Living in the Shadows of Disability

Oral intervention to be given by the Next Century Foundation at the 37th Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. Item 3 Clustered ID on 6th of March 2018, the special report on disability:

Mr President.  The Next Century Foundation is committed to fighting for total inclusivity everywhere. Persons with disabilities are equal citizens entitled to equal rights and opportunities. We therefore call on all nations to promote public policies that are conducive to the alleviation of hardships for society’s most vulnerable.

In the Middle East and North Africa discrimination towards persons with disabilities continues to result in their wholesale exclusion from society. This discrimination goes beyond mere social stigma and includes physical barriers to access to transport and buildings and extends to a lack of access to vital health services, full employment and basic education.

In the Middle East, disabled persons are often forced to live in the shadows of a society that refuses to acknowledge them. In Egypt for instance, it is even difficult to accurately estimate the number of Egyptians living with disability because families often hide their disabled children. Cultural misconceptions also abound and disability is seen in some communities as a form of punishment inflicted by malevolent spirits.

Further, in war torn areas such as Syria, the physical devastation has not only forcibly displaced mentally and physically disabled persons but has also destroyed the very infrastructures that could alleviate their suffering.

While extensive discussion on such issues is helpful, direct action needs to be taken. We therefore call on the UN to exert its influence to encourage Arab states to establish national strategies to develop their institutional capacities to deal with the barriers that persons with disabilities face and to create a regional dialogue on how to tackle the social and cultural stigmas associated with disability. Following from this, there must be comprehensive policies and programs put in place that are both sensitive to the needs of disabled persons, but also appreciative of their independence and their place among ordinary citizens.

We believe that in the absence of an inclusive environment that involves disabled persons in every facet of social life, there cannot be genuine equality anywhere. To this end, we must recognize and acknowledge that disability is a societal problem, not an individual one. Thank you.