الاثنين، 23 فبراير، 2009

The Daily Star: NGO Looks to Promote Inclusion of Disabled Individuals in Society

BEIRUT: "A person with a disability should never be reduced to being that disability," said Fadi al- Halabi, president of the NGO "Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network - Middle East" (EDAN-ME), anchor for the Future TV social talk show "Tawassol," and counselor for adult couples. According to its 2008 Progress Report, EDAN-ME "exists to advocate for and influence the inclusion, participation, and active involvement of persons with disabilities in all aspects of life." But one of the most challenging aspects of this mission is to bring about change in the way that the disabled are perceived in Lebanon.
"People have different reactions toward the disabled, but they always see the disability first," Halabi said, suggesting that "it reminds people of their own vulnerability, of death, of their fears, and of their own handicaps, on an unconscious level, but this can become positive if it causes people to call their values into question and re-assess their attitudes."
To increase awareness and influence public attitude toward people with disabilities, EDAN-ME is planning to take on a new approach in the coming months to promote inclusion with seven to eight TV spots of approximately 30 seconds each. The objective of the campaign is to project a positive and powerful image of people with disabilities participating in aspects of life that they have the right to fully embrace, such as family, spiritual, and social life.
One such spot will deal with women and marriage, for example, in response to the compounded difficulties and discrimination that disabled women face in Lebanon, where women's rights are already marginalized in certain areas.
"Disabled men have higher chances of getting married than disabled women," Halabi pointed out. "Women have this expectation in society to have the perfect body ... and yet there are many cases of these [disabled] women being sexually abused and not getting the chance to have a sustainable relationship because of their vulnerability. These women are able to be lovers and mothers, able to have families ... and we want to spread awareness about this," he asserted.
Through various seminars, conferences, and media outreach, EDAN-ME works not only for changing the perceptions of society regarding the disabled, but also for changing the perceptions that the disabled have of themselves. Their motto "Embracing life ... our choice!" is just one indicator of the positive spirit that invigorates their communication strategy.
"We want to show people they can take the energy that comes from a frustration with their situation and channel it positively into living a full and active life," said Halabi, who lives his example by dancing Salsa and going to nightclubs, among other activities, despite being in a wheelchair.
Another initiative EDAN-ME has along these lines is a project for next year to assemble a dance troupe that features people with disabilities coordinating together through choreography to create a feeling of greater artistic inclusion and empowerment.
However, in the legal realm, inclusion in society faces challenges which are less straight-forward. Although Lebanon has not yet ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled Persons, Law 220 in Lebanese legislation already provides for the rights of the disabled. The problem is that the obligations in the law are not enforced, due to a combined lack of financial resources and political will.
"New buildings are going up everyday that are not wheelchair accessible, despite the fact that this is against what is written under Law 220," Halabi said. Part of EDAN-ME's objectives is to increase the level of access for the disabled to professional, social, and health-related facilities, as well as to all places of worship. Increased access would increase the possibility for the disabled to participate in activities held in these buildings, which would in turn increase their inclusion in society.
"After the elections, we will push the new candidates to include disability rights on their agenda, in solidarity with other NGOs for human rights and disability rights," he added.
Lebanon is a small country compared to other countries in the EDAN-ME network, like Egypt. However, although Egypt may be able to amass greater financial resources, the value of Lebanon's resources per capita would be greater due to its small size. Halabi sees this as an advantage, remarking optimistically that "with the resources we can apply here [per person], there is the possibility to make real changes that can actually improve people's daily lives."
Karah Bynes (c)
23-02-09

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