By Hrach Melkumian
Armenians with speaking and hearing disabilities found themselves on Wednesday in a rare position of voters wooed by representatives of a key contender in Armenia’s presidential race.
More than two hundred deaf and dumb people in Yerevan had an opportunity to familiarize themselves with President Robert Kocharian’s electoral platform during a meeting with leaders of Orinats Yerkir, a pro-establishment party represented in the Armenian parliament. For most of them, it was the first such experience.
Opening the meeting, the Orinats Yerkir chairman, Artur Baghdasarian, appeared to briefly forget the specificity of the audience when he tested his microphone with an irrelevant question: “Can you hear me?”
His calls for the 3,500 or so Armenian deaf-mute to vote for Kocharian were conveyed to the participants through an interpreter using a special gestural language.
One of them, a young woman called Anzhela, told RFE/RL afterwards that the disabled have great difficulty following the election campaign and other political developments because of being for years neglected by Armenia’s political class. “We want to be full-fledged citizens and elect someone who will support us,” she said through an interpreter.
Marie Pahutian, a representative of a non-governmental organization helping people like Anzhela, said a group of them has recently appealed to the Armenian government to mandate gestural translation of election advertisements and news programs on state television. She said they would also welcome written subtitles on television screens. “These young people demand to be informed so that they can make a right choice,” Pahutian told RFE/RL.
The Union of the Deaf-Mute which comprises most of the disable was among three dozen non-governmental organizations that expressed their support for Kocharian’s reelection last month. Some of its members attending the meeting with Orinats Yerkir leaders approved the move.
“I will vote for Kocharian because what he has done in the last five years is visible; we do have some achievements,” said one man. He said he and 11 other families live in small rooms provided by a specialized Yerevan schools for the disabled and have asked the presidential administration to provide them with more decent housing.
Another disabled person complained that “no one cares about the deaf.” “We are a deeply neglected class. We don’t have any privileges,” he said.