15. Success factors for integrating people with disabilities in Lebanese society

Aurelie Fertile
Kristel Guyon
Louise Laporte
Head of Mission, Agence Française de Développement Beirut

The civil war in Lebanon caused an increase of people with disabilities whose needs were not properly met by the public authorities or by external and internal assistance

The non-profit organisation, arcenciel, was created in the midst of the Lebanese civil war, in 1985. Its five founders saw that the needs of an increasing number of people with disabilities, who had been wounded by war, were not being properly addressed. The technical aid (wheelchairs, crutches etc.) coming from Europe and People’s Republic of China was not adapted to the Lebanese context, including roads. Supporting people with disabilities was not a priority for the state as it was focused on trying to rebuild itself after a war. Therefore, arcenciel opened its own technical aid manufactory, employing people with disabilities to design and locally produce technical aid. It provided an opportunity for these people to become active members of society again while also improving the lives of other persons with disabilities.

Throughout its 33 years, arcenciel has expanded this vision to serve any person in difficulty and to leave no one behind, including the large number of Syrian refugees hosted by Lebanon many of whom have significant disabilities due to the conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic (“Syria”).

Promoting integration of people with disabilities through enhancing their mobility, employment and education

Arcenciel has, over the years, initiated several pilot projects to ensure a genuine integration of people with disabilities as active members of society. Its projects focus on three main areas: mobility, employment and education.

The Mobility programme established the first technical aids manufacturing facilities in the Middle East, which produces more resistant products that are better adapted to the Lebanese context.

In 1994, the Employment programme started the first employment office for people with disabilities in order to deliver arcenciel’s successful human resources integration model to other employers. Today, more than 60% of arcenciel’s workforce includes people with difficulties such as refugees, ex-drug addicts, former prisoners, and people with disabilities.

In 2004, the Education programme introduced specialised and inclusive classes for children with disabilities in the Bekaa Valley. Since then, these classes have increased capacity to integrate more than 100 children with disabilities.

To ensure the sustainability of its programmes, arcenciel provided evidence of their social impact to the relevant authorities, who then incorporated them into public programmes. The adoption of Law No. 220 in 2000 secured the basic rights of persons with disability and established the Access and Rights public programme, led by arcenciel and other Lebanese service provider organisations, which gives persons with disabilities better access to health, education and employment. Through this law, the Ministry of Social Affairs (MoSA) pays for technical aid for people with disabilities in Lebanon and specialised education for Lebanese children with disabilities. Arcenciel has been contracted to provide this technical aid to Lebanese citizens which it extends to non-Lebanese people through support from international donors or the revenues it generates as a social enterprise.

Law No. 220 also requires that 3% of staff in companies employing more than 30 people be persons with disabilities and the Ministry of Labour can impose fines when the target is not respected. This was an important foundation for arcenciel’s employment office: arcenciel empowers unemployed persons with disabilities to acquire new professional skills with the conviction that every person, no matter the gravity of their disability, contributes to the diversity and richness of society and can transform his/her inabilities into capacities.

Disabled people as givers and receivers of assistance as key for true inclusion

For arcenciel, supporting people in difficulty to serve others in the same situation has become a successful response for true inclusion. Beneficiaries become helpers - producers of useful aids and therefore active contributors to the community.

New laws and the solid evidence of the social impact of arcenciel’s programmes provided the legal framework and impetus to institutionalise the integration of persons with disabilities throughout public services in Lebanon.

One unexpected challenge encountered through this successful programme of integrating persons with disabilities into arcenciel’s workforce is to deliver on the objective of serving as an effective springboard for finding jobs in other organisations. The employment office of arcenciel is trying to overcome this challenge by raising awareness and training other organisations on good practices for inclusive workforces.

What next?

Many international donors and NGOs are anticipating Syria’s reconstruction phase, recognising signs that the conflict is coming to an end. arcenciel wants to replicate its Lebanese model of manufacturing technical aid for persons with disabilities in Syria - where the context and needs are not so different to those in Lebanon.

Ultimately, by enforcing Law 220/2000 fully, Lebanon can make great strides to encouraging companies to enhance inclusion of persons with disabilities.

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