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Young champions with disabilities put their human rights training into practice

10 May 2024

Students from the Human Rights and Advocacy School for Young People with Disabilities in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. © OHCHR ROCA

In the early hours of a cold winter morning in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, while most of the city was asleep, the only sound Aitunuk Zhoomart kyzy could hear was the rhythmic echo of splashing water across the swimming pool. She had just started her daily swimming training, alone and undeterred by the weather or her visual impairment.

Zhoomart kyzy’s determination has not only enabled her to become a paralympic champion in triathlon and swimming, but it also helped her overcome many barriers to actively participate in social endeavours.

A turning point for Zhoomart kyzy came when she attended the Human Rights and Advocacy School for Young People with Disabilities, which was founded in 2021 in Bishkek by the UN Human Rights’ Regional Office for Central Asia. Most of the School's curriculum is delivered by UN Human Rights staff members with the support of external experts who tailor their lectures to allow people with hearing, visual and physical impairments to study together.

There, she learned about international human rights standards and advocacy tools to foster inclusion and accessibility in Kyrgyzstan. It was during one of the school sessions that Zhoomart kyzy began her advocacy journey. It happened because of a simple incident with her bank.

“I was showing the mobile application of one of the Kyrgyz banks as an example of an accessible environment during one of the school’s training sessions,” she said. “But, for some technical and unclear reason, it was at that very moment that I found out the Bank had mistakenly issued me a loan three months earlier."

Determined to address this oversight, Zhoomart kyzy began engaging with the bank, gradually realizing the broader challenges faced by people with disabilities in accessing banking services.  A representative of the bank acknowledged the need for improvement and, working together with Zhoomart kyzy, the bank became the first in Kyrgyzstan to issue contracts for clients in Braille, install payment terminals with Braille touchpads and voice assistance, as well as tablets with voice assistance to interact with clients.

Beyond implementing these tangible changes, Zhoomart kyzy also trained bank employees on interacting effectively with people with different disabilities.

Zhoomart kyzy pointed out that her efforts go beyond the confines of the bank, as she highlighted the broader societal challenges faced by individuals with disabilities in Kyrgyzstan. These challenges include the need to seek assistance for basic tasks like accessing public services. With over 217,000 people living with disabilities in Kyrgyzstan, Zhoomart kyzy 's advocacy has served as a trigger for greater change. As UN Human Rights Central Asia continues its efforts to ensure equality and enhance the rights of people with disabilities, Zhoomart kyzy stands as a beacon of hope, inspiring individuals and institutions alike to champion inclusion and accessibility.

Students from the Human Rights and Advocacy School for Young People with Disabilities in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. © OHCHR ROCA

Students from the Human Rights and Advocacy School for Young People with Disabilities in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. © OHCHR ROCA

Agents of change

Bayastan Abdykadyrov, an alumnus of the training program, understands the challenges people with disabilities face in the country firsthand when he learned that an ambulift was not available at the Osh branch of Manas International Airport. An ambulift is used at airports to transport people with reduced mobility safely and with dignity by the special assistance or mobility services. When he would travel frequently through the airport, airport employees would have to lift him with his wheelchair onto the plane. It made him feel helpless and unsafe.

He later decided to file a civil claim for discrimination, and after many appeals, he won the case and received compensation for damages after the Supreme Court of Kyrgyz Republic decision in September 2023. As a result, the airport purchased an ambulift and renovated their restrooms to accommodate people with disabilities.

Abdykadyrov said that the training he received gave him the courage to take the city to court and was pleased to see that people with disabilities will have an easier experience when they travel through the Osh branch of the airport.

“The idea of creating an inclusive school was born from the need to strengthen the capacity of young people with disabilities to recognise and claim their rights, and to become active participants in processes that can change the situation of people with disabilities for the better,” said Matilda Bogner, the Regional Representative of the UN Human Rights for Centra Asia. “The schools’ results exceeded all our expectations, as the graduates believed in themselves as agents of change and initiated many different activities in the field of accessibility, access to education, awareness raising, access to decision-making processes and others. We are proud of our graduates!”