Beyond the Net Community Projects Development Growing the Internet Human Rights

Barev dzez! You are listening to Radio MENQ. The voice of the visually impaired of Armenia.

Beyond the Net Journal: Armenia Chapter #3 Episode

When Armenia declared independence in 1991, the Internet access finally became available, allowing people to be part of the world again. The creation of an Internet Availability Center in 2012 (funded by Internet Society’s grant) at the Culture House for the Blind in Yerevan, triggered creative ideas among active members of the center.

They came to conclusion that an Internet radio station would be the greatest opportunity for helping the blind and visually impaired. The project started in January 2016 supported by the Internet Society’s Beyond the Net Funding Programme”. Today, it is a dream come true.

Radio MENQ (“We” in Armenian language) has become a platform empowering people with disabilities. The programming covers practical and psychological matters. Many artists and scientists with disabilities have been invited as guests to share their lived experiences. This radio station is opening up new horizons for the visually impaired and their families.

The project team is comprised of people with disabilities of various specialties. All of them are proficient in their areas and highly motivated in bringing change to people’s lives. Radio MENQ is contributing to the cultural and spiritual development of its audience through psychological advice, reading of prose and fairy tales for children, gaming competitions, and hours of music.

Just taking a look at some of the programs currently on air illustrates the important role this station plays:

  • “You can” – 13 episodes about people who are blind, from ancient to modern times, who demonstrated notable achievements, like Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Andrea Bocelli, Diana Gurtskaya, Louis Braille
  • “Internet and the blind” – Opportunities and how to use them
  • “Psychology in life” – How to use internal resources to achieve goals
  • “Toward Independence” – Ways to improve self-dependence
  • “Problem and solution” – What role can visually-impaired people play in the society. The role of family and education in the process of socialization. How to overcome psychological barriers when searching for a job.
  • “Rights and privileges” – About legislative solutions for blind people
  •  “Loving a person” – How to destroy barriers in relationships
  •  “My Universities” – How to get a higher education and find a job
  • “Sports and We” –  Brilliant victories in Paralympics sports
  • “Learn to play Chess” – Lessons from the blind master Yura Awetisyan

Radio MENQ has been promoted through mass media, social networks and public events with the involvement of the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs of Armenia Republic. We are proud to say that the blog is getting up to 2,800 visits monthly, and a mobile application to reach a wider audience is in the pipeline.

In Armenia, the estimated number of blind and visually impaired people is 25,000 and in Diaspora 50,000. While the team was discussing ways to expand the project to Diaspora communities, they received this message from United States: “Barev dzez! My name is Laurel and I am a blind student studying at the University of Oklahoma. My instructor is Armenian, and I got inspired to learn Armenian as well. I found your radio station online. I love listening to your programs, and I use it to help teach myself Armenian. When I discovered how hard it was to read with a screen reader in Armenian, I thought why not do something. I am actually working on creating a project that could help blind people in Armenia, Georgia and Russia through technology and educational opportunities. I would really like to connect with the blind community in Armenia, and I plan to visit Yerevan in September.”

The famous blind pianist Levon Karapetyan, who used to move around with helpers, is another inspiring story. While he was in France for a study period he listened to Radio MENQ’s “Toward Independence” and he got very interested in self-development tools mentioned in the program. When he came back to Armenia he visited the station and asked the team to teach him how to use the white cane and other tips to move independently. The mobility training changed his life for the better. A special episode devoted to his experience will be broadcast in the future.

In addition to being a public health concern, blindness also has a great impact on the social and economic wellbeing of an individual. First efforts to educate the blind were attempted at the beginning of the 19th century thanks to the Louis Braille system. Until that time, blind people were considered mostly uneducable and untrainable. One of the worst stereotypes about blindness is the belief of that it limits to the kind of jobs you can do. Blind children acquire this sad way of thinking from society.

The radio station aims to raise awareness about how an appropriate environment can increase the ability of a person with disabilities to work independently and add value to society. After Radio MENQ went on air, many young people have started to learning how to be program presenters and sound technicians. The Armenian blind community is starting to break the stereotypes and prove they are able to work on equal footing.

This project is illustrating the power of the Internet in creating innovation and local solutions with global impact. Radio MENQ is becoming a reference for visually impaired people, also facilitating the collaboration and partnerships needed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

Watch the video and see the amazing job they are doing

Listen to Radio MENQ

This project is relevant to achieving the following SDGs goals:

More projects for the visually impaired:

Stay tuned for the upcoming blog and follow our stories on Twitter.

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If you like this story, please share it with your friends. That would tremendously help in spreading the word and raising the visibility of this project. Help more people understand how the Internet can change lives.

We are interested in your project

We are looking for new ideas from people all over the world on how to make your community better using the Internet. Internet Society “Beyond the Net Funding Programme” funds projects up to $ 30.000 USD.

Applications are open until 23th March
Find out more about the programme 

Beyond the Net Community Projects Growing the Internet Human Rights

What do Chess Game, Blindness and the Internet have in common?

Beyond the Net Journal: Armenia Chapter #2 Episode

A conversation with the manager of the “Culture House of the Blinds” unravels the mystery of the chess game, seen as the golden key that opens any door. Thankfully the Internet boosted the chess virus at a point that the benefits are within everybody’s reach.

In the previous episode we shared the pleasure we had in meeting the amazing team from Yerevan. We learnt how they created the Internet Availability Center which led to the idea of an Internet Radio. This latest project received funding from Internet Society newest grant programme  “Beyond the Net Funding programme”.

Оn March 14th, the first recording took place at the Internet Radio located in the Culture House of the Blinds. Yura Avetisyan, their visually impaired director, talked about chess game and its role in the lives of people with different abilities.

I had the opportunity to interview Yura Avetisyan and I found out he is one of the best chess players in his country with a national rating of 2.475. In this interview, he explains how the chess game changed his life helping to overcome disability and training his memory to the point that he can memorize 200.000 pages of poetry. He discusses how the Internet boosted this game so that its incredible powers are now available to a global audience.

Q: “Yura, you are a talented poet, a fine musician and also a master of blind chess. Every day you offer your talents to the community to help others. Many of them feel blindness as being in prison; they play a game against themselves. Chess positively impacts on mental and social development. How can this game persuade visually impaired people that they are talented enough to be everything they want?”

A: “This is a philosophical question and if we manage to respond it will be useful for many people. Chess is one of the most ancient games in the history. It’s a master of life, especially for invalids and visually impaired. The chess teaches you to find the best outcome in critical situations. It can give you everything you need in real life. The chess is the golden key that allows you to open any door. My visual problems started late, and I had never supposed that chess would play such a crucial role in my life. When I lost my sight, I was concentrated on the difficulties, and I couldn’t even imagine how to study, to work, to live a normal life. But one day a blind person approached me and said “Brother, don’t hide your disability, be natural. I am blind, and I want to show you where I am working. You will regain your lost confidence there.” I followed him and met blinds and other disabled people, footless, armless… they were playing chess and music. At this point, I told myself I had to come out of my pessimistic state. I joined their team, and little by little the chess brought me out of the darkness. I became a grandmaster of chess, I graduated with honors from the University and created my family. I can play 13 musical instruments. Today I manage the Culture House of the Blinds, where I share my experience to help people breaking the barrier of their disability. Some of my chess students have really good ratings and titles of international masters.”

Q:”The digital revolution has affected this 1.500 years old game in several ways. Chess playing software is helping people to become stronger players faster. But unlike video games, where real life actions are involved, chess is the same online as over the board. So how is the game evolving thanks to the Internet, and how is it opening new opportunities?”

A: “The Internet is a fantastic thing for chess. It is allowing lots of people to get into it in a way they would have never imagined. Before Armenia became independent, the game was isolated in community centers, church halls, and newspapers back pages. Now all the treasures of chess are stored into a computer, and you can play online with or without a partner. You can teach using Skype, both individually and in groups… at any level.  As a chess trainer, I think the game should be taught showing people that it’s not only theory but tightly linked with real life. I want my students to love chess, to understand its benefits and to take advantage of them. The Internet makes it easier. We have the whole world at our fingertips; I like this feeling.”

Q: “Talking about the hidden secrets of this intellectual game, I think you are the best person to answer this question: can blind chess be learned or is it a natural skill? Sighted people call it blindfold chess.”

A: “I can also play the blind chess, and this kind of game differs completely from the visual one. It’s a skill everybody can learn with a lot of practice. Having always a clear vision of the board and properly update the overall position on the board after every move is a strong memory work! This allowed me to train my brain into storing a huge amount of information to a point that I was able to memorize 200.000 pages of poetry from antique to contemporary times. For this reason, I was invited to participate to “Hidden talents” a TV show.  When they started reading random pages from Byron, Ronsard, Pushkin, Anacreon, Lamartine, Chénier, Goethe and many others. I could follow up declaiming the rest of the poem. It was a skill given to me by chess.”

Q: “Alfred Binet, the French psychologist, discovered that people who can play blindfold chess are not seeing in their mind a photographic representation of the position, but are relying on their abstract understanding of the patterns of how pieces move and control the board. According to neuroscientists, playing chess may alter the structure of the brain. It’s like a superglue holding chunks of information. Chess has also shown to yield some cognitive benefits in children and elderly alike.

A:”Yes we are living in incredible times! Neuroscientific research is contributing to the understanding of the brain and helping us to improve our learning. On the other hand, the Internet is giving us the access to all information. This can lead to so many benefits. And think about how much chess can give to us. I can’t imagine my life without chess. I couldn’t achieve anything or write wise and profound verses without chess. Without the knowledge of chess secrets, I couldn’t be a musician and understand music. This game is a golden key that opens multiple closed doors and help you reach everything behind. This is the role of chess in my life, and I’m sure it can be a master of life for any person.”

Share this story

If you like this story, please share it with your friends. That would tremendously help in spreading the word and raising the visibility of this project. Help more people understand how the Internet can change lives.

Do you have a great idea? We are interested in your project.

We are looking for new ideas from people all over the world on how to make your community better using the Internet. Internet Society “Beyond the Net Funding Programme” funds projects up to $ 30.000 USD.

Find out More

Beyond the Net Funding Programme
Register for the Information Sessions
Watch the movie “My Voice Counts!”

Beyond the Net Community Projects Growing the Internet

How visually impaired in Armenia are breaking barriers and realizing a dream.

Beyond the Net Journal: Armenia Chapter #1 Episode

In this episode you will learn the story of people who lost their physical vision but never lost their vision of life.

What is a typical day at the Culture House of the Blinds and Visually Impaired in Yerevan? It is hard to figure out what being visually impaired really means. The people working here seem to have a special formula, they draw fully from an inner source forcing them to live out of the ordinary. They offer their talents to the community helping people to overcome disability barriers. Some of them are inspirational ones like Albert Musheghyan and Yura Avetisyan. They have been friends for over 40 years, both lost their vision when they were very young, but the vibrancy of their lives seemed to brighten up as the world became darker. The two friends sadly recall the hard times during the decline of the Soviet Union, when the support system they long had counted on was no longer in place. The Culture House of the Blinds fell into decay, the theatre drew the curtain on cultural activity, and only empty rooms with faint echoes of a past remained.

When Armenia declared independence on September 1991, the Internet access was finally available. Relief brought a smile on their lips as they welcomed the new opportunity to help people feeling part of the world again. The Internet urged the Yerevan’s community members to be even braver so that in 2012, with the help of Igor Mkrtumyan and Armen Nazaryan (ISOC AM president and vice-president), they submitted an application to former “Internet Society Community Grants Programme” to create an Internet Availability Center at the Culture House Of the Blinds.

The implementation of this project brought several benefits:

  • The installation of a fully equipped Internet center for the blind
  • People started attending the Culture House again
  • Open access to information is provided
  • Opportunity is given to communicate with other Armenians around the world
  • Social isolation and loneliness are prevented
  • Specially designed teaching methods to easy learning are offered
  • The seed of a new dream has been planted …

Thanks to the Internet availability today young people can gather at the center after school and learn to use the computer through a voice recorder. Trainers offer support with specially designed computer literacy courses. Even Albert Musheghyan, the 85 years old doctor in Philology, uses the Internet with a Braille keyboard for his researches while correcting inaccuracies in Armenian history.

Within the framework of the grant, ISOC AM also developed a rehabilitation proposal for The Culture House of the Blinds that was presented to First Lady of Armenia, Mrs Rita Sargsyan. Shortly after that, the President of the Armenian Diaspora in Russia, Mr Ara Abrahamyan, made a donation and started the renovation works. The center was brought back to life with a wide range of activities and the dusty stage curtain of The Culture House theatre could finally rise again.

The creation of the Internet Availability Center also triggered new creative ideasamong active members and trainers of the center. They reached the conclusion that a virtual radio station could make a significant change in the lives of visually impaired people.  At the end of 2015 a new application to the new Internet Society grants “Beyond the NetFunding programme” was submitted to create an Internet Radio with the purpose of expanding the audience to the Armenians all over the world. The project started on January 2016.

The estimated number of blind and visually impaired people in Armenia is 25.000 and in Diasporas 50.000. 
Connecting with your own tribe is such a powerful and clear call to action” Seth Godin, the American author, said about the Internet Revolution.  This is so far the most emotional part of the project: reaching out other human beings and connect them to new ideas about their lives and what they can do.

This is the dream this project is trying to make true.

We asked the incredible team from Yerevan to share it with us. Soon we will be interviewing the young leaders of the Internet Radio project. So stay tuned and don’t miss the next episode!

Watch How It All Started

House Of The Blinds from Internet Society on Vimeo.

Share this story

If you like this story please share it with your friends. That would tremendously help in spreading the word and raising the visibility of this project. Help more people understand how the Internet can change lives.

Do you have a great idea? We are interested in your project.

We are looking for new ideas from people all over the world on how to make your community better using the Internet. Internet Society “Beyond the Net Funding Programme” funds projects up to $ 30 000 USD. The next application deadline is coming up on 17 March 2016. We need you to apply!

Find out more

Beyond the Net Funding Programme
Register for the Information Sessions

Watch the movie “My Voice Counts!”