On June 10, a side event to the 8th session of the Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities featured a panel on Arab youth with disabilities and the opportunities of empowerment and inclusion they have. The panel addressed cases from Palestine, Syria and Morocco. Among the speakers were representatives from The Zero Project, Disabled People International (DPI) and the Federal Organization of Deaf Persons in Morocco.
All spoke in depth of the work they and their organizations have done and continue to do to aid people with disabilities. Pauline Leonard, from the UN Youth Delegates Program, cited that of the estimated 220 million youth with disabilities, 87% live in developing countries. With this in mind, advocates discussed the many ways in which access to education is a primary goal in every campaign.
However, according to Shatha Abu Srour, a disability rights activist from Palestine, the Arab region has been the most neglectful when it comes to issues of disability. There, disability has been perceived as either a welfare issue or a purely medical problem; only recently has a DPI office been established in the area. However, war, displacement, and occupation have not only led to an increase in the number of people with disabilities, these factors have made their living situations worse. In reference to this, Srour noted it is already difficult for people with disabilities to gain access to education and jobs; the Israeli occupation of Palestine only makes this exponentially worse. She believes that changes that would aid people with disabilities cannot fully move forward until the occupation has ended.
Despite the failures in the region to address these issues, Egypt has taken the initiative to push the movement forward. Mostafa Attia explained that Egypt’s new constitution contains eight subjects pertaining to people with disabilities, some of which include inclusive education mechanisms. These same mechanisms can then also be applied to health and employment. Egypt’s example is significant because they put an emphasis on the government’s role in the disability rights movement and have given visibility and a voice to that community, showing that they are the primary actors in this movement. Since most governments do not work directly with people with disabilities except through basic services such as education, having Egypt as an example of government cooperation sets a good precedent for others to follow.
Overall, the panel was informative of efforts being made to aid disabled youth in the region, however since the panel’s information focused on the work on behalf of the organizations as opposed to the situation at hand, there was no clear understanding of the reality facing youth with disabilities in the Arab region. In addition, there was a lack of young people on the panel itself. None of the speakers present were young people and no youths were invited to speak. When this was noted, Javed Abidi, chairperson of DPI, stated, “all these challenges are known to us. Let’s just celebrate the fact that as many people from the Arab region are here right now.”
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has designated June 14, 2015 as Disability Inclusion Sunday.Presbyterians for Disability Concerns (PDC), one of the ten networks of the Presbyterian Health, Education and Welfare Association (PHEWA) provides resources for congregations and worshipping communities to use on this and other Sundays.