Disability World
A bimonthly web-zine of international disability news and views • Issue no. 18 April-May 2003

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Arab Conference on Disability held October 2002 in Beirut, Identifies Violence as a Major Cause of Disability
Report provided by Nawaf Kabbara, Beirut, Arab Organization of Disabled People (nawafk@cyberia.net.lb)

More than 4000 newly disabled persons are the outcome of violence that is still taking place in Palestine since the outbreak of the last Intifada in September 2000. An additional similar number may be the result of the UN sanction on Iraq and this number may need to be multiplied by ten if war against Iraq erupts in the region. All these events show clearly how important is the work for the promotion of the human rights principles in the region and for that of people with disability in particular. In fact, these are the motives that made both the Arab League and the Arab Organization of Disabled people join hand in hand, working for the launching and the implementation of an Arab decade of disabled people in the Arab region.

The reality of the matter clearly shows that if one would like to cross over the Arab World from the Morocco region to the Gulf, one can come out with the following observations. We have an increase in the number of disabled people as a result of violence in Algeria, Sudan, Iraq and Palestine. Disability is also growing as a result of poverty and malnutrition. This can be found in Egypt, Sudan, Somalia, Djibouti and Yemen. A third source of disability is blood marriage, a very common tradition in most Arab countries, which is leading to an increase in mental disability across the Arab world. All three factors show clearly the need for a collective and concerted effort to promote preventive policies, rehabilitation services and disability rights all over the region.

This is why the Arab League and AODP worked hard to get the Arab Council of the ministers of Social Affairs to agree on such a commitment. This endeavor proved a success when the Ministers agreed during their Cairo meeting of 2001 to organize, in partnership with AODP, an Arab Conference in 2002 to develop and approve the terms of an Arab disability decade. This step is taken with the clear purpose of putting the Arab world on the global map concerning disability politics, following the lead of the UN international decade of disabled persons launched in 1983, the Asia Pacific disability decade launched in 1992 and the African disability decade in 1999.

The Conference on Disability in the Arab World, Reality and Hope: Launching an Arab Decade for People with Disabilities, 2003 to 2012
The conference took place in the period between the 2nd and the 5th of October 2002. The Arab League and the Arab Organization of Disabled People (AODP) in collaboration with the Lebanese ministry of social affairs and the Economic and Social Commission for West Asia (ESCWA) joined together in organizing the event. This conference was held at the United Nations House in Beirut under the auspices of the Lebanese President of the Republic General Emile Lahoud.

Partners in the initiative
In addition to the four above mentioned institutions, the following key groups joined as partners in the event: the Arab Council for Childhood and Development, the Arab Gulf Program for Nations Development Organizations, Norwegian People's Aid, Human Concern International, Mennonite Central Committee, Diakonia, Medical Aid for the Palestinians, the United Nations Development Program, the Lebanese Council for Disabled People, the National Association for the Rights of Disabled People in Lebanon and the Forum of the Handicapped in North Lebanon.

The objective of the conference was to discuss and finalize a proposed draft for an Arab decade of disabled people: 2003-2012. Some 19 Arab countries attended the conference and some 300 participants including the Head of the Arab Council of Ministers of Social Affairs, the Syrian minister of labor and social affairs, Ghada El-Jabi, and six general directors of some Arab Ministries of Social Affairs. Around 100 people with disabilities representing disabled people's organizations in the Arab World and members of AODP attended in addition to more than 100 representatives of Arab NGOs active in the field of disability. Disabled Peoples International was also present in the person of Jean Luc Simon vice president of the European region and member of the World Council of the organization.

Ten axes selected
In four days of sessions, the conferees discussed ten axes of the proposed decade. These were the following: legislation, health, education, employment, accessibility, women with disability, children with disability, sports and leisure, media and disability and poverty, globalization and disability.

The conference procedure included morning sessions where experts presented their papers followed by a commentator on each one of the axes. After which the conferees participated in their chosen working group session to discuss the reports and come out with their own amendments and proposals concerning each one of the ten above mentioned axes. In the three first days ten experts presented the papers dealing with the ten axes. Participants were divided into ten separate debate groups each discussing one of the axes presented in the morning working sessions. The results were the passing of the proposed decade with some amendments (please review the final draft of the decade). The fourth day witnessed the concluding session where the final draft of the decade was adopted.

Ambassador Ahmad Adel of the Arab League headed the session. Ms. Badiaa Ismael of the Administrative Secretariat of the Arab League read out the Arab Decade for People with Disabilities, which was approved by consensus in addition to the recommendations and proposals. The full text of the decade and the recommendation is attached below.

Following the conference, the Arab League secretariat of social affairs presented the draft proposal to the yearly conference of the Arab ministers of social affairs that took place in December, 2002 in Cairo. As a result, the meeting agreed to launch the decade in the year 2004 after giving each country a six months period to discuss the proposed decade and present their suggestions concerning the implementation and priority of the axes. In addition, a delegation from AODP met with the Arab League General Secretary Amro Moussa where they discussed the results of the Arab ministerial meeting and agreed on a new strategy of action including rearing a series of regional meetings and seminars among ministries, DPO's and NGO's dealing with disability in the different Arab regions to speed up the finalization of the final draft of the decade and develop the strategy for its implementation.

The Arab Decade for People with Disabilities: 2003-2012
The member countries of the Arab League,

Out of their noble values, religious, spiritual and cultural heritage;

In keeping with the laws expressed through divine missions that promoted the status and dignity of humans, and made humans better than other creatures;

In guidance by international conventions, agreements, laws, United Nations decisions and the recommendations of world conferences held during the final decade of the last century, which asserted the rights of humans to liberal and decent lives;

With commitment to the covenant of the Arab League, the Arab Convention of Social Work, the strategy of social work in Arab countries, Children's Rights Convention, The Arab Declaration of the Rights of Family, and the Arab Strategy for Health Development;

For the completion of Arab legislative efforts for the purposes of care and development, in the field of securing the rights of people with disabilities as well as their integration within their communities as they form an important part of its own fabric;

With full conviction that people with disabilities are endowed with abilities and potential that will make them effectively participate with other social groups in achieving comprehensive development of the Arab World (which guides Arab citizens and works for them), in particular if they have equal opportunities and suitable training and rehabilitation conditions;

With the perception that our Arab Nation enjoys great potential as regards confronting challenges and building a coherent society in terms of rights and duties, and without discrimination as a result of sex, religion, race, ethnic origin or disability;

In view of our conviction that the disability issue is a social cause, which need to be confronted by mutually integrated efforts of governments, NGOs, private sector, people with disabilities and their families;

In anticipation of the resulting increase in the numbers and proportion of people with disabilities due to the political, economic and social circumstances under which our Arab society lives, and the conditions of occupation, war and siege that many of our countries confront;

And for the satisfaction of our Arab nation's need to develop a framework for the efforts made in the field of rehabilitating, caring for and developing of the disabled, issue the following Arab Decade for people with disabilities 2003-2012.

  • Changing society's view of disability and that of people with disabilities of themselves;
  • Making the disability issue one of the priorities of Arab governments, and allocating the necessary funds for that cause;
  • Giving people with disabilities and their companions discounts of no less than fifty per cent for land, sea and air transportation when moving within any Arab country or across countries;
  • Granting customs facilities and exemptions for aids and necessary equipment that make the lives of the disabled easier, and facilitate their integration within their community;
  • Supporting and facilitating the formation of disabled people organizations, which must be represented in the higher councils for disability so as to guarantee their active participation in drawing up policies, programs and plans to raise the standards of living of people with disabilities;
  • Forming or activating the role and performance of higher committees or councils for rehabilitation, which are responsible for drawing up national policies, plans and programs that help raise the standards of living of people with disabilities;
  • Developing the methods of measuring the numbers of disabled people according to age, sex, geographical location, kind of disability by means of issuing disability cards, regular censuses, and field research and studies;
  • Developing and improving existing government and nongovernment services and programs to satisfy the needs of people with disabilities;
  • Unifying the terminology, definitions and classifications of disability;
  • Making use of modern technology in the programs of training and rehabilitation of people with disabilities;
  • Supporting the families of people with disabilities financially and morally, while providing them with information and the necessary modern technologies;
  • Carrying out research and studies about the disability issue, while securing the needed funding for such work and highlighting the disabilities of progressive development;
  • Developing the potential and skills of those working with the disabled in the fields of educational, social, psychological, medical and occupational rehabilitation and therapy;
  • Guaranteeing the suitable circumstances for the successful implementation of inclusion (inclusive integration) of people with disabilities in regular classes, within community, workplaces, houses, social, cultural and sports clubs;
  • Securing the representation of disabled at the level of local authorities, as well as the parliament and at all other levels';
  • Limiting registration for boarding institutions for the disabled to those severe handicaps and of extraordinary circumstances till the right circumstances for their integration within community become conducive.
Entertainment and Sports

Achieving comprehensive development of disabled people by providing them with the opportunities to carry out entertainment and sports activities that are enjoyable, safe and suitable for their potential, and preparing circumstances conducive for their practicing such activities in a basic manner with their non-disabled counterparts whenever this is possible.

In order to achieve this objective, the Decade will seek to implement the following:
  • Enlarging the base of practicing such entertainment and sports activities among the disabled, without discrimination because of their sex, age or their available potential.
  • Supplying specialized staff in the fields of entertainment and sports;
  • Providing prostheses and aids to facilitate their carrying out of sports and entertainment activities.
Guaranteeing all disabled people equal opportunities of education within all schools, and other academic and vocational institutes, whether in regular or special classes.

In order to achieve this objective, the Decade will seek to implement the following:
  • Supplying specially training educators and academic staff to work and teach disabled children within the policy of integration;
  • Providing the aids and means that facilitate the educational process;
  • Raising the awareness of families and community of the need to integrate disabled children within regular schools, while preparing non-disabled children and school staff to receive disabled children in the right manner;
  • Reviewing the structure of school curricula so as to suit developmental and psychological characteristics of people with disabilities as well as the character of present times and technological advancement;
  • Issuing school health cards for disabled children so as to facilitate their acquisition of aids and prostheses, and enjoying medical and therapeutic government supported follow-up;
  • Continuing to unify terminologies of sign language for the curricula of sciences to facilitate the schooling of the deaf.
Rehabilitation and Employment
Rehabilitating people with disabilities in the light of technical and scientific developments, and the needs of the labor market in a way that guarantees equal opportunities for those people.

In order to achieve this objective, the Decade will seek to implement the following:
  • Developing the skills of vocational trainers in accordance with modern techniques and technologies;
  • Enlarging the process of establishing rehabilitation and training centers of the disabled, and developing existing ones as is suitable with technological developments, and labor market needs;
  • Encouraging people with disabilities to start small, income-generating projects, and providing them with easy loans;
  • Encouraging the private sector to rehabilitate and train disabled people in order to employ them.
Disabled Women
Raising the awareness of public opinion as regards the conditions of disabled women, and attempting to correct prejudices concerning their poor potential, and highlighting their abilities, which make them, equal to others.

In order to achieve this objective, the Decade will seek to implement the following:
  • Activating the role of disabled women so as to get them represented in women's federations and associations.
  • Educating and raising the awareness of disabled women to enable them so that they may get to know their legislative rights;
  • Raising the awareness of families and communities of the needs of disabled women;
  • Guaranteeing equality as regards providing services and care to both disabled women and men;
  • Rehabilitating disabled women and providing them with suitable job opportunities;
  • Providing health and medical care for disabled women, when married, before and during pregnancy and after birth.
Fighting the causes of disability by raising awareness and prevention, and by providing the disabled with health, therapeutic and rehabilitation services. In order to achieve this objective, the Decade will seek to implement the following:
  • Drawing up prevention programs based upon early intervention, awareness raising, and health education;
  • Providing suitable and helpful means for early and specialized intervention;
  • Preparing national studies to get acquainted with the causes and effects of disability;
  • Supplying specialized health staff in the field of disability of all kinds;
  • Introducing into medical schools' curricula courses that may enable graduates to diagnose disability, and the disabilities of progressive development in particular;
  • Providing aids and prostheses that enable disabled people to get integrated within their community and make their lives easier.
Issuing and activating legislations that guarantee the rights of disabled people to social integration and to equality with the other social groups. In order to achieve this objective, the Decade will seek to implement the following:
  • Activating the promulgation of national legislations that guarantee disabled people's joining work in government administrations and private sector companies;
  • Forming or activating National Councils for the Affairs of Disabled People;
  • Issuing the personal disability card, along with a statement clarifying ways of its use;
  • Guaranteeing the right of any disabled person to medical therapy and rehabilitation;
  • Having a commitment to employ an adequate percentage of qualified disabled people in the public and private sectors
  • Emphasizing the right of disabled people to obtain rehabilitated housing suitable for their conditions and needs;
  • Securing the right of disabled people to gaining an access to public places- academic, cultural, artistic and sportive and others;
  • Exempting the cars of disabled people as well as their own prostheses from customs duties.
Facilities and Transport
Acting to secure the rights of disabled people to mobility and unrestrained accessibility to public places and utilities. In order to achieve this objective, the Decade will seek to implement the following:
  • Eliminating all physical barriers that prevent disabled people from access to housing units, educational centers and workplaces and other sites;
  • Exempting disabled people's own transport means, as well as those of institutions concerned with providing services to people with disabilities, from customs duties and any other fees or taxes;
  • Introducing into the curricula of engineering schools the architectural standards that satisfy the needs of people with disabilities;
  • Allocating parking lots for the vehicles of disabled people, while raising the awareness of policemen to commit themselves to that kind of measures;
  • Enabling people with disabilities to obtain driving licenses.
Information and Community Guidance
Seeking to change society's view of disability, while getting away from anything that may do harm to people with disabilities in different media.

In order to achieve this objective, the Decade will seek to implement the following:
  • Committing media to supply all the correct information about the disability issue;
  • Showing by written and audiovisual media successful models of disabled people of both sexes and from different fields of activity;
  • Widening the space given by media for the coverage of the activities of disabled people organizations;
  • Encouraging the publication of magazines and newspapers, and the broadcasting of special radio and TV programs of/for disabled people;
  • Insisting that visual media should use sign language as a guarantee for deaf people's acquiring data and information;
  • Publishing pamphlets, news bulletin and other material embossed into Braille dotted letters so as to enable the visually impaired to read them.
Globalization, Poverty and Disability
Alleviating the negative effects of Globalization on the lives of disabled people, and intervening in poorer regions in order to limit the spread of disabilities, and to enable people with disabilities in such areas to raise their economic level so as to improve the conditions of their families.

In order to achieve this objective, the Decade will seek to implement the following:
  • Limiting the proportion of unemployment among disabled people as a result of the economic changes and transformations imposed by Globalization;
  • Intervening in poorer areas via educational, awareness raising programs for the prevention of increased disability because of poverty;
  • Organizing rehabilitation programs in poor areas to help families to treat positively their disabled members, while working to develop any disabled person's intellectual and professional abilities in order to turn him/her into an actively productive power within his/her family and community
Disabled Children
Guaranteeing disabled children's gaining all their rights at a par with their non-disabled counterparts, while eliminating all hindrances to achieving this goal.

In order to achieve this objective, the Decade will seek to implement the following:
  • Emphasizing the importance of community-based rehabilitation programs as a strategy and policy to guarantee that health, care and rehabilitation services reach out to disabled children everywhere;
  • Carrying out research work and studies in the field of childhood and disability;
  • Taking care of early discovery of, and intervention with disability, while providing health care and rehabilitation of disabled children;
  • Raising the awareness of families and community of the causes of disability in order to limit its spread;
  • Training the staff working with disabled children on modern techniques and assisting technologies;
  • Providing families with assistance, support and training on sound treatment of disabled children.
General Recommendations and Proposals of the Conference on Disability in the Arab World: Reality and Hope
  • Calling on Arab countries to take part in the discussions of the International Agreement on Disability that is intended to be approved by the United Nations General Assembly, while working closely with regional and international agencies and disabled people to speed up its approval;
  • Encouraging the employment of disabled people by different media;
  • Issuing legislations that guarantee the right of disabled people to use public transport means;
  • Urging Arab countries that did not sign yet international agreements on rehabilitation and employment to do so and to commit themselves to abide by their rules;
  • Furnishing rehabilitation centers and workplaces with the necessary technical means to facilitate the performance of disabled people, and to guarantee occupational safety and to avoid injuries at the workplace;
  • Enhancing the partnership with employers while appreciating their role as regards providing job opportunities for disabled people;
  • Training and developing the skills of those working in rehabilitation centers, while raising their awareness of the issues, needs and rights of the disabled;
  • Integrating disabled children into mainstream schools whenever possible, and when necessary special classes or schools are started and furnished with the equipment that help giving instructions to disabled children;
  • Developing the curricula of teacher training and adjusting them to fit the particular conditions and character of the Arab society;
  • Continuing to work for unifying communication means among Arab Disabled people such as the sign language for the deaf, and the Braille contractions for the blind;
  • Starting an information center to facilitate the exchange of successful Arab experience and expertise in the fields of education, rehabilitation, employment, etc.;
  • Organizing intensive campaigns to raise society's awareness of the disability issue, the rights of disabled people to education, and raising the awareness of the families of disabled people of the importance of education, and the role it plays in achieving self-reliance and integration within society;
  • Expanding the establishment of early disability discovery in rural and urban areas, and staffing them with qualified personnel who are able to intervene early enough to limit the consequences of disability;
  • Insisting on the participation of the disabled in extra curricular and summer activities that are organized by academic institutions;
  • Emphasizing the partnership between NGOs and government administrations in order to raise the level of health, educational, entertainment, sports and other services;
  • The participation of disabled people and their families in planning and implementing programs dedicated to them;
  • Organizing encounters between people with disabilities and those working with them and media people to establish and enhance a partnership between the two parties, and send messages based on facts.
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