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Regional conference on promoting independent living for persons with disabilities held

blind woman with guide dog in the street

To identify policies and programmes that support Arab countries in ensuring the right of independent living for persons with disabilities, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), in cooperation with the Ministry for Inclusion, Voluntary Organizations and Consumer Rights (MIVCR) of the Republic of Malta and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities hosted a 2-day regional conference on “Transition towards Independent Living within the Community for Persons with Disabilities” at the UN House in Beirut.

The conference is the first event of the Arab-EU Research Network on Disability, and is yet another step towards realizing the goals of the Network – an important institutional mechanism which ensures that dialogue and policy exchanges between Arab and European countries on the rights of persons with disabilities are ongoing and sustainable.

“Implementing the concept of independent living faces several hurdles, including societal attitudes and negative stereotypes about disability, the practice of institutionalization, or putting persons with disabilities in long-term residential institutions without their consent and in isolation from society”, ESCWA Executive Secretary Rola Dashti underlined in her opening remarks. She added that such obstacles included data gaps in these issues and practices, and a lack of proper policies and legislation required to ensure independence and inclusion.

The conference mainly focus on the right for persons with disabilities to live independently, and will delve into the policies and programmes enabling States to promote this right enshrined in article 19 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

Addressing the session, Minister for Inclusion, Voluntary Organisations, and Consumer Rights Julia Farrugia Portelli said: “It is truly an honour for Malta to witness this first tangible result emanating from the 2019 Valetta Declaration.” She emphasized that Malta would continue to act as a bridge between European and Arab countries, particularly in the field of disability rights and the promotion of good practices in the journey towards independent living within the community for all.

Several countries’ experiences in overcoming challenges to independent living will be showcased, including those of Jordan, Malta, and Morocco. In addition, the conference will touch upon common regional challenges and lessons learned in both Europe and the Arab region. Early and mid-career researchers from both regions will also get to present eight research papers exploring the various challenges and opportunities that come with the transition to independent living.

For his part, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Gerard Quinn highlighted the importance of interregional exchanges in expanding “our policy imagination”. “Researchers are the policy entrepreneurs of the future – people we need to build the vision of the UN disability treaty in Europe and in the Arab world, ” he added.

In turn, Ford Foundation Middle East and North Africa Office Director Saba Almubaslat said that efforts to address disability, discrimination, stigma and exclusion were connected to those combatting other forms of inequality. “The cost of inclusion is high. At Ford Foundation, we work to ensure that inclusion of persons with disabilities is streamlined to each and every endeavour we take forward,” she concluded.

The research papers will be published on the ESCWA website. These initiatives stem from the Network’s commitment to support and strengthen the capacity of researchers, including those with disabilities, to fill the gaps in disability research and ultimately, to contribute to the development of evidence-based policies that facilitate the transition to independent living.

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