By Aram Arkun
BELMONT, Mass. – The Cambridge-Yerevan Sister City Association (CYSCA) organized a panel discussion called Disabilities and Social Inclusion in Armenia: Challenges and Opportunities, which was held with the cosponsorship of the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research at the latter’s headquarters last month, on May 26. Five female specialists in disabilities visiting from Armenia spoke. Former Massachusetts governor Michael S. Dukakis was a special guest at the program.
CYSCA Program Director Alisa Stepanian, who served as moderator that evening, provided the background to the visit of Armenian panelists. They were invited to the US as part of the Congressionally-sponsored Open World program, which is the only Federal exchange program working with former Soviet countries. It chooses timely themes and identifies candidates likely to benefit from a working visit to the US, who then are approved by the US embassy in Yerevan. Meanwhile, local organizations in the US bid to host groups. This was the third time that CYSCA has bid and won.
The Armenian group came for one week, May 22 to 29, and CYSCA found five local Armenian families to host the specialists. CYSCA helped organize visits with US government officials at various levels as well as organizations and universities involved in disabilities work, including the Perkins School for the Blind, the MA Disability Law Center, Boston Center for Independent Living, Arc of MA, and Cambridge City Disabilities Commission. The theme for the visit was expanding social inclusion in Armenia for the disabled, in education, work and other spheres of life.
Prior to the panel discussion, Stepanian introduced Governor Dukakis to the audience and gave him the opportunity to say a few words (see accompanying article). He also participated in the discussion at the end of the program.