BEIRUT: In 2007 Lebanon signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Even earlier, in 2000, the country’s Parliament passed Law 220/2000, which also concerns the rights of persons with disabilities.
However, today, as the Arab Decade for Disabled Persons draws to a close, the former remains unratified, while the latter, says Dr. Nawaf Kabbara, “is far from being implemented.” Presenting a draft paper on the social inclusion of young men and women with disabilities in Lebanon, Kabbara addressed a national workshop Tuesday convened by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. He introduced participants from government ministries, non-governmental organizations and civil society to a veritable rap sheet of the country’s shortcomings in the implementation of this legislation.
Although Lebanon has not yet ratified the CRPD, Kabbara, himself a wheelchair user, describes Law 220/2000 as “comprehensive” and “not far from meeting the basic international standards set by the convention and various international resolutions and charters.”
However, he went on to evidence how it is not being put into practice.
The National Council on Disability, charged with overseeing national plans to put Law 220/2000 into effect, is, Kabbara argues, very much at the “political will” of the Social Affairs Ministry, the government body responsible for executing its decisions.
Moreover, without other ministries represented on the NCOD, its decisions don’t necessarily come to their attention and vice versa, the Balamand University professor writes in his draft report.
In the health and medical sector, despite stipulations under the law that “health, rehabilitation and support services” be funded by the state, Kabbara points out that disability cards – held by some 80,703 Lebanese – which entitle holders to free hospitalization, are “not even respected in most government hospitals.”
He also notes a more than 50 percent reduction in the budget for the provision of prostheses and other technical aids and equipment since 2004.
On education the report card is especially bleak. Kabbara writes: “Almost 13 years after passing the law almost all clauses pertaining to education are not yet implemented.”
The education committee at the NCOD is not operational, he notes, citing that Social Affairs Ministry statistics show almost half the people who obtain a disability card are uneducated.
The ministry has rendered a mere five schools accessible for persons with physical disabilities, the draft report goes on, while a “great number” of public schools still refuse people with disabilities.
The paper also highlights that the ministry has failed to establish a unified sign language for deaf persons or to provide accessible books for the blind – civil society organizations have been left filling the gap.
Although the government has adopted an accessibility code for all new public buildings, the paper notes that many, including some new ones, remain inaccessible for people with disabilities.
What’s more is that presently no public transport buses are accessible, only limited parking lots assign spaces for people with disabilities, and the NCOD has yet to adopt a disability sign for disabled drivers to display.
Accessibility has also posed a problem for political and civic participation.
The parliamentary election Law 25/2008 states that the government should ensure full accessibility for people with disabilities to voting booths.
The reality, Kabbara writes, is that most voting places remain inaccessible. This, he says, explains the limited number of people with disabilities participating in elections; although, he notes that people with disabilities have run for office in Lebanon.
Kabbara himself has contested parliamentary elections, he told the audience gathered at the Sheraton Four Points in Verdun Tuesday.
In terms of including people with disabilities in the labor force, firms with more than 60 employees must reserve 3 percent of jobs for people with disabilities, while the National Institute for Employment alongside relevant ministries must ensure suitable training for and direct people with disabilities to the labor market.
But these laws also remain unimplemented; indeed, not only are fines for violation not being collected, no collection mechanism has been established, Kabbara writes.
Finally, Kabbara notes that the Youth and Sports Ministry has not fulfilled its role in promoting physical activities for persons with disabilities, leaving it instead to the National Paralympic Committee.
With the government’s policy failures duly noted, Sawsan Mehdi presented the first draft of a social inclusiveness action plan, a document which UNESCO and stakeholders will endeavor to update over the coming months so as to present a comprehensive plan in June or July of this year.
Addressing those gathered, Mehdi also noted the need for clearer statistical data on those with disabilities in Lebanon, many of whom have not registered for disability cards.
A 2011 report by the World Bank and World Health Organization estimates the number of persons with disabilities at 15 percent of the world’s population.