Special Needs Sit-In Challenges LU President

At the meeting, the university president wondered aloud whether there is a political party instigating them to take action. (Photo: Marwan Tahtah)

By: Faten Elhajj

Published Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Lebanese University’s development strategy is under fire for not addressing the needs of students and employees with disabilities, but the university maintains that the strategy is provisional.

“Did people with special needs evaporate from the strategy of developing the Lebanese University?”

The question took the president of the university, Adnan al-Sayyed Hussein, by surprise. It was posed to him during a meeting with a delegation from the Lebanese Physically Handicapped Union (LPHU) following a sit-in to protest the proposed development plan for the university.

Hussein’s face betrayed signs of disapproval.

“I don’t understand what you want,” he replied. “We are with you on the same front. Who said the university is against you? Tell me, where did we fall short and what did we do wrong?”

“What is the direct relationship between the university and your demands?” he asked in return.

Hussein expressed surprise at the LPHU’s decision to stage a sit-in in front of the university’s central administration even before informing him of their demands. The university’s development plan, which must be ratified by the university council, was devised by Hussein a year after he assumed the position of president of the biggest educational institution in Lebanon. It did not occur to him that the development plan for the university would be met with such mobilization, especially from students with disabilities and their advocates.

Shortly before the meeting, Hussein sent public relations officer Ghazi Murad to inquire about the sit-in’s demands, but participants refused to engage with him, insisting on meeting with the president to explain their issues because, as they said, “Our lives are not a detail that you can push to the side.”

LPHU’s vice president, Marwan al-Bast, said they opposed the plan “because it does not allow the university to be for everyone and does not respond to people’s needs without discrimination.”

“It excludes persons with disabilities from participation and deprives a large cross section of employees from the right to learn and work,” Bast said.

The strategy, according to Bast, did not address integration of people with special needs in the structures, systems, curricula, philosophy, organizing, technology, marketing, or modernization of the university.

He stressed the need to hold whoever devised the plan and adopted its current form accountable because it results in the further isolation of people with disabilities by depriving them of the right to receive an education and acquire knowledge, which means depriving them of their right to work and to self-empowerment.

At the meeting, the university president wondered aloud whether there is a political party instigating them to take action.

Sylvana Lakkis, the general manager of the LPHU, bristled at the suggestion.

She asked whether he was leveling an accusation at a group that has been struggling for 12 years to establish standard rules for full integration of persons with disabilities in public and private institutions without having a serious review in this regard.

“We did not ask for an appointment because we reject this plan entirely and we demand that we be present at every juncture of the self-review process you are undertaking,” she told Hussein.

Lakkis explained that law 220/2000, which addresses the rights of persons with disabilities, stipulates that institutions should reformulate their policies to serve all citizens without discrimination.

“Our relationship with you translates into practices on the ground before it does in text on a piece of paper,” he told the delegation.

People with special needs realize that reserving jobs for them will not happen overnight, according to Lakkis, but “they did not read in the development strategy one word about their rights.”

“This boils down to exclusion and is tantamount to a death sentence and an act of erasure,” she said.

Hussein tried to explain to the delegation that the plan is different from the university draft law, which will naturally take into account all the charters and public laws. In this law, the faculty of public health and the institute for social sciences will facilitate communication with all concerned parties.

Ali Rammal, a professor in the faculty of information and documentation who was also present at the meeting, said the plan is purely academic. He added that the university is responsive to people with special needs and even told the delegation that the school “goes beyond the 3 percent quota you are demanding.”

At this point, Lakkis emphasized the importance of creating an advisory group that includes organizations concerned with the needs of persons with disabilities and their families to “add to your plan, institutionalize our rights, and press ahead in the reform that you seek.”

Hussein responded by asking them to prepare a paper “in which you explain what your demands from the university are.”

The meeting ended with an agreement to ask organizations concerned with persons with special needs to organize a workshop to lay out their proposals and present them to the university president.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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