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In 2017 the Republic of Armenia’s Ministry of Education and Science adopted the idea of general inclusion and set forth to implement this concept in all public schools. This plan, however, was not able to produce the intended results. The problem was more than a simple addition of policy; what needed change was society’s perception about disabilities and inclusion.
Following the Soviet model of disability, Armenia’s population continues to treat individuals having varying disabilities with shame and disregard. The shame associated with these individuals isolates them, creating stigma. Armenia’s population with special needs still struggle to recover a sense of value and dignity and are more often than not, placed in institutions that cannot properly care for them. Institutionalizing these individuals further excludes them from society, limiting their chance of social inclusion.
Considering that the first occurrence of social exclusion takes place when a child with a disability gets denied the chance to attend a regular classroom and is expected to learn at a specialized school or even worse, stay home; it would be most effective to start the cycle of change by targeting the education system. With the mission of creating an inclusive society that will allow individuals with mental and developmental disabilities to unravel their potential and live quality lives, the Painted Brain is working with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Inclusive Education Fellowship Program to implement their robust model and ideology that will build a new perspective in Armenia.
Current fellow Manuk Khachatryan, has made it his mission to return to Armenia, and start the Painted Brain Armenia (PBA) branch. This project will start by educating communities, with the goal of creating a better understanding of the meaning of inclusion and forming a society that will be more flexible, open-minded, and willing to change. Through PBA’s Speaker’s Bureau, family relatives and individuals with lived experience will share their stories and spread accurate information about mental and developmental disabilities, reducing the negative stigma associated with their conditions.
As a Teach for Armenia Supervisor, Manuk plays an important role in training a group of 50 educators about the inclusive education model. These teachers will then spread the core principles throughout Armenia using the PBA Advocacy Program to secure its sustainability. In addition, Manuk will work with Painted Brain to support the integration of people with mental health issues into society; creating an accepting environment that will provide safety, and allow everyone to be who they are. The inclusive education model builds community and gives individuals who have been marginalized, the chance to feel understood and better able to fulfill their potential.