BEIRUT: Activists are optimistic that steps toward the inclusion of the disabled will be taken after debates with government ministers on the occasion of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.
The event held Saturday in Beirut was organized by a coalition of organizations defending the rights of people suffering from disabilities, and attended by Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour, Education Minister Hasan Diab, Justice Minister Shakib Qortbawi and Labor Minister Charbel Nahhas.
“The event aimed at promoting disabled people’s right to inclusion” and calling for Lebanon’s ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, explained Sylvanna Lakkis, the head of the Lebanese Union for Physically Disabled People, one of the organizers of the event.
“For the first time, we had serious discussions about problems and how to proceed to find solutions and go toward inclusion,” Lakkis told The Daily Star, praising ministers for unanimously acknowledging that the current situation was unsatisfying.
“We’re still very far from being able to live our life in dignity and independence,” she said, adding that 83 percent of the disabled in the country were unemployed, and that some 50 percent of the disabled still haven’t gone to school because of the lack of accessible infrastructure.
“It’s time for serious work, for different ministries to carry out their duties ... Until now we still suffer from everything we do or try to do,” she said, arguing that the state had the responsibility of achieving change and finally implementing the 2000 Disability Rights Law.
Abu Faour, who described the disability issue as a “human rights issue,” called for the law to be implemented and the government to “carry out its duty,” the National News Agency reported.
Addressing the audience, he said, “any state that doesn’t see you is a state that doesn’t have a heart, and any state that cannot benefit from your abilities is a state without a mind.
“What’s required of me is to change our outdated welfare system and I hope that soon, we will be able [to] announce that this has been achieved.”
He said his ministry was planning with an affiliated center to deal with violations of the rights of the disabled, and hoped progress on the U.N. convention’s ratification would take place despite current paralysis due to “political disputes.”
Qortbawi agreed, saying the 2000 law “is not being implemented as it should be, and we officials are not doing what we should.
“It’s not important that laws are approved. What’s important is to implement them,” he added.
For his part, Education Minister Diab said more than 3,500 pre-university students suffered from learning difficulties, and that his ministry’s goal was to “improve quality of basic education, especially for the weakest and most marginalized.”
He said his ministry will launch a support program for those suffering from learning disabilities in 100 public schools in January, as well as a program to develop the ability of teachers and administration to deal with disabled students, in a bid to “spread the culture of rights and equality.”
He also said the ministry would train experts to assess learning disabilities, and work on improving school infrastructure in order to enhance accessibility, reminding the audience that 100 schools had been equipped to receive disabled students in the past decade.
Lakkis praised the “wonderful” Abu Faour, “who has already taken many practical steps” to ensure the rights of the disabled, and she described Diab as “very open” because he acknowledged the need for improvement and “promised to work with NGOs toward inclusion.”
She said organizers were “not happy with the current situation but pleased with [the ministers’] reaction. They promised to collaborate with us and take practical steps,” she said. “We will not live in the dark.”