The Current Situation
More than one billion people in the world live with some form of disability, and 200 million experience considerable difficulties in functioning. Across the world, people with disabilities (PWDs) have poorer health outcomes, lower education levels, less economic participation and higher rates of poverty than people without disabilities. This is partly because PWDs face barriers in accessing health, education, employment, transport services, and information. These barriers include inadequate policies and standards, negative attitudes, lack of service provision, lack of accessibility, inadequate information and communication, gender discrimination, and a lack of participation in decisions that affect their lives. In the past 20 years Armenia greatly improved its economy, infrastructure, and public services. Still, the majority of the 179,257 officially registered PWDs continue to face problems from both societal perceptions of disability and laws and regulations which are not well enforced and are largely unknown to the PWD population. Most vocational schools lack the capacity and approaches to include PWDs in their regular programs. With a lack of training and employment, PWDs end up relying on government pensions for their support. PWDs further lack adequate access to information about their rights, and as a result many live a marginalized existence, shunned by society and discriminated against in the workplace. The Government of Armenia (GoA) places a high priority on the issues of disability and employment. Its Decree # 996 of July 13, 2006 provided the first incentive for employers to hire PWD workers. A number of disabled people's organizations (DPOs) were established in past decades, many employing PWDs. The main focus of these DPOs is promotion of rights, protection, and employment for PWDs; however, their capacities to assist PWDs are limited. Institutional capacity to conduct assessments and training, as well as skills in networking and coordination needs to be improved. Although this is a positive shift in attitude towards PWDs, the GoA and DPO resources needed to meet the needs of PWDs remains inadequate, and there is still a need for a holistic approach to properly classify disabilities and provide broader employment training and job matching services.
To overcome the barriers facing PWDs in Armenia, LIFE program works to promote equal employment opportunities and access to employment as a basic human right for people with disabilities. LIFE program (2012-2015) is implemented by Save the Children under the funding from the US Agency for International Development and in partnership with Activa International Foundation, Unison NGO, Human Dignity and Peace (HDP) Foundation, and Full Life NGO. The program closely cooperates with the Ministry of Labor and Social Issues (MLSI) of Armenia, the State Employment Service Agency (SESA), Employment Centers, DPOs, PWDs, NGOs, local and marz authorities, service providers, municipalities, technical and vocational education and training (TVET) institutions and employers.
The Program Objectives
The program's strategic objective is to establish an effective model for provision of employment services to PWDs in Armenia through:
1 . Personal development of PWDs through assessments, skill enhancement and job placement;
2. Capacity building of service providers, DPOs, public/private employers, and TVET institutions to meet the needs of PWDs;
3. Use of mass media, internet and conferences to increase public awareness and outreach to PWDs; and
4. External technical support to the GOA in developing, implementing and monitoring employment services for PWDs and related strategies and policies.
The Activities within Objectives
Objective I. Vocational and professional assessments of PWDs; development of Individual Professional Development Plans for training and job placement; PWDs' professional skills development through TVET and professional rehabilitation; work readiness and life skills training; job matching; job (internship) placements and post placement support; integrated work environments created (new and/or adapted workplaces); establishment of four social enterprises in cooperation with Yerevan, Vanadzor and Spitak Municipalities; small grants to DPOs and NGOs to facilitate job placement of PWDs in integrated settings; establishing Coordination Working Groups.
Objective 2. Gap analysis of other projects to evaluate successes and weaknesses; training of SESA, DPOs and service providers; capacity building of teachers to conduct inclusive classes; establishing a Capacity Building Working Group;
Objective 3. Production and dissemination of awareness raising materials; use of Internet and web links; involvement and awareness raising of parents and children from schools; annual press conferences; national conference on employment of PWDs;
Objective 4. Review of existing legislation to provide recommendations for inclusion of best internationally recognized models and practices into country policies; development of guidelines and training manuals.
The Program Geography
The LIFE program will be implemented in 10 communities of Yerevan and in Ararat, Gegharkunik, Lori and Shirak marzes.
Direct Beneficiaries: PWDs 18 to 64 years old consisting of both females and ma les in relatively equal numbers, including disabled adults, youth, and children with special needs in their last year school; SESA and its network of Employment Centers. Indirect Beneficiaries: DPOs will gain additional awareness on the needs and rights of PWDs and how to reach out to PWDs. Employers (public and private) will benefit from increased awareness on the rights of PWDs in the workplace. Vocational and other training institutions will gain knowledge on provision of vocational training to PWDs, adaption of training settings, exposure to international practices and models, and linkages to the private sector to update courses to current labor market needs.