Pressing Need for Research on Disability

CLS deep dives into research areas that remain untapped for priority research on disability and education.

Despite ongoing efforts, data on disability is still lacking in Lebanon and the region. Recognizing this and in an effort to promote advocacy and effective policymaking, the Centre for Lebanese Studies (CLS) at LAU has set up a Disability Research and Advocacy Hub in partnership with Oxford Brookes University with the financial support of Open Society Foundation.

The hub – a network of activists, researchers and academics – meets periodically to raise awareness on disability, inform research and identify means to make Lebanon more accessible and inclusive.

On the research side, a series of workshops conducted alongside the University of Birmingham, Birmingham City University and Birzeit University will investigate and prioritize research needs across Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine, as part of the Disability Under Siege Project, an international network led by the University of Birmingham and funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund.

Last month, a workshop held in Beirut brought together a mix of stakeholders in Lebanon and the region that included ministerial representatives, academics, psychologists, consultants, artists, activists and parents of disabled individuals.

The workshop, explained CLS’s Operations Manager Rachel Saliba, is “a consultation with those present, on what they believe the Disability Hub should undertake in terms of research over the next year or two.” Disability, she noted at the event, has been a key pillar of CLS’s work.

Academics and passionate citizens should push for a more just, inclusive, and egalitarian community, she added. “We believe that collaboration, one of the center’s values, is crucial to achieving the goals and changing policies through advocacy and lobbying.”

The discussion kicked off with a generic topic – public understanding of disability and social stigma – but quickly branched out into several insightful conversations on the importance of early detection for future inclusivity, parent-education and empowerment, and exploring gender and socioeconomic dimensions in disability.

Toufic Allouche from the Tripoli Disabled Sports Association opined that accessibility would open the door for everything else: “Once educational institutions and later on, the workplace, become fully accessible and inclusive, persons with disability will have a real shot at financial independence, and ultimately have a better chance in reversing social stigma.”

On that note, the participants remarked that whereas consideration is given to physical accessibility in education, no attention is paid to inclusive design. “While the Ministry of Education offers special services for disabled students who sit for the official exams, they still haven’t reconsidered the curriculum,” remarked one of the attendees. Another questioned how the visually impaired, for instance, are expected to learn optics or spatial geometry using the same books of peers with no disabilities.

In reality, very few disabled people are pushed to pursue an education to begin with – according to several attendees – and those who are often come from families with relatively better means, who can afford to send them to private schools.

That thought segued into the socioeconomic disparities when addressing the needs of the disabled. Many attendees were vocal about the importance of advancements that break through economic segregation, noting that “if it doesn’t happen nationwide, it doesn’t count as change.”

Beyond the extensive focus on education for the disabled, the conversation evolved into an exploration of the extent to which the medical and social approaches to disability prevail in Lebanon.

Lecturer at Saint Joseph University Grace Khawam Sarrouh explained two common approaches. “On the one hand, the biomedical approach focuses on trying to alleviate the deficit in people with disability through treatment, while the social approach studies the environment that imposes limitations on the disabled.”

A debate ensued on where Lebanese institutions fall on the spectrum between the two, and how each of the attendees’ experiences have been transformed by either approach.

With an estimated 18,000 people of school age living with disability in Lebanon, the pressing need for research and data collection stood out as a clear takeaway from the session.

Hot on the heels of this workshop, CLS organized a consultation to develop recommendations that will be addressed to the Center for Educational Research and Development (CERD) about inclusivity within the new curriculum under development.

Another workshop on Disability Assessment and Determination in Lebanon was also held in collaboration UN ESCWA Beirut and the International Committee of the Red Cross at LAU, to discuss where Lebanon currently stands in terms of its disability assessment and determination system, the opportunities and challenges to update it, in addition to exploring the best mechanisms to ensure the inclusion of persons with disabilities in this process.