Lebanon's coronavirus response has overlooked and failed the country's disabled people, a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report released yesterday warns.
According to the report, Lebanese with disabilities are facing challenges to accessing education and health care on an equal basis with their peers and have had support and services they usually rely on withdrawn during the coronavirus pandemic.
HRW researcher for Lebanon Aya Majzoub said: "the Lebanese government's COVID-19 response has completely ignored the rights and needs of people with disabilities, who were marginalised long before the virus hit."
Adding, "this exclusion is robbing people with disabilities of potentially life-saving information and services that they need to weather this crisis.
The report calls on the Lebanese government to review the situation to ensure disabled people have access to sign and plain language explanations about how to get necessities, lockdowns, curfews and self-quarantine measures during the coronavirus pandemic.
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HRW says the government should provide telephone-based services with text functions for deaf or hard of hearing, sign language interpretation for televised announcements, and use websites that are accessible to people with various disabilities.
The report also calls on the government to ensure all disabled people have equal access to health care, and children continue to receive education which accommodates their needs. Lebanese law states that all children should have the right to education free from discrimination.
HRW reported, however, that when most Lebanese schools moved online from 29 February for the duration of the pandemic-related national lockdown, distance learning programs were insufficient and did not meet the needs of disabled students.
According to the report, all parents who were interviewed said they had nowhere to turn for educational support, with even private schools failing to provide reasonable adjustments for disabled children learning from home.
In Lebanon, disabled students' pathway to education is marred with problems, meaning many children are denied admission to schools, or receive a patchy and incomplete education.
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Lebanon does have a set of approximately 100 specialised educational institutions for disabled children. The HRW report, however, stated that operators of these schools said the government had ordered the institutions to close without providing guidelines on how to continue educating the students. Some operators said they started distance learning programs on their own.
The HRW report calls on the government to make the return of disabled students to education a priority once the pandemic-related lockdown is lifted, forecasting many pupils will have fallen behind, and may potentially drop out.
"The Lebanese government should urgently take into account the needs of people with disabilities. This includes making sure they have access to information, health care, and the resources children with disabilities need to continue their education, while taking meaningful steps to make schools more inclusive," Majzoub says.