers with disabilities
- Training and tools for the inclusion of people with disabilities in the labor market
- Job fair to engage consumers with disabilities as attendees and prospective employees
- Over 100 advocacy actions were undertaken, including strategic meetings and recommendations to decision-makers on amendments to laws and policies on Independent Living.
The impact is further reflected in the following comments from ILRC staff and consumers with disabilities:
“The Agate ILRC connected me to the outside world, especially during this difficult period when, due to the pandemic, I rarely leave the house. I began to feel like a full-fledged member of the community, who has the opportunity to communicate with other persons with disabilities in Shirak region, raise questions to various specialists in the field, including decision-makers, and to receive answers.”-Agate ILRC consumer with a disability
“By using the services of the ILRC, and also receiving an electronic wheelchair, I am now living a colorful life. Now I can go out, go to the store, communicate with people. I can say that my self-esteem increased, I realized that I should not be depressed by problems, but should fight. Now I’m even thinking about studying and finding a job.”-EREO ILRC consumer with a disability
“I have become stronger in the sense that I move forward more firmly in the goals of my dreams, seeing the experience of other people with disabilities.”-EREO ILRC consumer with a disability
“We created an environment where persons with disabilities were able to teach each other, to learn from each other, and to acquire a multitude of skills. So, among the achievements of the [the ILRC], we can also highlight the fact that State authorities have started to approach the needs, requirements and demands of persons with disabilities more seriously, and they’re trying to ensure better representation and involvement for persons with disabilities.”-EREO ILRC Advocacy Coordinator with a disability
“For me working at the ILRC, I can tell you that among persons with disabilities, we’ve seen greater self-confidence and their ability to act on their own independently. People are more likely to live independently. We saw progress, and I’m very glad that over the months/years, we’ve changed things.”-Agate ILRC Peer Support Coordinator with a disability
“I believe that the main guarantee for the success of the [ILRC] was that we, persons with disabilities, were working [at the ILRC], and I believe this is what made us adhere to the principles that we’re promoting. That is to say, that if we tell the authorities that persons with disabilities should be in leading positions, we are already serving as an example that it is possible, it is possible to break stereotypes, and it’s possible for persons with disabilities to work in the system.”-Agate ILRC Coordinator with a disability
Get a glimpse of the Agate ILRC in action with this video produced by Agate to educate their community on the power of their disability-led ILRC:
The mission of the project is to empower people with disabilities in Armenia to live independently, advocate for their rights, and participate fully in their communities, and is implemented by three leading disability organizations: Mobility International USA (MIUSA), “Agate” Rights Defense Center for Women with Disabilities NGO and “Equal Rights, Equal Opportunities” NGO (EREO).
This article is made possible by the support of the American People through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of MIUSA, and/or “Agate” Rights Defense Center for Women with Disabilities NGO and/or “Equal Rights, Equal Opportunities” NGO and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government