The rights of people with disability (PWDs) is a citizenship issue requiring state commitment and concerted civil society efforts

Fri, 01/31/2014

People with disability in Lebanon still suffer from marginalization and limited social inclusion despite significant mobilizations by PWDs since the end of the civil war in 1990. The persistence of this abysmal situation is undoubtedly due to the absence of any serious governmental approach to institutionalize citizenship rights in general and the rights of PWDs in particular. Poor governmental commitment has led to wide gaps in services and programmes targeting PWDs. These are limited to patchy and primary services provided mainly by faith based organisations, subsidized by government funds. One other key factor for this poor situation is the persisting divisions within the disability movement.

It is worth recalling that the year 2000 was a landmark year for PWDs, having witnessed the enactment of law 220. This law was unprecedented as the state took upon itself, as a “duty bearer”, to ensure that PWDs are fully integrated and actively participate in society. In addition, and subsequently, the rights of PWDs were integrated in at least two Ministerial statements. More recently, PM Mikati promised that, during his mandate, the year 2013 will consecrate the rights of PWDs. Other practical measures taken by various governments included the issuing and adoption of the disability card which provides its bearers, with a number of entitlements in terms of health services, employment, waiver of taxes, housing and educational services. However, all these promises have remained largely unfulfilled and were reduced mostly to the running of workshops and seminars, setting up of specialized committees that were entrusted with PWDs’ affairs, as well as drafting plans and projects which have yet to be operationalised.

The fact is that the actual level of services, which are essential for improving the conditions of PWDs and strengthening their social inclusion and economic participation, remain well below what is actually required and what is stipulated in law 220. Generally, these services do not go beyond modest health, education and vocational training interventions. Nevertheless, on should acknowledge the pioneering work carried out by some PWDs organizations in engaging the private sector in order to create new employment opportunities.

The little that has been achieved so far would not have been possible without the struggle of disability organisations throughout the past two decades. However, this struggle has also carried significant divisions which have had negative fallouts at the national level and more recently, have tainted relations with international partner groups. We note here the diversions that have erupted between the “Lebanese Physical Handicapped Union” and the “Lebanese Council of Disabled People” concerning external representation and to which we refer in Social Rights Watch newsletter issue 37-p. 7 (http://crtda.org.lb/sites/default/files/newsletters/ACGEN%20issue%2037.pdf)

To conclude, a rightful and just cause, such as the integration of people with disabilities in society requires the highest level of solidarity amongst people with disabilities and civil society at large. It also necessitates the establishment of strong work links with other citizenship rights-based groups, and so as to bring about a radical shift in the way the Lebanese state approaches citizenship issues generally.