BEIRUT: When Faten Merashly decided to take her 17 year old son Mahmoud Hijazi, who suffers from autism, to the second day of the protests in Riad El Solh, she didn’t know what to expect.
“It was Mahmoud’s idea that we go down and join the protesters,” Merashly told Annahar. “One night before he went to bed, he told me that he wanted to join the protests the next day.”
After carefully explaining to her son the concept of a protest and a revolution, Merashly brought two pieces of cardboard and began writing slogans on them, demanding the rights of autistic children to free therapy sessions and to inclusive schools, two causes that are dear to her heart.
“As the mother of an autistic child, you quickly learn that people with special needs are a forgotten segment of the population,” she told Annahar. “They have no rights to any free service- it’s just ink on paper, what they tell you about their rights.”
The next day, as promised, she firmly grabbed Mahmoud’s hand and marched with him to Riad El Solh.
Merashly and her son were able to garner support from most if not all the protesters who joined them in their cause and took pictures with Mahmoud. “
I was so proud of Mahmoud for standing up for his rights and for remaining calm amidst the noise,” Merashly said. “Everyone was so friendly and understanding and compassionate to his case. Moreover, a lot of people who follow my Facebook page asked me to be a voice for them as they or a family member also have special needs.”
Merashly, who is still participating in protests to this day with her son, was not the only one protesting for the rights of people with special needs.
Sylvana Lakkis, President of the Lebanese union of people with physical disability, who is herself bound to a wheelchair, was among the many who turned up to protest.
“We have released a statement at the union stating that we have the same demands as the protesters,” Lakkis told Annahar. “Even though we are marginalized, we are still part of this country, and we can see that getting to our rights can not happen without repairs and peace.”
Sylvana Lakkis protesting with friends in Riad El Solh (Photo courtesy of Lakkis)
Annahar spoke to Ibrahim Abdallah, an activist and a member of the National Council on Disability, who explained that many people with special needs protested in Tyre, Tripoli, and Downtown Beirut. He also spoke of the history of the Lebanese laws on disabilities.
“In May 2000, the Lebanese Parliament approved a new legislation, Law No. 220, which “secured” the basic rights for the disabled, such as the right to education, employment, healthcare and nurturing environment,” he said. “But effectively, it was only ink on paper.”
“We are now demanding for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which was issued by UNICEF in 2006. It was signed but not ratified by Lebanese law,” he added.
Abdallah ended his talk by saying that people with special needs can play a valuable role in society if their needs are met and if they are given the right training. “We are a marginalized group, and we will continue to participate actively in protests to ask for our basic human rights that we have been deprived of for too long,” he said.
An-Nahar is not responsible for the comments that users post below. We kindly ask you to keep this space a clean and respectful forum for discussion.