Disabled Overlooked

Municipalities do not appear to provide enough support to help those with physical handicaps.

Disabled Overlooked

Municipalities do not appear to provide enough support to help those with physical handicaps.

Wednesday, 26 January, 2011

Gerges Abi Nader, 38, is not someone easily discouraged by hardships. Despite being partially paralysed, he tries to stay mobile and look after not only his own needs, but those of his two siblings who have suffered from total physical paralysis since birth.

But what stops Abi Nader from leading a “normal life” is not his physical condition - it is the lack of proper facilities for the disbaled in his hometown of Ras Al-Haref and its surroundings in the Maten area, a mountainous region north of Lebanon’s capital, Beirut.

“I feel lucky if I can move around the city, even with difficulty,” said Abi Nader, who helps his brother at his food store. “But my siblings cannot leave home.”

He complained about the absence of pavements, parking areas and better access for disabled to move around town without the need to ask for help from others.

Abi Nader said that the municipality often makes promises to create projects to help the disabled, but never implements them, blaming a lack of resources.

According to Abdo Sabaaly, the head of the municipality of Bharsaf, a town close to where Abi Nader lives, small municipalities do not have funds for projects to benefit the disabled.

Most of their budgets go to road maintenance and the salaries of municipal employees, Sabaaly said, adding that many residents do not pay their taxes, which further reduces the budget.

“We live in a small town with very strong family and friendship bonds, so we cannot ask the people to pay their dues when we know that their financial situation is bad,” he said.

He added, however, that the municipality is planning to build new headquarters that will be totally accessible for physically challenged individuals.

In addition to their need for more adequate infrastructure, disabled people in Maten and other Lebanese areas do not always find enough support to cover their needs regarding medicine and special equipment.

According to Lebanese law, every municipality is required to dedicate a small part of its budget to physically handicapped residents, depending on its means.

Sabaaly said that the municipality he heads offers its disabled residents yearly financial assistance, which amounts to around 650 US dollars.

But Abi Nader said that this sort of aid was not enough to cover the high cost of the medicines that he and his siblings require. He said that in addition to state institutions, his family has to turn to NGOs for support.

He called on the government to provide wheelchairs to the disabled and exempt them from taxes.

“This is our right… If I lived in a civilised country, I would have been supported by the state,” Abi Nader said, complaining that politicians only cater for his needs during election periods.

In 2000, Lebanon enacted a law to improve the living conditions of the physically handicapped. This law, which guaranteed more medical services, job opportunities and support to the disabled, was then hailed by the media and NGOs as a progressive, compared with similar legislation in other Arab countries.

However, the situation of disabled people remains difficult, mainly because the financial resources committed by the government for their welfare are insufficient.

Meanwhile, some private institutions try to cover the gap. A hospital in Beit Shabeb, a small town in the Maten, boasts a special section for the physically handicapped. Although its services are not free, they are made affordable with help from other charities.

In addition to medical services, the hospital provides disabled individuals the chance to express themselves artistically. Every year, a fair displaying and selling handicrafts and art objects made by disabled people in the region is organised to show that their physical condition does not prevent from being productive members of society, according to Rita Nasser, a nurse who works at the Beit Shabeb hospital. 

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